GCSE Revision with Past GCSE Exam Papers

GCSE exam papers are a great tool for students during revision sessions to display how well they are doing in the lead up to exam season. Past GCSE test papers can show where students need improvement, and what areas are to focus before the big day arrives.

Exam papers are a vital tool for revision, and every student should include these in their GCSE revision timetable, not only do they show weak areas, they aid students to practice performing under controlled conditions such as silence and against the clock. They also help students understand how their GCSE subjects are structured and what examiners are looking for in the answers.

GCSE exam marking criteria

Marking schemes show students how they can gain and lose marks as well as how much depth they need to answer each question. Marking criteria differs for each exam and subject, and some can be very specific while others vague and difficult to interpret, however, they can prepare students for their exams that they take in the summer. There are certain points that examiners are looking for and even though you can write a perfect answer if it does not include these points you can lose marks. Using a marking scheme will enable students to understand how to answer the question correctly, while also ticking all the boxes that the examiners list.

Students should be able to download exam marking criteria from the examining board’s website, where they display past exam paper information. Ensure you download the correct subject and topic, as there can be different groups for students taking exams, or if your school has decided to focus on one area. Students can also ask their teachers and school for a copy if they have one.

Understanding the structure of the exam paper

Past exam papers also aid students to understand wording and structures of exams. On occasion, exam question wording can be tough to interpret and confuse students, especially when they are feeling the pressure sitting in the exam and there are plenty of ways to deal with GCSE exam stress.

Take your time to familiarise yourself with all sections of the exam paper – as each subject’s paper differs to the next. When you allow yourself time to get to know how the test feels and reads, it will make you more confident on the day, and you won’t be worried about any surprises!  Take into account how the paper is divided, what sections it has, what choices are there in regards to your answers, (i.e. are there multiple choice, or single choice answers, how many essay questions are included? etc.) how much time you should allocate to each section and question, as well as, if you feel knowledgeable of each section. Papers can show how well you know your subject and display any holes in your revision before actually sitting the exam. Furthermore, you might find that you have been taught how to answer a particular question, topic or section, therefore, ensure you know where in the exam paper this is and that you feel strong enough to answer this.

Read examiner’s reports

It may sound odd, but you should read the examiner’s report on that year’s GCSE exam paper too. An Examiner’s report – usually the Chief Examiner – is a document that discusses the answers given in the exam that year. It features comments from the individuals who mark the GCSE exams and are then collected together and published in one report. The report is very useful as they let students understand what examiners are looking for, and what common mistakes that students make to avoid. It is just as important to understand what the examiners are not looking for, and would lose points for a student than it is to know how to gain points.

Students should be able to download a copy of the Chief Examiner’s report from the examining board’s website and ensure to download the correct report for the corresponding exam.

Group revision sessions

Studying with your friends has many advantages and disadvantages. The positive aspects of group revision is that you can ask your friends questions about the topic on areas you don’t understand. Your friends will have different strengths and weaknesses to your own, meaning they can help you where you lack and you can do the same for them. If you are studying a different topic or subject, group study sessions can also be helpful as you can attempt to explain your subject to them – as they are completely unaware of the subject – and this practice can help you learn how to get your thoughts and answers out in constructed sentences.

A disadvantage of group study sessions can be that your friends may become a distraction, and meeting up with them regularly can tempt you not to revise or do your work. If you are studying the same subject, your friend may already feel comfortable with a certain topic and need to focus on a different area, whereas you are not in the same position. You may end up revising different areas just because your friends are, or find you are not getting the full support that you need because you are in different places in your revision timetable, so maybe in that instance, independent study is best for you. 

It is also important to consider where you choose to study with your friends. You could study at your school’s library, or classrooms before, during or after school, or at your local public library if you fancied a change of scenery. Studying in an atmosphere that you associate with learning, quiet and concentration will most likely have a positive effect on you, whereas if you choose to study at home or your friend’s house, you can get easily distracted or feel too comfortable to get down to revising. All of these points should be considered when planning a group study session for GCSE revision (So don’t procrastinate with GCSE revision, if you’re with friends, you don’t want to bring each other all down), however, choose to revise in a place and atmosphere that you are comfortable and able to revise successfully.

Using the exam board specification

The exam board specification is what they list is included in the subject, and what teachers have to teach their students. If you base your revision to reflect the exam board specification you are ensuring you are covering all areas that are possible to come up during the exam. Exam boards can only ask students and construct their test questions based on the specification that they created at the beginning of the subject/year; therefore you can’t miss out by following this technique.

The ideal way to use exam board specifications effectively is to use it to make sure you on top of the topic, understand all that is included, and then use your class notes, and notes from your teacher about your individual ability to perfect your revision and answers. Your teacher and school may have chosen to focus on one area of the specification, so use your curriculum alongside it to ensure you revise the areas that you need to and not waste valuable time during revision season.

Examiners try to cover most of the specification each year when setting up the exam papers, but it doesn’t mean everything will be included. Some areas will be missed, and the exact same question will not appear twice. However, by studying the exam board specification, you are more likely to spot patterns or understand how they construct their questions from the specification for the paper, and this can help you out too.