GCSEs can be hard, and it is often difficult to know where you should start with your revision. History is a really interesting subject to study, but how are you going to memorise all of the content?
Whether you’re just starting your year, or you’re nearing your exams, revision techniques are vitally important. GCSE History can be overwhelming because it is such a vast subject, so having a variety of effective revision techniques will help you immensely when it comes to revising for your exams.
In this article, I’ll be going over some examples of tried and tested revision techniques (and general advice) to help you tackle the challenge that is GCSE History revision.
If you don’t wish to read this entire article and want the short answer, my first tip is to get more comfortable with reading as GCSE History will make you read lots and lots!
That said, here is the short answer for how to revise for GCSE History: when revising for History you will be required to remember so many periods, places and people that your brain will want to explode, so my main, number one tip, is to take frequent, yet short breaks. Other than breaks, I would say consider the following revision tips:
- Do Not Forget About Past Papers.
- Do Not Use All of Your GCSE History Past Papers Too Early.
- Attempt Quick Retention Exercises, such as “Key History Dates” Flashcards.
- Get to Know Your Exam Board’s History Specification.
- Visualise Your Notes, by Making Use of Mind Maps.
- Get the Right GCSE History Revision Guide.
- Vary Your Revision Techniques.
1. Past Papers are Essential for Perfecting Your GCSE History Exam Technique
Past papers are an incredibly useful resource for any subject, but they will aid you especially with your GCSE History revision. They are helpful for improving your writing structure as well as your subject knowledge.
Throughout your GCSE History course, your teacher should be showing you how to structure the wide variety of questions that you will be required to answer in the exam. Hopefully, they will provide you with practice questions whilst you are learning the content.
However, it is essential that you don’t only do the questions provided in class by your teacher. You need as much practice as you can get with exam questions – your technique for each question type contributes to your grade more than you may think.
In cases where you want to use past papers to practice exam technique, you may want to write your responses (under timed conditions) with the information in front of you, so that you are practicing one skill at a time. However, it is important that you stop doing this once you have mastered the basic structures for each question type.
Past papers will not only help you consolidate how to structure your answers, but they can also identify areas where your knowledge of the content is weaker. This can help you prioritise which areas you need to revise more – something which is incredibly useful when there is such a high volume of information to learn!
2. Using Mind Maps Will Help You Visualise Your History Revision Notes
Mind maps are a great way of summarising your knowledge. They allow you to make links between information, and this is extremely useful when you are trying to get as much detail into your GCSE History answers as possible.
It is important that you show the examiner that you know a wide range of information about the time period you are studying in order to get those top grades – so any additional facts that you can link to your main point will really help you out.
You can organise your mind maps for history in a variety of ways. Perhaps you want to focus your revision on a particular aspect of a time period, or you’d like to be broader and have an overview of the time period in its entirety.
There are a number of options for GCSE History, so each school will have a different combination of topics, but as an example, if you are studying Medicine Through Time, you may want to split up your mind maps into these categories:
- Important Individuals
- Ideas about the Causes of Disease
- Treatments and Prevention
- Medics and Care
- Case Study
You could create a mind map for each of these topics, while also splitting them up into time periods, which are clearly set out in the textbook. In this case, they are:
- Medieval Period
- Renaissance Period
- 18th and 19th Centuries
- Modern Period
Whatever you would like to do, it is vital that you have an organised way of filing your mind maps. If you are unsure on how you should be making and using your mind maps, take a look at this helpful article on how to use mind maps effectively.
3. Associate Particular Colours with Specific Places, People or Periods (Colour Code)
As I’ve said before, GCSE History is a vast subject to study. This means that, as much as you can, you want to try and break down the information you have to learn into small chunks.
If you are a more visual learner, it can often be helpful to use colours as a method of doing this. They can not only help you create links between pieces of information, but they can also make going over your revision notes, mind maps, or flashcards much more bearable!
When colour coding your History notes, my advice would be – keep it as simple as possible. Decide how you would like to organise your revision resources, and think about what you are struggling to link together the most – whether that is historical individuals, time periods, events and their consequences or places.
Once you have decided how you want to use colours to aid your revision, make sure you are consistent, in order to make it as effective as possible. If you are unsure about the best way to colour code your notes, take a look at these tips for colour coding your notes.
