How To Do
On Your GCSES
How To Do Well on Your GCSEs
I imagine many people reading this may feel some mixture of nervousness, excitement and uncertainty heading into the new academic year. We're writing this for those who may see the exams as daunting: the attitude you should adopt, how to prepare (early and late), which resources to use, what to think of the past summer, and what it means for the future.
Why you should listen to this post:
As a pretext for this post, we wanted to give brief context on ourselves and our experience with the GCSEs. I myself did quite well on my Year 10 end of years (7A*), knuckled down and managed 9A* on the final thing. It was a stressful process, and I was constantly searching for ways to 'hack' my revision methods (unfortunately there's no quick fix, rather a process of optimisation). I've worked on a number of GCSE-related projects before, during and since University. Mark and Seb are both Geography teachers and tutors with decades of experience supporting students through a variety of exams including the A-Levels and International Baccalaureate. We designed Flyp to give students all the tools they need for their exam prep from the first day of their GCSEs to the final minutes outside the exam hall.
"I didn't spend any of the summer revising, am I in trouble?"
No! If you have revised, great - but it's by no means necessary. The only situation I would recommend this is if you're in year 11 and did particularly badly on the mocks - you'd want to go through the exam, understand the mark scheme, and understand where you went wrong. But believe me, you have more than enough time to do this. Even the students most-successful on their GCSEs waited until the Christmas break to really start revising.
Attitude / What to expect
GCSEs are important - and how you do will determine your final 2 years of secondary school. But, I see many students getting worked up over their grades and whatnot. Remember, you're 16 at the age of the exam; your careers do not begin for at least 6-7 years. How you do on your A-Levels is more important, and how you do in University is far more important than that. So recognise that you want to do as well as possible, but excessive stress will only cause a wear and tear effect on your preparation.
Although I'm not a fan of using buzzwords - maintain a growth mindset throughout. During year 10, I achieved 52% on my first half-term Chemistry exam. A terrible grade. For end-of-term exam, I started early, revised properly, did the relevant homework and practice questions, and smashed it with a 98%. Everybody is capable of this - just stay organised and know what you need to do. So this begs the question: What do I need to do?
What to do, with the year ahead.
You can think of your learning like building blocks. As you start year 10, you'll spend the first term focusing on a specific topic. You want this block to be as strong as possible for the exam, so that down the line it's easy to reinforce - ideally, you don't want to do as I did in Chemistry, where I, well, didn't even build that block! When you learn a topic, after around a month your memory fades. When you revisit that learning, it'll take more like 3-4 months before your knowledge dips off. If you revisit it a third time, you will know the topic comfortably. At this point, almost a decade since I sat my GCSEs, I'd feel comfortable with re-sitting a subject I took back then.
So, in terms of an action plan:
- Before preparing a topic, try to get comfortable with the basic concepts. Watch a lesson video, go through notes. You can't expect to get it 100% on first attempt, but you'll be far ahead of your classmates right off the bat.
- After each day, sit down for an hour or so and revisit your class notes or materials. Assuming you take lessons in 3-4 subjects daily, this should be fast and easy!
- At the end of the week, consolidate your learning. Homework is intended to do this, but as we all know homework is often subpar and considered a hassle. Do it to the best of your ability (!), but find fun ways to go about the consolidation process - use a pomodoro timer, listen to music, study with friends etc.
Prep Plan for End of Term Exams & Mock Exams
I'd consider mock exams, in my experience, to be absolutely key in preparing for the real thing. Here's a step-by-step guide to exam preparation that you can implement for any half-term, end of term, mock, or of course actual, exams:
- Learn the material. Hopefully by the time the exam comes around, you're pretty comfortable with the material. That being said, sometimes you aren't. If there are certain topics you feel weak on, find online notes or lesson videos, and go through those. Make notes as you do, so you turn your learning from passive (just watching the video) to active (engaging with the content).
- Complete any relevant short questions / mini-quizzes. This can be questions at the end of the video, notes, or textbook section. These won't be realistic for the exam, but given much of the GCSEs are about application, these help with understanding the core material.
- Walk through the syllabus. I had my parents & friends go through every point in the syllabus, adapting it into a question. This forced me to immediately engage and actively respond to these questions, verbally (which is often better than writing it down).
- Practice topic questions. Many sites have fantastic sets of topic-specific real exam questions. Go through these, and really understand the mark scheme. When it comes to the real thing, you want to go a little overboard. You're graded positively, so if you manage to make 3 correct points as well as 3 incorrect ones, you will get 3 marks. You'll never get docked points.
Following these steps, when it comes to the exam, you'll be golden.
Make Revision Fun
Yes, I know, this sounds an impossible task. But wherever you can, try to look forward to the revision. Buy a nice pen, get fancy notebooks, organise your revision in an aesthetically-pleasing way, etc. These things, although they seem useless and superficial, gave me an extra incentive to actually sit down and do the work.
We've adapted our quizzes on Flyp Academy to reflect a leaderboard where you can climb divisions and compete against your friends. If you can, set up a system like this with your study partners. Maybe a Kahoot! Be creative.
Work hard - but work smart. Many students sit down with the stack of resources in front of them, and even starting your work can be daunting. It shouldn't be - set aside 20 minutes to create a revision schedule. Once you've completed these tasks you've assigned yourself, get on with the rest of your day! Start with subjects you feel weak on, and move from there. For example, you can assign yourself a diagnostic Chemistry exam - after you grade yourself (and grade yourself extra harshly), you'll know which topics to revise further, and which you're exam-ready for.
Students who feel a never-ending nagging about 'not doing enough' end up burning out. Just remember, if you're ready, you're ready: no need to revisit a topic you're fully comfortable with for the dozenth time. Save this energy.
Don't Stress Out
I'll be the first to admit that the GCSEs are stressful, and that it's very difficult to avoid that stress. Remember a few things:
- GCSEs are not the end of the world. You're 16, for goodness sake! You have your whole lives ahead of you. There are plenty of studies that show students who didn't perform on their GCSE exams end up with very similar life outcomes to those that did, controlling for other factors of course.
- Everything is within your control. Your only job is to prepare properly. Once you've done that, you've done the best you can do. Keep on top of your prep, and you'll have nothing to worry about come the exam.
- You're not the only one taking the GCSEs. Yes, obvious, but remember that 800,000 students take the exam yearly. They're feeling the same nerves you are. You are not alone.
- Don't worry about external factors. I had on average 3 hours of sleep before each exam day. Even days where I took a Night Nurse, I couldn't fall asleep until 4am. When you sit down in the hall and the exam is placed in front of you, the nerves work in your favour. You get a big boost of adrenaline and are immediately woken up. Try to get sleep - sleep is good - but don't stress yourself out to the point that you're counting the minutes you're still awake, calculating how many hours of sleep you'll have for the exam. Sleep is not a make or break, and the reality is that getting a good 8 hours versus pulling an all-nighter probably only affects your grade by a few marks at best. So again, relax!
Learn the content as you go. Consolidate your learning. Complete the revision steps above ahead of each exam. Prep early. Prep smart. Don't overwork. Relax.
Remember, by reading this post and engaging with this sub, you're already ahead of 90% of your peers. And if you follow the guidance above, when it comes to the real exam, you'll be golden.