Both GCSEs and A-Levels are very hard, and not always easy to revise for. If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to find the right way to revise for your exams as they draw ever closer.
This article will not only show you what the most effective revision techniques are for GCSEs and A-Levels, but this article will explain, in massive detail, how to implement each of these revision techniques so they are actually effective.
1. Flashcards, Flashcards And More Flashcards!
Here we are, the first revision technique on this list – flashcards.
Before I go into this, I will say that I have written an entire article on how to make efficient flashcards and you should defiantly check that out before you read this section of the article.
Flashcards are the staple revision technique of any student. I used to use them all the time when revising for my GCSEs, and they helped me out hugely for my exams.
The reason they work so well is because they cut out all the useless bits of information that you don’t need to know. Short flashes of important facts and figures stick in your memory, meaning you’ll be able to use the information in your exams.
Not only do they work for GCSEs, they’re great for A-Levels too. I’m currently studying 3 A-Levels at the moment in college, and flashcards are one of the main revision tools I use.
However, flash cards may not be for everyone. If you’re more of a head down and study kind of person, then this revision technique may not be for you.
I do recommend making flashcards for all your subjects, and don’t mix them up. The more flashcards you have, the better your chances of success in your exams.
How Do You Make Effective Flashcards?
It’s all well and good knowing how effective flashcards can be, but the real question is – how do you make them?
Not just how do you make them, either – how do you make them, so they are actually effective flashcards. The answer is simple, just like the concept of flashcards.
When making flashcards, using the specification for your particular GCSE or A-Level is essential. The specification will breakdown your course into many smaller and easier-to-digest topics. Each of these topics are then further broken down into “Learning Objectives”.
Every time you make a flashcard, make sure that it is actually testing a “Learning Objective” that is stated in your specific subject specification.
The image below is a snippet from the GCSE Physics Specification. As you can see, this particular part of the specification is stating what Learning Objective 2.15 is – “Recall and use Newton’s second law as F = m x a”.
I always have and always will, recommend phrasing your flashcards as questions. Therefore, instead of the question side (as opposed to the answer side) of the flashcard reading “Newton’s Second Law Equation”, it should say “What Is Newton’s Second Law Equation?”.
I know what you’re thinking – that minor phrasing change really isn’t going to make that much difference…
You’d be surprised how much of a difference it does make. Phrasing your flashcards as questions actually makes it easier for you to recall previously revised information when you are in your actual exam.
This is because, in exams, you aren’t just thrown keywords to define, you are asked actual questions. Therefore, if you are comfortable answering questions, as opposed to just associating words with a particular definition, you will do much, much better in your exams.
Furthermore, writing your flashcards in this question-style format, forces your brain to actually think about the question before you shout out the answer. This means that you will be less likely to make the silly mistake of associating the wrong definition to a keyword.
On the back of the flashcard, there will be the answer to the question that is on the front side of the flashcard. This answer should be as concise as possible without leaving out any information.
Keep making these style flashcards, and you’ll have your own set of personal flashcards in no time. If you want them to be really effective, I’d suggest trying to make the questions and answers as short as possible.
They’re called ‘flash’ cards for a reason, you know. Using small snippets of the most important info will mean that it sticks in your brain easier, and you remember it for your exam.
Once again, I recommend that you check out the full article I have made on this topic.
How Should You Use Flashcards (So They Actually Work)?
Now you have created some effective flashcards, you need to figure out how to use them. This may seem like a doddle, but be careful – use them wrong and your GCSE/A-Level results could go down the drain (bit dramatic).
Now this is my killer strategy for how you should use your flashcards:
- Get someone else to read the question on each flashcard.
- For every flashcard you get 100% correct, put it in a pile to your right. However, for every flash card you don’t get exactly right put it in a separate pile (to your left).
- Once you have sorted your initial pile of flashcards into the two piles, you pick up the pile of flashcards that you got wrong and then you sort this pile out into their right-wrong respective piles (ask all the flashcards again).
- You keep repeating this, until you have no flashcards left in a “wrong” pile.
- Repeat steps 1-4 until you can go through the first pile of flashcards and have no wrong ones.
The above method is for a single revision session. I recommend you repeat the whole process several times so that the information gets fully ingrained in your mind.
However, the above method doesn’t have to be the one you use. Check out this article for an extensive list of more creative ways that you can use flashcards.
Remember, what you don’t want to be doing is looking at the answer side of the flashcard all the time. This is where many students go wrong – not taking the time to try to think before flipping over their flashcards.
2. YouTube Tutorials Are Heavily Underrated
Second on our list is this great revision tool – video tutorials. It may not seem like it, but for some this can be an extremely effective way of revising.
