We all know that revising for exams is difficult; it takes time, motivation and can sometimes feel like you’re getting nowhere when you still can’t remember that one calculation! There’s no shortcut to success but there are ways you can make your revision more efficient to spend less time reading every line of your textbook and more time mastering past paper questions.
Everyone’s revision style is completely different, there are various ways to revise and not all of them will work for you. Whether you're studying for GCSE or you've moved onto A levels, finding the best way to revise for you is key. Whatever stage you're at preparation is key and you will need to put in a lot of hard work to get the grades you want, it'll all be worth it on results day!
If you're stuck for revision tips here are some ideas that might help you, try a couple out or find your own.
What You'll Learn
Depending on your school the specific physics curriculum at GCSE and A level you follow can vary, but the core topics remain much the same.
Physics is, among many other topics, the study of energy, mechanics, atoms, space and of the physical environment.
At GCSE you will learn more about atoms, their structures and radiation. You’ll get to grips with gravity, elasticity and motion. This is where you’ll discover the famous Newton’s law of forces and acceleration. At A level you’ll go deeper into the forces of the universe, like velocity, acceleration, mass and energy. You’ll learn how these forces can be applied in different contexts and how they affect the motion of everything from electrons to plants.
Physics is all around us, and throughout your GCSE and A level studies you'll find out the role it plays in how we move, see and feel in daily life.
The first step in revision is to prepare for what’s ahead. You need to know what is going to be on the exam paper on the day. Before you can ask that question, however, you must first pose the most obvious one: which exam will you sit?
GCSE and A-Levels in Wales
If you live in Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor or Carmarthen, you will likely sit the WJEC/CBAC. This particular exam board also supplies tests to England and Northern Ireland.
Might you have elected Physics as a single subject? If so, you will be pleased to know that your exam is very well organised, designed to test you on the broader concepts of the three main topics before drilling down to specifics.
Those three main topics are:
- Electricity, Energy and Waves
- Forces, Space and Radioactivity
- Practical Skills
For the first topic, you would be expected to know about generating electricity and making use of it, including the many facets of domestic electricity. You will need to know about waves of different types: seismic waves, reflections of waves and features of waves. Rounding out this topic would call for you to expound on kinetic theory and electromagnetism.
The second topic will examine your knowledge of Newton's Laws, types of radiation, nuclear waste and decay, and then progress to speed, distance and acceleration; of stars, planets and the universe.
Finally, you will take on the role of a scientist by conducting theoretical experiments. You will then be required to successfully analyse the resulting data and evaluate the experiments' results.
With only three main topics, the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) exam is by far the simplest breakdown.
In spite of other exams being available, students in England may partake of this exam if that is one of the offerings selected by their school district. However, you will likely encounter the brand Eduqas rather than WJEC, which simply denotes the different curriculum requirements between Wales and England.
You'll see further differences in the breakdown of topics: Whereas the WJEC has only three, the Eduqas exam has no fewer than 11. No need to panic, though: they cover the same areas of the discipline.
EDUQAS in England
This examination board goes into far more detail in quizzing your knowledge of physics.
For example, under the topic of energy, you will be required to demonstrate mastery of energy sources and energy transfers, the conservation and dissipation of energy, the changes energy undergoes in a system; latent heat and specific heat capacity.
Search for a physics maths tutor.
Under the topic of electricity, you will have to know about the difference between parallel and serial circuits; how to draw them, interpret them and troubleshoot them. You will also be tasked with explaining resistance and potential difference, and expound on current - both direct and alternating.
The topic of Space Physics would be appealing to anyone who enjoys television's Big Bang Theory, in part because you will actually be called on to expound on the big bang theory - the cosmic event, not on Sheldon and Raj. Furthermore, you will face questions on universal expansion, orbital motion, satellites and our solar system in general.
Further enticing subjects covered on this exam include:
- black body radiation
- properties of waves
- the very contemporary safety in vehicles
- moments, levers and gears
- particles in gases
- induced and permanent magnetism
- nuclear fission and fusion
Physics Single Science - Other Exams
For STEM subjects in general but particularly for Physics, students seem to prefer the EdExcel exam over those offered by all of the other exam boards.
The reasons are clear: topics are clearly delineated, subjects are concise in their premises and there are plenty of multiple choice questions. Those types of questions pose a bit of danger because, oftentimes, two or more answers may be quite similar but only one would be absolutely correct.
For some students, this type of examination poses more difficulty than essay questions because you must remember every aspect and detail of that particular aspect of the discipline.
The devil is in the detail.
That is an apt quip to highlight the potential pitfalls of this reputedly easier exam. As an example: of two like-worded responses, selecting the multiple choice answer 'Celsius' rather than 'Kelvin' will cause your response to be stricken as wrong.
