Most GCSE students would probably be surprised to learn that one of the most important techniques they need to master to score top grades is also one of the most important skills they will need to achieve success in their working lives. This skill is time management. Doing well at GCSEs ultimately depends on creating and sticking to an efficient study plan, which should be started months, rather than weeks, before exam time.
We recommend that you follow these tips if you want to get top results. They will allow you to build on the hard work you have been putting in all year, and convert this is success in the exam hall.
- Create your own study plan: Work out how many hours you need to revise each subject on a weekly basis and draft a study plan, which you should stick to strictly. When studying, do not spend too much time going into unnecessary detail in one subject. While it is always a good idea to back up information taught in class with extra reading, don’t spend so much time on the latter that you are neglecting the basics – make sure you have completely understood and memorised the important facts learnt in class before you veer off into your own research. Additionally, make sure to avoid getting side-tracked by TV breaks, phone calls, etc
- Make the most of online resources: The Internet is a rich source of all kinds of information that will help you prepare for your GCSEs. A good place to start is GCSE Bitesize, which is divided into subjects and features excellent tips on everything from how to write a non-fiction text to how to interpret mathematical graphs. For something a little more interactive, try Channel 4 Learning, which features fun games that will help you hone your knowledge in areas like algebra. If you are preparing for a subject like art, broaden your search and turn to sites like Pinterest, filled with beautiful projects from past students which will inspire you not only in terms of content, but in terms of style and presentation as well. YouTube is another rich source of videos that will help you with both revision techniques and exam content.
- Use past exams to hone your exam technique: Relying on past exam papers has to be one of the most useful tips of all. Doing past exams is vital, not necessarily because of their content, but because they can help you perfect your time management skills during the exam itself. A highly useful practice is to time the minutes you can allocate to each question. Make sure to give yourself a few extra minutes to check your answers as well.
- Use visual aids: Whether mind maps or large posters posted on the walls of your room will do the trick, don’t underestimate the power of the visual. Mind maps are particularly useful for subjects like History, where you need to collate quite a few facts about a particular period or world event, and relate different ideas to each other. It can be very hard to study without a summary of your notes, but mind maps are the ultimate minimalist aid, since they condense highly complex ideas into a few lines, which you can recall and reproduce in exams, expanding the information they contain. If you take public transport to and from school, bring revision cards with you; every second counts during exam time.
- Experiment with different exam strategies: If you find that certain subjects require you to memorise long lists of information, rely on mnemonics, which comprise a host of different techniques to retain information. These can include everything from wordplays to songs, rhymes, catchphrases and stories. One popular mnemonic is the phrase ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally’, used to describe the order of operations in mathematics: ‘Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract’, but you can get creative as you like – the best mnemonics are likely to be the ones you create yourself!
- Reward yourself: Set goals for yourself; if you complete them, reward yourself on a weekly or even a daily basis, with everything from a trip out with friends to an afternoon off to enjoy your favourite sports or leisurely pursuits.
- Exercise regularly and pay due attention to nutrition: Regular aerobic and strength exercise does wonders for your stamina, helping you feel fresh and energetic in the face of stress. Meditating even for just 20 minutes a day has been proven to increase a student’s ability at performing cognitive tests, so setting aside this amount of time every day could be very beneficial. What you are eating during this time is likewise of vast importance. Stay away from processed and high-sugar/high-salt foods like store-bought biscuits, pastries and snacks. These foods cause your blood sugar to rise quickly then dip, leading to fatigue. Instead, keep your energy levels steady by eating five small meals a day, comprising seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and lean sources of protein. Also, make sure to eat wild salmon and other fatty fish; they are filled with Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been shown to boost brain function. Sleep is likewise vital; don’t make the mistake of cramming the night before a GCSE exam. Rather, stop looking at your notes by around 8pm and do something relaxing like listening to music or doing some light reading. When you are tired, it is easier to make silly mistakes in exams; your ability to recollect and piece together information can also be affected.
- Think about putting together a study group: If you are the kind of learner who likes learning from others and sharing your own knowledge, consider starting up a study group early on in the year. Make sure you have a set agenda at every meeting and set regular breaks to ensure that you are using your study time fruitfully. Set tasks for each member – for instance, one person might be in charge of creating a mind map for a specific topics, another person might be asked to read and summarise a particular research book, still another might be assigned the task of sourcing past exam papers. Unless everyone has a function, your study group could end up being a mere social gathering.
- Don’t panic: Anxiety interferes with your ability to concentrate and analyse a problem. Don’t let worry block you and ruin all the hard work you have been dedicating to your studies all year.
You have the knowledge, discipline and drive. Get out there and show the examiners what you’ve got!