It can sometimes depend on what kind of learner you are. For example, a visual or aural learner would benefit more from video tutorials compared to someone who prefers to be a bit more hands-on.
Videos are great for revising, as long as you’re watching videos on your course content. Something I’ve done many times before is start watching video tutorials on my subject and then drift off into something different.
Make sure you don’t end up on the dark side of YouTube! One moment you will be revising how to differentiate a polynomial and the next (thanks to YouTube autoplay) you will be learning how to make a paper aeroplane…
Whatever you end up doing, don’t drift off. It’s extremely important that you stick to your subject content, or your revision time could be wasted.
And if you’re not into videos, or would prefer to just listen, there are always podcasts available. Especially for GCSEs, gcsepod can be majorly helpful for your revision.
How Are YouTube Tutorials Actually Going To Help You?
If you haven’t already seen, YouTube is overflowing with GCSE and A-Level revision videos.
I know that many people think that using YouTube to revise is somehow “old-fashioned” because a lot of the content on YouTube was made 10 years ago – they are wrong!
There are so many fantastic YouTube channels that will literally hold your hand and take you all the way through the specification during a gigantic playlist.
Furthermore, many GCSE and A-Level revision channels have fantastic explanations – hearing something explained in a different way can be the difference between you not understanding a topic and you being the master of that topic.
What Are The Best GCSE Revision YouTube Channels?
Every single one of these channels I used when I took my GCSEs and they helped me a TON.
The Best GCSE Revision YouTube Channels (Per Subject):
- GCSE Physics – Freesciencelessons
- GCSE Biology – Freesciencelessons
- GCSE Chemistry – Freesciencelessons
- GCSE Maths – HegartyMaths & WrightMaths
- GCSE Computer Science – Computer Science Tutour
- GCSE English – Mr Bruff & Mr Salles Teaches English
- GCSE PE – Ladybridge PE
Every one of these channels is fantastic and I highly recommend you check them out.
What Are The Best A-Level Revision YouTube Channels?
As I am currently doing my A-Levels, some of these YouTube channels I haven’t personally used yet. However, I have got very good reviews from other students about the ones I haven’t used (yet).
The Best A-Level Revision YouTube Channels (Per Subject):
- A-Level Physics – Science Shorts
- A-Level Biology – Ryan Toal
- A-Level Chemistry – Allery Chemistry
- A-Level Maths – Exam Solutions & Yacine Koucha
- A-Level Further Maths – Exam Solutions
- A-Level Computer Science – Craigndave & Computer Science Tutour
- A-Level English Language – Mr Bruff
- A-Level English Literature – Mr Bruff
I have found that there is a lot more YouTube content (that is actually good) when revising your GCSEs, and there seems to be a lack of content on YouTube when revising A-Levels.
3. The Pomodoro Technique
Many of you might be wondering what the word ‘pomodoro’ means and why it’s a revision technique. But, as many people will assure you, it can be pretty significant.
The pomodoro technique is actually pretty simple if you know what you’re doing – it means taking breaks after short periods of revising.
This method of revision supposedly is the best for saving information in your head, “better than any other method”. The short breaks allow your brain to rest and absorb what you’ve just revised, and so your revision ends up being more efficient.
In fact, the pomodoro technique was invented by brainiac Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, and it’s traditionally broken down into 25 minute periods of revision followed by 5 minute breaks.
I personally haven’t had tremendous success with this technique, however, so many people have been telling me how effective this technique was for them, hence why it’s made it onto this list.
How Would You Use The Pomodoro Technique When Revising?
The pomodoro technique is a great way of revising that ensures the info you learn sticks in your memory. But, how can you utilise it in your revision?
Firstly, this technique does not really go over what you should whilst revising (e.g. look over notes or textbooks). However, this technique more focuses on how you should structure your revision sessions. Therefore, this technique is only as good as your revision style.
This technique will amplify your already good revision technique. This technique will not help you if you have a poor revision style.
To implement this revision technique, you need to revise for 25 minutes straight and then immediately take a 5 minute break. Therefore, you would break up your 2 hour revision session down into 4 separate segments – each of these revision segments you would revise for 25 minutes and rest for 5.
However, some students may want to switch up how they use the pomodoro technique. For example, A-Level students may want to revise for longer, as the content they need to learn is more difficult.
If you really want to get the best grades you can in your exams, try to incorporate the pomodoro technique into your revision timetable. This way you’ve got the ultimate organised plan for your revision, and the best chance of good grades.
If you’re not sure how to create a revision timetable, take a look at this handy article. It goes over all you’ll need to know to create the perfect revision timetable for any of your exams.
It can really be applied to any method of revising – short bursts of revision with short breaks are the way to go.
Why Is The Pomodoro Technique So Effective?