Colour coding can be incredibly useful if done right. However, it is important to remember that you can’t rely on it as your only revision technique. It should be an addition to your flashcards, notes or mind maps.
4. Get an Easy to Digest GCSE History Revision Guide
There are a wide variety of revision guides available for GCSE History. Revision guides will break down the information you have to learn into clear, concise points, which are much more manageable than the large chunks of text that you will find in your textbook.
It is definitely worth getting a revision guide, as you will gain extra guidance on exam technique from the exam boards themselves, as well as extra practice questions and activities to consolidate your understanding of the subject.
The revision guide you need will depend on your exam board, as well as the options that your school has chosen to teach. Some examples of useful revision guides are linked below:
5. Make Your Own History Flashcards – Don’t Just Use Other People’s
Flashcards are an incredibly useful resource for any subject, and that is especially true for GCSE History. There is such a large volume of information to learn, and it is important that you can break it down into small, memorable chunks.
In an ideal world, you should be making your flashcards right from the start of your course, to consolidate your learning as you cover the content. This gives you the most opportunity to use your flashcards as a way of testing your knowledge.
That being said, it is not only the use of flashcards for self-testing that is effective revision. The act of making the flashcards will help you greatly, especially in identifying the areas where you have gaps in your historical knowledge. Therefore, it is incredibly important that you make your own flashcards! If you are unsure on how to go about doing this, here’s a useful article on how to make effective flashcards.
For GCSE History, you need to be especially careful that you are actually summarising the information you need to learn in as few words as possible. There is a great temptation to write as much information as you can on your flashcards, because you want to learn the content in as much detail for your exam. This will not only make creating your flashcards much more time consuming, but it will also hinder you in your revision – it is impossible to learn everything word for word!
An example of a question and answer that you may want to put on a flashcard (for the Medicine Through Time topic) is:
- Q: What was Hippocrates’ role in Medieval Medicine?
- A: 4 Humours, Hippocratic Oath, Healthy Lifestyle
Although this may seem like a very short answer, it includes the relevant keywords, which you should be able to expand on when writing a GCSE History exam question.
6. Take Rests between Revision Sessions (Try the Pomodoro Technique)
GCSE History is very unique in the way that it requires an amazingly high level of information retention from the student. No other GCSE subject demands a student remember as much as they have to when revising GCSE History.
This is exactly why, when you are revising for your History GCSE exams, you don’t cram. Cramming never works in situations where a student needs to not only remember knowledge but understand it in a way that they can utilise their knowledge in a meaningful extended exam answer.
Just remembering periods, people or places isn’t enough. You need to be able to play around with the knowledge you have gained over your GCSE course and use it in a clever and developed way in your writing.
Therefore, cramming isn’t the solution – take frequent, yet short breaks during your revision sessions. There are many formats you can do this in, however, many students like to follow the advice drawn out in the Pomodoro technique, which you can read more about here.
If you are wanting the short answer to the question of “What is the Pomodoro technique?”, here it is:
The Pomodoro technique is a method of either working, revising or studying where you assign yourself a specific “Work Duration” and then a subsequent “Rest Duration”. For example, if you set your work duration as 45 minutes and then your rest duration as 15 minutes, you would work for 45 minutes and then you would rest for 15 minutes, this would repeat itself in a cycle for however long you are revising for.
If you can, give the Pomodoro technique a try and apply it to your GCSE History revision. You never know, it could change the game for you.
7. Vary Your GCSE Revision Techniques – Don’t Stick to Just One
An important thing to consider when you are revising, is that different revision techniques will be useful for different things.
- YouTube videos and timelines might be the best way for you to revise the order of certain events.
- Flashcards may help you remember the events of a certain date or time period.
- Mind maps may help you make links between events and their causes and consequences, or the impact of certain important individuals.
The above may not be how you want to use the different types of revision, but the point to take away from this is that you shouldn’t only use one technique for every piece of information. If you haven’t been inspired by the revision techniques listed here to help you with GCSE History, take a look at this useful article on revision techniques for GCSE and A-Level, which should give you some more detail on general ways to revise.
However, you must make sure that you are extremely organised, especially when mixing techniques. It is hugely beneficial to have a variation, but you need to be sure that you don’t end up with a set of flashcards, a timeline, and a mind map on the exact same pieces of information, as this would be a huge waste of your time!
