Prepare Like a Sports Team
The revision period is all about maximising your mark. Knowledge is vital, but you also have to be “exam-ready”. This means you need a study process.
Think of a football team or any other sport you like. They train each day of the week (this is your study sessions) then on the weekend they play a match where the result counts (this is your exam). What would a football team work on during the week? Everything! Anything that can possibly help them get the best result on the weekend.
They will be very aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and work on them. You need to do the same with exams; it’s not enough to just do past papers and read a revision guide. You need a very rounded approach to fulfil your potential.
Dimmer Switch Approach
As exams approach, students at some point decide that they had better start revising. They go from doing very little revision per week to lots. It’s like suddenly flicking a switch, and they are guessing how much time they think they need; it becomes very stressful.
The solution is to start preparing for the exam as soon as school starts in September. Simply do a few hours extra every week. Studying then becomes routine, and as the exam approaches, you can gradually increase the hours. A bit like a dimmer switch. You won’t ever need to go from zero to hero and feel that stress. You may even find you have too much time before the exam rather than too little, which is a very nice problem.
Having long term and short term goals is vital. Having goals provides motivation and direction; it also raises your level and expectations immediately. Aim high.
Long term should be the June exam. What grade do you need or want? Be specific. Write it down or tell someone. This is your motivation. Once you commit to it, you will work harder, and it drives you forwards.
Short term. Set goals every time you study. What do you want from that study session? Why are you even doing that past paper? Give yourself a reason. Set these goals then change them as the day goes on. For example, I want to learn this mechanism perfectly. If this takes 5 minutes, then you need a new goal after 5 minutes. If not, you keep going until you get it.
Study plans are the same. It’s fine to have one but be prepared to change it depending on how well you are doing. This means you need to be analysing and constantly reassessing, which makes you very efficient.
The two best methods I know are to break things down into manageable sections and to summarise.
Split the topic up into sections and then split the sections into sections. This makes it manageable. You can then work on one section rather than a whole topic. Small sections are easier to recall, and marking schemes are based on key points. So, if they put a huge emphasis on key points, you should be studying that way.
Summarising: if you have learned a new concept, you need to know how well you know it. Take a blank piece of paper and see if you can write a concise and clear paragraph on that concept. It’s difficult! Alternatively, pretend you are explaining it to someone, also difficult. This will help with your written answers. Concise and clear with no waffling or vague words.
The Past Paper “Basket”
A lot of students are obsessed with past papers. They read their revision guides, do a few past papers and think that they are ready for the exam. This might work for some people but not for most people. Past papers only provide a snapshot of a topic. You could do three papers and still not see something that you are supposed to know. So, don’t put all your eggs in the past paper basket.
When students use past papers, it’s very one dimensional. They just casually see what score they get over and over. They will improve initially but then the results plateau.
You need to shake it up a bit by adding variety. For example, you could time it, change where you do it, try it in less than the time of the exam, try thinking what else could they have asked instead? Try other syllabuses or the old specification, try only questions on a particular topic or only a particular type of question etc. Be creative.
To achieve the exam results you want means not just revising, but revising in the right way. Planning ahead, setting goals and splitting up your revision into small, bite-sized chunks are just some of the techniques top-performing students use.
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