Revision never stays the same, regardless of the level you study at. As you move up from GCSE to A Level and eventually on to University, you’re talking about different levels of thinking and complexity. All with that comes different levels of support (unfortunately) and independence.
For many people, the exam period is more or less over now. However, having written a few pieces lately on the subject of revision, it got me thinking about how, as you progress, you have to adapt your style and learning strategies in order to prepare for the relevant examinations.
Back in my day, I guess I could go back even further to the Key Stage 3 SATs tests we had to sit at the end of Year 9. Thankfully, they don’t exist anymore, relieving some stress from students up and down the nation for one more precious year. Therefore, we’ll start with the first real set of exams you’ll ever take – the GCSEs.
From personal experience, GCSEs are rather spoon-fed in terms of content and what you need to do in order to pass the exam. I mean, you’re basically given the information to put onto the exam paper. Whatever you think of that, it does mean that there isn’t a huge amount of independent ‘thinking’ to be done so much, just making sure that you have all the facts you need.
For me, there were a lot of revision sessions in school to help me get on with my revision – even if it was officially study leave. From that perspective, the sense of being in a group certainly helped – this was the first set of examinations that really affected our lives, whatever we wanted to do later on.
Your GCSEs are quite broad in their range of subjects, so you have to be versatile – you’ve got quite a lot of different subjects to think about. I remember my exam timetable extending onto a second page because I had so many exams to think about. I had 2 Maths, Statistics, 2 English, 2 Science, 3 French, 3 German, Religious Studies… I could go on.
Also, since they aren’t quite as in-depth as A Levels in terms of the knowledge required, you do have quite a lot of different topics within the subject to think about. Within the sciences, for example, you have to think about three different branches – chemistry, biology and physics. What doesn’t help is that they probably didn’t teach them separately at school.
It’s your first experience of ‘real’ exams – but thankfully you’ll have a lot of support around you. Keep yourself organised and you’ll be OK.
At A Level, there’s a bigger emphasis on independent learning – let’s just get that right out in the open from the word go. You’ve got less of them, but quickly you come to realise they are some of the trickiest that you’ve ever come across. Yes, there will be revision sessions (which I would always urge you to take full advantage of!) and support groups to help you out, but there’s a greater need for you to get on with it yourself – thinking independently comes into it a great deal too, as the course material isn’t merely about fact-memorising.
For starters, the exams are longer – they can be upwards of three hours. If you happen to sit Art/Design, it could be an awful lot longer. This tells you something about the exam’s nature – you need to go in-depth and really get into the finer detail of your subject. You may have less exams but believe me when I say that it isn’t going to be easier as a result.
A Level requires a certain mindset change from GCSE which might take a while to adjust to – hopefully this period of adjustment takes place as you’re studying in the run-up to Christmas. You’ll hear so much about independent learning and you ought to get off to a fast start with it.
All that experience of keeping yourself organised is really going to prove important on this one, as you’re going to have to juggle your time a lot more to ensure that you spend an appropriate amount of time studying each module thoroughly. I hate to say this, but at A Level your revision should be constant through the terms to make sure that you have a solid bank of notes for when you start – you won’t be able to simply start revising once the course is done… Take it from me!
Consider this expert mode.
Revising for university exams is more of a philosophical exercise than anything else – as a student in International Business Management I can tell you that even economics-type exams require so much thought and consideration beyond the subject matter taught in the lectures we have considered getting the pipes and whiskey out.
There is very little in the way of organised support at university level – you’re expected to be thoroughly prepared in a very concentrated line of study and will probably have to do much of it on your own. You might, for instance, only have two or three exams in a term, but they are long and require a huge amount of depth and focus. You’ll need to rationally explain your own theories and arguments – this is not fact memory any more.
The lack of organised revision sessions might seem a little daunting, but with so many people in the same situation as you, you are bound to find people who you can work with. The idea here is not necessarily to make sure you’ve ‘learnt’ every theory, but also to bounce ideas off each other and make sure you actually have your own ideas and plans – they will be called upon.
The key here is to keep on top of your different pieces of work and start early – being organised and taking responsibility for your own learning is the key here.
There’s been a key word in all of the sections listed above – organisation. As you have less subjects to revise for, you’ll find the support of teachers and staff becomes more withdrawn and you’re left more to your own devices – you make your own success. You need to keep on top at every level.
The most important thing? Remember that you will have to adapt at different stages of your education to match the situation.
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