You might see the 'easier' exam as a trade-off: the questions may go less in-depth and are less exacting. On the other hand, those very features, along with its reputation for being preferred by students might lead you to prepare less and be reckless in formulating your responses.
What about the other exams?
As you surely know, there are several exam boards, all of which offer a single-science Physics exam: OCR, CCEA and AQA.
According to students' opinions gleaned from The Student Room, of all the exam board offerings, AQA has the most complex maths and science exams; on the other hand, the pass/fail level is lower for AQA than, say EDEXCEL.
That means that, if you opt to sit the AQA Physics single-science exam, you would have to have a much broader knowledge base but you would be forgiven more errors.
Regardless of which exam you choose or is offered to you, think about what topics could come up. You’ll need to look at the GCSE course syllabus to get an overview of the year’s topics.
If you are preparing to sit A-Levels, you'll find an overview of topics below.
It’s good practice to regularly go over the syllabus checking which topics you’ve already covered and those you are yet to tackle. Which of these topics did you find most difficult? You might find there are some topics that you need to refresh your memory on, or others you know you have more difficulty with.
This overview of the syllabus will give you a good place to start your revision. You can regularly go back to it throughout your revision to check your progress.
Look at the course specifications on your exam board’s website. These are extremely useful as they provide clear definitions for terms you need to know for the exam.
Everyone will be familiar with this method, and classic as it is, it is actually an effective way of revising. The action of making notes itself is a way of learning and remembering, no one can take information in just from staring at a page.
But be mindful not to just copy the words out from the page; a productive but ineffective means of studying.
Instead, try reading a section and summarising, maybe using bullet points but definitely in your own words what you have just absorbed. Follow the syllabus topic by topic, making such notes as you go.
When you have summaries done for an entire topic, go back and see if you can concisely explain each one solely based on your notes without turning to your textbook for reinforcement.
An Asset to A-Level Exam Preparation
Particularly for this hurdle in your academic career, note taking is an excellent way to prepare for A-Level Physics. The reason could not be more straightforward:
Less than proving concrete knowledge, exam boards are looking for specifics in your answers.
For one, unlike the latitude given in GCSE exam written answers, A-Level examiners probe your capacity for independent thought.
Furthermore, although you may well have in-depth knowledge of any given topic presented on your exam, for some questions, your answer should be succinct (not terse!). In other words: does your response answer the question exactly?
As one test taker avers, you might give a complex answer to a question when a simple, logical response is sought.
So, practising your written answers and matching them with past marking schemes would help immeasurably in assuring your success and scoring well on your exams.
At this stage in your studies, comprehension rather than memorisation is required - another reason to work things out on paper!
Make sure you really understand a topic before you move on. If you build strong foundations, you can build on this knowledge as you move through your courses.
Once you get to the end of a section in your textbook and feel like you know it, run through a few practice questions online, or at the end of chapters in your textbook to really test your understanding.
While you are making your notes, highlight key terms or formulas you need to know. You may also consider turning them into visual aids to be displayed around your room or other study areas in your home.
Flashcards and posters are a great way to display key ideas that you want to remember. This is especially useful if you’re a visual learner: use colours and bold text to make the information more memorable. You’ll associate the colours with the topics, making them stand out more easily in your mind.
Display the visual aids in a place you regularly pass by or someplace you can clearly see. Repeatedly reading your notes is a great method to keep you constantly thinking and to really make sure you understand a subject.
In order to do this most effectively, you need to know what is covered on the A-Level exam...
A-Level AQA Physics
You may be tempted by the optional topics offered, such as Medical Physics, Engineering Physics or Astrophysics and spend much more time on these subjects than on the fundamentals. You should remember that those and others are optional; the topics that matter are:
- Mechanics and materials
- Particles and radiation
- Nuclear physics
- Fields - gravitational, magnetic, electric and capacitance, and their consequences.
Naturally, maths figures prominently in this discipline. You might have selected A-Level maths as well as physics; if so, revising maths in tandem with the physics sub-topic Measurements of Physical Quantities might not be a bad idea.
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As with the GCSE, there is evidence that students find AQA Physics most demanding at both A1 and A-Level. However, if you constantly correlate your study efforts with past papers and marking schemes and tailor your notes and review materials to satisfy them, you should have no difficulty in scoring well.
Naturally, the other exam boards also test A-Levels physics; we'll cover their outlines in just a tick.
Another review tip: short bursts. Skimming over your notes in the morning, especially the morning of your exam will help boost your confidence, knowing you've covered everything!
Exam Paper Practice
Do every past paper you can find, as many times as you can. Getting used to the past papers will help you to understand the way the questions are structured; that is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam.