The pomodoro technique is effective, but why? What makes it so good for your GCSE and A-Level revision?
It all comes from the fact that the longer you try to focus on something, the less focus you’ll have. After you start to lose focus, your performance declines.
What this means, in revision terms, is that the longer amount of time you spend revising at once, the less you’ll remember for your exams.
When you do a workout, you have rests between the sets of your workout, so why shouldn’t you take breaks when putting your brain under intense stress?
Take a look at this test from PsychCentral, in which they’ve proven the pomodoro technique actually works. If you want to maximize your efficiency when revising, then this is clearly the way to go.
Adding mini breaks in between your revision periods effectively resets the timer every time. This means that your focus is always almost 100% revision – meaning almost 100% revision efficiency.
4. Mind Maps
Mind maps are very effective for learning, and they can help you to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are.
I used to use mind maps all the time when I was studying for my GCSEs, and I’ve continued that trend into my A-Levels.
This revision technique is also used in class by many teachers – I’m sure we’ve all been asked to draw a ‘spider diagram’ before, right?
Well mind maps are essentially buffed up versions of this. They consist of writing down all that you can remember, and then you can work out the gaps in your knowledge.
Mind maps work so well because the fact that you make them yourself means you’re more likely to remember them. Let’s face it, you’re more likely to remember yourself making a mind map than someone else.
A mind map is essentially a visual representation of the knowledge that is contained inside your head.
How Do You Make Effective Mind Maps?
The best mind maps can help you revise a whole topic’s content within the space of half an hour. Where do these incredible revision sources come from, and how?
The secret key to effective mind maps is memorability. Make your mind maps memorable, and they can be better than any of the rest of the revision techniques on this list.
To make an effective mind map, you’ll want to add colour – and lots of it. Bright colour helps your brain remember what you’re doing, as it makes it seem more fun and enjoyable.
Another great asset you can use to your advantage is shapes. Adding lots of different shapes to your mind map has the same effect as colour. More enjoyment = better retention of information = better exam results.
And last (but definitely not least) you can use drawings in your mind maps. Adding drawings to different parts of your mind map will make it so much easier to remember.
It’s all well and good you knowing what mind maps are and how to create them, but do you really know how to use them?
We do have an entire article that answers this exact question. So, make sure to check it out here.
Well, mind maps are unlike flashcards, in the sense that there is no specific set of instructions on how you can utilise them.
I think that mind maps should not be used as a primary revision technique, instead, they should be used at the start of a revision session so that you can identify all of your knowledge gaps for a particular subject.
Whenever you make a mind map, it highlights the areas that you know a lot about, and also shows you the areas that you don’t.
Therefore, you should make a mind map, revise what you didn’t know, and then make another one. Carry on making mind maps until you’re confident you’ve written down everything you need to know from memory.
Once you’ve done that, you should have a piece of paper with everything you need to know on it. Revise from that in future when you’re a bit rusty, and you should ace your exams.
5. Past Papers
Past papers are a great way of revising, and a technique used by many students around the globe.
The great thing about them is, there’s a past paper for every subject you could possibly do. There are past papers for both GCSEs and A-Levels, and they’re super effective for revision.
They not only improve your knowledge of the content, but they also boost your exam technique, too. Exam technique is essential for any student, as without it you could lose a lot of marks.
You’d be surprised at the rate you can get through exam papers, too. I easily got through 3 papers every day when I was revising for my GCSEs, so make sure you have quite a lot.
How Do You “Go Through” A Past Paper Effectively?
Good question. There are lots of ways you can ‘go through’ a past paper, but only a few are effective.
Possibly the most common (and most simple) way of going through past papers is to do all the questions in the allotted time, and then check your answers after.
This way is great for preparing you for exams, as it is pretty much what will happen on the day. However, it isn’t entirely effective, as there’s less room to learn.
A better way, in my opinion, is to take as much time as you need to do the questions. Just work on getting them right with full marks, and then move onto full exam style revision later.
You can even check the answers every once in a while, if you need help. This repeated exam technique practice combined with constant revision is a sure-fire way of exam success.
Just make sure you’re not constantly looking at the answers. If this happens, you won’t remember any of your revision – you’ll just rely on the answers being there, which they won’t be during an exam.
At What Point Should You Start Revising From Your Bank Of Past Papers?
Past papers are useful for your revision, and can make a huge difference in your exam results. The problem many students have, though, is that they start using them at the wrong time.
One of the main problems students have is that they start using their past papers to revise way too early. Doing this means that you run out of past papers before you get to your exams, and that’s when you really need them.
Save your past papers until just a few weeks before your exam. Doing this will ensure you’re in the exam-mood as you progress smoothly from revision to the real thing.
