Student Advice

How to Revise Using Past Papers

Ben Maples  · May 4th 2023  · 4 min

Revision is an essential part of any student's academic journey. It is the process of reviewing and consolidating what you have learned in your studies.


One of the most effective ways to revise is by using past papers. Past papers give you an idea of the type of questions you can expect in your exams and provide an opportunity to practice answering them. By revising with past papers, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, improve your exam technique, and boost your confidence.

Higher english past papers

What are past papers?

Past papers are examinations from previous academic years. Past papers can be used as a means of revision or to highlight some topic areas that typically come up during end-of-year exams.

Most past papers will also come with previous marking schemes. This will have the answers to the questions on the exam and will also likely come with the examiner’s report, which gives insight into why questions are marked in a certain way or what sort of answers the exam board typically looks for.

How important are past papers?

The answer is really down to the person using this specific revision technique. For some, past papers are an essential way to revise and to prepare for an exam, for others, they are less useful.

Past papers are examinations from previous academic years.

The important thing to remember with past papers is how you use them. Past papers are supposed to be used as preparation for the kinds of questions you might be asked. Examiner’s reports can be especially helpful too. These reports can show you how to answer specific questions and what sort of answers the exam board are specifically looking for.

Where do I find past papers?

Exam boards will usually have past exam papers on their websites. These can be subject to change, however, as the GCSE and A-Level syllabus is constantly changing. This is also the same for university degree courses, as the courses change their teachings and syllabus every academic year.

The best places to find these exams are:

Some schools have also been known to have past papers on their websites or intranet. Not all colleges and schools offer this though, so going through the exam board website is usually the best way to find them.

Higher Chemistry

Why should I use past papers?

Past papers are an excellent way to learn more about what examiners are looking for. Past papers do not just familiarise you with the kind of questions you may be asked, but also encourages you to explore different types of answer, be it short-form or essay-type.

Test and apply your knowledge

Past papers are a good way of seeing just how far your revision is taking you. If you have spent a week revising a specific topic, then a past paper gives you the chance to test what you have spent the week learning.

Past papers are examinations from previous academic years.

Application is one of the best revision techniques available. Learning from notes, books, videos or audio clips are all good ways of studying things, but answering actual exam questions on the topic gives you the opportunity to apply everything you’ve been revising.

Understand the questions

Past papers are an excellent way of gleaning the salient point of an exam question. Most exams will change their wording each year, but past papers will give you the chance to really work out what kinds of things the exams are asking you for.

One of the main things you will be looking for with past papers is “command words”. These are words that identify exactly how you should answer a specific question and what they are looking for. With past papers, you will be able to cut through the fat and find exactly what you need in an exam question.

CCEA maths past papers

Examiner’s reports

Examiner’s reports are reports written by the people who mark the exams. These reports are highly-detailed and very in-depth, covering each and every question in the exam and giving specific advice and criteria for answers.

These reports are not cheat guides, far from it. These are meant to provide you with the resources to answer questions in the future.

Past papers are an excellent way to learn more about what examiners are looking for.

How many past papers should I do?

That’s really down to you. Past papers are an excellent way of testing what you’ve already revised, so it's best not to become too over-reliant on them but rather as a conclusion to any revision you have done.

We recommend doing a past paper at the end of your revision for a specific subject. For instance, if you have a revision timetable and are going to be studying one subject solidly for a full week, then it is best to have a past paper at the end of it to test yourself.

AQA maths past papers

Is doing past papers a good way to revise?

This will vary from person to person. Some find revising using past papers to be an excellent way of revising, while others consider it to be a less effective method.

As with all revision methods, it’s about what works for you and what enables you to learn the most. It’s always best to play to your strengths, and if you feel that your revision is best served by using past papers, then it’s best to use that method.

Examiner’s reports are reports written by the people who mark the exams.

Can you buy past papers?

Most exam boards will already have past papers on their website. This is not necessarily a fool-proof method because, as stated above, exam boards can be somewhat fickle about which papers they will offer for students to download.

Some exam boards have been known to sell past papers. These can usually be found on Amazon or through other bookshops or public libraries. Buying is not generally recommended, purely as it is not always economically viable. Most schools, colleges or universities will have copies of past exam papers for you to study from if you require them.

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