There are many ways you can use past papers; you can use them to practice answering in exam-style language – remembering the key terms and topics from your note taking. You can also use them to practice exam conditions. Set a timer in a quiet room without any distractions, or revision notes! This will get you into the habit of completing the paper in the required time.
You can use the mark scheme of a paper to your advantage too. Mark schemes are a standardised way for the examiner to mark your exam.
They detail all the key points that you have to hit for each question. In exams, getting a good grade means more than just writing what you know, you must demonstrate your knowledge ensuring you’re hitting the key points the mark scheme specifies.
Regardless of which exam you anticipate sitting, reviewing and working past papers of other examining boards will go a long way toward helping you to understand the differences and requirements of each exam, to say nothing of how they help you sharpen your test taking skills.
For example, the EdExcel exam specifications for A1 are much broader and more varied than the A2 ordeal. In year 12, you will cover:
- various aspects of mechanics - motion, forces, scalars and vectors
- electrical circuits
- waves; lenses
- the particle nature of light
Contrast that with exam A2, which broaches these topics:
- Further mechanics
- magnetic fields
- nuclear radiation
- nuclear and particle physics
You might deduce from these listed topics that the A1 exam deals with the minutiae of physics while your second-year exam would address broad concepts in general.
Don't be fooled! Each exam requires an in-depth knowledge of physics theory. Each one expects you to satisfactorily complete theoretical assignments and write out your conclusions.
By contrast, Eduqas groups their physics subjects by components: Newtonian Physics, Light and Nuclei; and Electricity and the Universe.
Unlike AQA's optional topics, this examining board offers the choice of Sports Physics and Energy and the Environment.
Nevertheless, much of the syllabus is the same, albeit more expanded:
- Kinetic theory
- Thermal energy
- Energy concepts
- capacitance and conduction of electrical energy
- electrostatic fields of force
- photons and lasers
- nuclear decay
- the nature and properties of waves
What about the OCR Exams?
OCR A study materials are organised into discrete modules with subtopics arranged accordingly. Also, it seems this exam's breadth is not quite as great as other exams on offer: no module lists more than five sub-headers and there are no optional selections compelling your choice.
OCR B, by contrast, follows the more topic-oriented study structure that other exams have adopted. Rather than a modular structure, you will encounter themes such as Understanding Processes, The Rise and Fall of the Clockwork Universe and Development of Practical Skills in Physics.
One might argue that OCR B subjects are modules in all but name. An accurate assessment, however, as the most recent contention with regards to A-Levels surrounds getting away from the modular concept of examination, this exam's efforts at doing so seems a step in the right direction.
In closing, we emphasise again: you must answer the way the examiners want you to.
This might seem impossible, but regularly doing past papers will get you into the habit and consulting marking schemes will help you work out which of your answers have gained or lost marks, and how well you're interpreting the questions.
Besides your textbook, there is a wealth of knowledge to found online. Whatever topic you are looking for you’ll found plenty of resources to help you.
Here are some of our favourites:
This site is a great resource that will test your knowledge for both GCSE and A level. It will you get into the practice of learning, testing and remembering.
Each topic is broken down into sections that you first learn, then test with a quiz then remember it with revision notes. You can even create your own personal question banks and revision guides so you have a tailored plan for you.
This A level physics site has specific resources depending on your exam board. You can access videos on its YouTube channel or just on their website. This is great if you want exam board specific revision help.
BBC Bitesize is a great website for GCSE physics revision. The site is organised by topics so you can do tests, play games and get notes on whatever topic you need help with. You can also select your exam board and it will bring up specific topics from your curriculum!
Although intended for American students, there is a wealth of information to be had at this academic tutoring site. Many of the topics covered in their collection of instructional videos are also addressed on GCSE and A-Level examination.
Here too you will have the opportunity to pretest to determine where you are on your way to mastering the subject, watch instructional videos, complete worksheets and take a final exam to close out the topic.
Believe it or not, YouTube is a fantastic educational tool. Type in A Level or GCSE physics in the search bar and you'll find hundreds of videos. It’s like having a personal tutor on demand with a video on any topic you need.
We especially like Richard Thornley's channel on YouTube. His videos are accurate, succinct, and are really easy to understand.
Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
Positive reinforcement is possibly the most significant, element of successful revision.
Revision isn't just about your knowledge, you need to get yourself in a positive mindset to tackle your exams.
Finally, on exam day, remember that you have put the work in and can only achieve your best. Stay calm and try to avoid going into the exam in a sleep-deprived frenzy!
Whatever revision method you decide is best for you to make sure to use different ones to keep it interesting and to give yourself the best chance on exam day. The more prepared you are in the run-up to exam day the less stressed you'll feel!