8. YouTube is Free and Will Assist You Massively with Your GCSE History Revision
Non-students may say that YouTube is an “Unofficial” and “Non-Trustworthy” source of revision information, especially for something as important as fact-based history revision. Even though their claims may be valid in certain particular situations, YouTube must not be ruled out entirely.
Yes, there are videos out there that contain misleading advice, information and facts. However, if you navigate to the right channels, there are some cracking techniques and tips out there that can really give your History knowledge a boost.
Picking a channel / video to watch can be challenging as there is a wealth of content out there for you, however, a few channels that I personally would recommend are below:
- Revise GCSE History
- Lessons in History
- History Revision Success
- Mr Swift History
- A Long, Long Time Ago…
Even when watching quality, trusted content on YouTube, it is important to remember that there is not a single pathway to success when revising GCSE History. You do have to vary your techniques, so don’t get caught in the trap of just watching YouTube videos as your only work for GCSE History exams.
If you skipped Tip 7, I would recommend that you go back to that tip and give it a read, as I have listed some good techniques, other than YouTube channels and videos, that will help you out when revising GCSE History.
9. Know Your Exam Board’s GCSE History Specification Extremely Well
Whatever you are studying, the Exam Board’s Specification is the easiest way to familiarise yourself with what you need to learn. History is no exception.
The GCSE History Specifications break down the topics into bullet points which tell you what you need to learn. This will make it simpler for you to work out which parts of your textbook are essential, and which are added bonuses which you can use in your exam responses to show the examiner you really do know what you’re talking about!
Using the Specification to revise can save you a lot of time when you are summarising the information you need to memorise. However, you must make sure you don’t only know the Specification – it won’t tell you which facts you’ll need for your exam.
For example, the Medieval Case Study point on the Edexcel Specification for Medicine Through Time is:
“Dealing with the Black Death, 1348–49; approaches to treatment and attempts to prevent its spread.”
This is simply intended to give you some guidance on what you should be revising.
The best way to use it is to have it in front of you when you are making your revision resources. This can also help you stay on track and organised with your revision – and it will ensure that you’ve not missed out any important parts!
The GCSE History Specifications can be found online, and are linked below:
10. Make Timelines To Consolidate Your Understanding Of The Order Of Events
Timelines seem to be the most obvious way to revise History, but it feels as though their importance is often ignored by students. They have the ability to greatly help you improve your understanding of the order of events in a certain time period, and can be very useful when you are trying to remember dates.
There are a number of different ways to use timelines, and your use of them will depend on your individual learning style.
Some people may find that timelines are a great way to create a comprehensive, detailed overview of a time period. You can almost combine the idea of a mind map with your timeline, branching information off dates and events. A good way of making this kind of timeline easier to use is to colour code them (see Point 3 above if you would like more detail on this).
Others may find this type of timeline too overwhelming to create and/or use. This does not mean that you shouldn’t use timelines in your revision. You may want to keep it simple, with a date and event. This can be extremely useful as a way of understanding the order of events, and means that you will be able to fit more events on to your page!
However you want to use your timelines, make sure that you have other revision resources to accompany them. As I said in Point 7, it is a good idea not to limit yourself to just one type of revision.
11. Ensure That You Choose The Best Time To Start Your Revision
Choosing when to start revising can be a very difficult task. Everyone knows that cramming everything in the night before the exam is not an ideal situation (to say the least!), but perhaps you are also worried that if you start your revision too early, you will lose motivation.
The truth is, History is such a vast subject, there is no time too early to start your revision. This does not mean that you need to be testing yourself on all of the information all the way through your two-year course, but making your revision resources as you go through each topic is a really good idea. This will ensure that you are always on top of your resources, which will help you avoid that last-minute panic before your exams start!
Another really good idea is to make sure that you take any in-class assessment or test that your teacher may set seriously. This is true for all subjects, but ideally for History, as learning and memorising all of the information at once would be an impossible task – so tackling small amounts gradually is the best approach to take.
However, your serious exam revision should not start this early, as it can’t be kept up for the entire two-year duration of your course. If you are unsure on when to start this type of revision, have a look at this article on when you should start revising for your GCSE exams.