In the meantime, I’d suggest using some of the other revision techniques on this list. In fact, the more you switch up your revision techniques, the more likely you are to remember what you revised.
Where Can You Find Past Papers For A Particular Subject?
Past papers are great for revision, and know we know how to use them effectively. The problem is, how do you actually get a hold of them?
Maybe the most obvious way in this day and age is online. Figure out what exam board your subject is on, and then go to their website.
Here’s a short list of the most common exam board websites, so take a look here. These links will take you straight to a page where you can enter details to find past papers for your subject – GCSE and A-Level:
If you don’t think you can find past papers for your subject, then there’s always another source of these great revision tools.
Go to your teachers! Teachers literally teach your subject, and I’m sure they have (or can find) some past papers for you.
6. Teach Someone Else
I’m sure every student has been in that situation before – someone needs help, the teacher’s busy, and it’s your time to shine. You feel like a master when it happens in class, but how does it help with your revision outside of class?
Teaching other people is a great way of improving your own understanding of a subject or topic. Relaying your knowledge and helping someone else to understand helps both parties involved, so it’s a win-win.
Everyone has that one subject that they enjoy or are good at, so why not share your knowledge with your fellow students?
When you are teaching someone, they will ask a lot of questions. Each of these questions you will have to explain in detail. Therefore, it is very likely that they will ask a few questions you won’t know the answer to.
You never know, you might be on the receiving end of some tutoring. This can be just as effective as being the tutor, because better understanding and concepts are being shared with you.
How Does Teaching Someone Else Actually Help You?
Teaching someone else allows you to go over your previous understanding of things, something that you wouldn’t normally do.
It’s important to question your knowledge, as otherwise you may have hidden gaps. Hidden gaps in your knowledge can expose themselves in exams when you least expect it – this leads to loss of marks.
Similar to mind maps, teaching someone else reveals those hidden gaps before you reach your exam.
It’s also an easier way of revision – rather than specifically working on your knowledge, you can passively work on your understanding.
Although, I wouldn’t suggest teaching someone else as revision if you completely don’t know the content yourself. Doing this will not help you at all, because you can’t develop what you don’t know.
Not only that, but how are you going to teach someone else if you don’t know the content at all?
Who Should You Teach?
Teaching someone else can be effective, if you choose the right person. So who should you teach, and why?
Generally, you should teach someone who isn’t as adept as you in a topic. This way they can learn what you know, and you can develop your own understanding.
I always used to teach my friends when I was studying for my GCSEs, and that worked for me. I even do it sometimes for my A-Levels, too.
The reason you want to study with familiar faces is because you’re more likely to remember it.
Can you remember the last time you hung out with your friends? Probably.
Can you remember that random encounter you had with that cashier earlier? Probably not.
See what I mean? Studying with people you know is more effective – this can include family, too.
Just make sure of two things:
- You at least know the basics on what you’re teaching someone.
- You’re teaching someone who isn’t as good as you are.
Follow these two steps and I’m sure you’ll be on the road to success.
7. Group Revision
Have you ever got together with your friends to revise? No, me neither.
Group revision consists of working with friends towards the same goal – being ready for exams.
Sitting down with your mates and revising can actually be better than revising on your own. Seeing familiar faces helps your brain remember the knowledge you need to know for your exams.
Although, sometimes it doesn’t work out too well.
More often than not, revision sessions with friends can turn into social meet-ups. This is not good, as it ends up that you actually get not revision done.
When undertaking a group revision session, it’s important that you focus on the task at hand. Do this, and it’s plain sailing from there.
How Can Group Revision Help You?
Group revision can be tough to pull off successfully, so what’s even the point?
There’s lots of point, actually. Group revision, done right, can be super effective.
Group revision helps you associate revision with fun times. This in turn will help your motivation to revise as you start looking forward to it.
And who doesn’t need that extra bit of motivation for revision? I know as well as the next person that sometimes it’s difficult to find the effort to revise.
Not only will it help your motivation, but you’ll be all set for your exams when the time comes.
Group revision (when done correctly) will enforce the knowledge you have and greatly increase your understanding of your course. And you know where that gets you – success in your exams.
Can You Rely Solely On This Group Revision Technique For Your Exams?
Group revision is effective, but could it carry you through your revision – and then exams?
The short answer is no, not really. The group revision technique is a great way to boost your motivation, but you’ll need another revision technique alongside it if you want to succeed in your exams.
If you want the best chance of passing your exams, I’d suggest combining some of these other techniques on this list.
Mix in some independent study with your group revision, and you’ll have a much higher chance of successful, effective revision.
After all, you won’t have your friends to help you in your exam. At the end of the day, it’s you, the exam, and your revision – nothing else is going to change your results.