Past papers are an essential revision tool. They are the best way to find the areas that you need to improve on. Finding the gaps in your knowledge in preparation for your exams will leave you feeling confident. Past Papers are a way of testing yourself and ensuring that your revision is paying off.
They are the closest thing you'll get to a practice run of the exam itself and will help you get to grips with exam technique.
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 your subject is structured. There is so much you can get from past papers to really set you up for success.
Here’s our tips on getting the most out of A Level physics past papers.
Look at the Mark Scheme
Mark schemes will help you work out how well you’re doing. You can check where you’ve gained marks and where you might have lost them. Losing marks isn’t always down to a lack of knowledge; mark schemes are very specific. There are certain points that you have to mention in order to get the marks on a question.
Even if you know your topic inside out, it doesn't mean you will get the marks if you don't know what the marker is looking for. Exam papers are more than just what you know, how you write that down counts too!
Be succinct in your answers, don't waffle on with descriptive words. The examiner is looking for key points that efficiently and correctly answer the question. Think explanation not description.
Self-marking your past papers against the mark scheme will also help you spot areas where you have gaps in your knowledge and so can help focus your revision efforts.
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Don’t Forget the Chief Examiner's Report
Think of the chief examiner's report like a cheat-sheet on what not to do on an exam. The report compiles comments from all examiners in one year and details the most common mistakes students make and what they did wrong.
These are really useful as they let you know what examiners are looking for. By reading through them, you can learn what not to do, and what mistakes you need to avoid.
While you won’t know exactly what will come up on your exam it is good practice to get into the exam mindset, thinking of how the questions will be marked so you can effectively demonstrate your knowledge on the paper.
Get to Know the Exam Paper Inside Out
Past papers are a great way to prepare yourself for exam day. Knowing what to expect on the day will ensure you get the best marks you can! Use past papers to get used to the structure and wording of the exam. Of course, you won’t know exactly what will be on your exam paper but structures of papers stay much the same year to year so past papers are the closest you'll get to seeing what your exam will look like.
Using past papers you can familiarise yourself with the style of wording the papers use and the format so you don't lose marks on just not understanding the question. Note how questions are set up: are they single or multiple choice? Is the paper divided into sections? If so, how much time should you spend on each section?
Knowing what to expect will mean there's no surprises on exam day and you’ll go into the exam hall confident you’ll do your best.
Study With Friends
Going through past papers as a group can be a useful addition to your revision techniques. Answer questions individually then peer-mark each other's papers using the mark scheme as a guide.
Using peer-marking is a great way to get into the mind-set of the examiner. Get into the habit of having a critical eye, make sure your answers hits the key points according to the A Level physics curriculum.
It’s also a good idea to write some model answers to questions so you can practice writing an answer that hits all the key marks the examiner is looking for. Compare answers with your classmates to see where you can improve.
The exam paper is all about showing off the knowledge you’ve acquired over the course of you’re a-levels, so you’ll need to know the right vocabulary to demonstrate it! Remember there's a big difference in knowing something and trying to explain it. To explain it properly you’ll need to use scientific vocabulary. You should be able to explain a topic without too much descriptive language.
Practice explaining a topic to a classmate using succinct, scientific vocabulary and as little descriptive language as you can. The more you practice and the more varied your resources are, the easier it will be on exam day!
Make sure you do some of your past papers in exam-like conditions. While discussing the papers with friends is a useful tool, practising a paper under restricted time and without any revision notes is really important.
Set a timer and sit in a quiet room with no distractions to really emulate an exam situation; this is closest you'll get to the real thing! The more you can do to prepare for your exam day the better. You'll feel less stressed in the lead-up and will go into the exam hall knowing exactly what to expect.
Use your papers as motivation; if you didn't get a great score on one, don't panic. Use this as motivation to go and revise and learn about the topics you struggled with in the paper. If you got a good score then don't hesitate to write your score on the front of the paper in bold pen. Keep it somewhere where you'll see it daily. It will serve as a great confidence booster if you're ever feeling overwhelmed by all of your revision.
Finding Past Papers
You can find past papers and chief examiner reports on the website of your exam board.
There you'll find past papers from previous years and there will also usually be papers from summer exams and resit periods so there will be plenty to practice with.
Good luck and happy practising!