I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before, but your A-Level exams are extremely important. Once you hold the offers to study your desired degree at the university of your choice, the final hurdle is achieving your your grades. Most healthcare degrees are competitive, and the entry requirements are often high. Additionally, the most sought-after degrees are not available in clearing, and entry is not possible if one’s A Level grades do not meet the requirements. Also, some universities do not accept students who have re-taken their exams (for a second time). Now the purpose of this is not to scare you, but to reaffirm what you already know, and serve as a motivation to you on the many days you will spend revising and preparing for your exams. On the day you open your results, all the hard work will be worth it.
To help you do well in your exams, we have collated ‘5 Top Tips for Exam Success’. There are many additional tips that are useful, and every student is different, however, we feel these will serve as a very useful starting point for your exam preparation.
5 Top Tips for Exam Success
Tip 1: Your specification is your best friend
Your exam board will have released a specification for each of the subjects you are studying. This is a document found on the exam board website under your subject qualification which details all the content that they expect you to know in order to sit the exams. If it is not in the specification, the chances are you won’t be asked about it. While textbooks and other resources are great, they often add extra information which is helpful to gain a deeper understanding, but can at times be overwhelming as well. I found the specification particularly helpful in the science subjects, as the mark schemes for science subjects were very specific, and they required you to word your answer in a very particular way, and often the ‘ideal answer’ linked back to the specification.
Make sure you know the specification well. The way I recommend you check this is: you should be able to write and explain more than a paragraph from your own knowledge about any specific point in the specification and teach it to someone else. I hope I have convinced you about the importance of your specification in your exam revision. Understand it, stick it on your wall, stick it around your house if you need to, whatever you do, don’t leave it out!
Tip 2: Active Recall and Spaced Repetition
When it comes to exam preparation tips, active recall is perhaps the most effective technique I used. The practice of retrieving information from your brain regularly by testing yourself, strengthens the neuronal connections you are relying on to learn. It’s simple, the more often you use these pathways, the stronger they will be, and thus the more likely you are to remember information. Here are 2 ways to incorporate active recall and spaced repetition into your revision:
1. Flashcards – when you are studying your cards, put them into three piles. Easy, medium and hard. In the easy pile, you put the cards which you recalled without hesitation, the cards in this pile need to be reviewed every other day. The medium pile is for cards you could recall but with difficulty. These need to be reviewed again in 10 minutes, and then the last pile is for cards you could not remember, these need to be reviewed again in 1 minute. The medium and difficult pile, once you have learnt them, and are confident, you put them in a pile to review again the next day. And you repeat the process every time you go over a card. It sounds tedious, but once you get the hang of it, it will be extremely beneficial.
2. ‘Blurting’ – this is a technique where you choose one module to revise, once you are confident that you know the topic, you get a plain sheet of paper and blurt down everything you know about that module without looking. Don’t worry if you can’t remember some things, note down everything you do know. Once you have exhausted all those pathways, get your notes and with a different colour, add in the parts you forgot, this will stand out when you review that page. Do this regularly and repeat the same topics.
Tip 3: Start early
Many students have a tendency to cram. We are all guilty of it. However, speaking from experience, if you start revising earlier on in the year, it will make a world of a difference when it comes to exam season. But small and steady! You do not have to understand and retain the whole module in the first month, rather make sure you include spaced repetition and active recall in your revision methods. With every subject, understanding is key – it is not enough just to memorise, especially in A-Levels. You need to be able to understand and APPLY your knowledge. That way, no matter what question you are faced with, you will be able to adapt, and answer correctly. Make your revision resources early on, and try to get your notes done on the day you have the lesson, review these regularly, and start testing yourself early on. Even passively looking at your notes (I don’t recommend this for revision) is better than doing nothing at all, you will see the difference.
Tip 4: Timetables and To-Do Lists
Now this was my holy grail! It seems like such a mundane task, making timetables and lists, but the difference it makes to your revision is unmatched! When it comes to the holidays and exam season, before you start your revision, make a list of all the things you need to get done in that holiday, then add the extra things you want to do, such as extra reading or past papers. Count the days you have off, timetable in pre-organised activities, and then divide your task list by the days you have. Make sure you are realistic, then work through the tasks each day. Some people find it helpful to timetable their day by the hour, if this works for you go ahead! Timetables hold you accountable, and they are extremely satisfying when you can tick off your tasks.
Be sure to timetable in breaks as well! As students, we can often get caught up in a vicious cycle in which we are constantly working without rest, however, this can often be counterproductive. An hour of solid work is a lot more effective than 3 hours of ‘forced’ work in which you are tired, hungry and your concentration levels are not optimum. Always remember: quality over quantity. As humans, one of our basic physiological needs is rest, we simply cannot function without it and it is vital to achieve our full potential. So, make sure you are taking care of yourself, do things you enjoy, and keep active. It can get straining spending long hours sitting down at a desk! Work smart and don’t neglect yourself – your body and mind will reward you for it!
Tip 5: Past exam papers
Past exam papers have been mentioned before, but they need their own section! In order to prepare yourself for the types of questions you will be asked, and the style of the questions, you need to expose yourself to past exam papers. Do the papers more than once under timed conditions (do them till you are getting over 90%). Study the mark schemes, make sure you understand why you are right/wrong and if you don’t understand, ask your teacher! It is almost counter-intuitive to do a past paper, but not learn from your mistakes! Aim to do one paper per subject every week, and increase this as the exam dates come closer.
That was a very jam-packed post! There are endless tips on how to do well in exams, and this list is not designed to be comprehensive, rather it provides you with a broad range of tools and advice that are transferable across many areas of study. Find the way that works for you, trial different methods early on to find what works for you. Having a good group of friends to study with can also be hugely beneficial. Keep going and don’t forget to take care of yourself, we wish you all the very best in your exam.