Updated: May 8, 2022
How to prepare for your GCSE mock exams
Are you heading towards your GCSE mock exams? Before you start cramming, check out these high impact revision strategies from teachers, learning experts and top students. Follow this advice to make sure the efforts you put into preparation provide the biggest payback and give you the best chance of great results on your mocks.
This blog is part two of our mock exam preparation advice series, if you want to know why top students take their mocks seriously and how the use them for better grades, click here.
This is a big article, but then the payback is massive if you read and apply the knowledge we’re dropping on you.
They say ‘if you fail to prepare then you prepare yourself to fail...’ or something like that. What we do know is that there are a couple of things to get organised before you start subject revision.
Organise your study space
Find a quiet, well-lit area with good ventilation, a comfortable upright seat and enough space to spread out your textbooks and notes. Also grab a glass of water before you start and let the people in your house know that you’re revising and ask not to be disturbed.
Switch off all distractions
Off-course you can take in the complexities of expanding and simplifying equations (in brackets), whilst you blast your fav tunes and the TV’s on the in the background, who couldn’t? But do yourself a favour and switch it all off, so you can clear your mind and focus on the subject.
Yes, that includes social media too. In fact, switch your phone off or onto flight mode. If you find yourself needing to jump on youtube for a quick tutorial, be disciplined and don’t get distracted by the cute cat video.
Have the stationery and equipment you need to hand
We not going to be advocating passive learning in these revision tips, so you’re not going to be sitting there with just your textbook. You’re going to be note taking, drawing illustrations and mind maps, creating cue cards, completing past papers, evaluating your answers and more... So have the equipment you’ll need ready.
Tip: Such a simple but effective tip is to have a notebook or folder per subject to keep your notes in one place. Once you’re weeks into your revision you don’t want to have notes in a tonne of different places and be scrambling around looking for the set that you know you’ve written but can’t find.
Revision and study tips
Read and understand your exam board subject guidance and marking criteria
Psst, I know a guy who could tell you exactly what the examiner will give top marks out for! But guess what, you know them too – it's your exam board.
They publish, very publicly on their websites, subject guidance and marking criteria telling you exactly what they will be looking for in an answer, what you have to include to achieve specific grades and even the terminology they expect you to use - yet so many students fail to start here.
You can learn where and what to focus your answer on, as well as the importance of linking your answers directly back to the question.
You’d be a sucker not to familiarise yourself with this guidance straight from the horse’s mouth about what will be in your exam and how they want you to answer it, ensuring that every word and every idea directly links back to the question.
Once you know how examiners break down the individual elements of a question, you can review your answers to ensure that you have each part covered.
Prepare a Proper Revision Schedule
Preparing and sticking to a proper revision schedule is crucial. This not only guarantees you cover the subjects you need to in time for your mock exams, but it also breaks everything down into more manageable pieces.
We recommend short bursts of revision (around 45 minutes) to be most effective. Any longer and your concentration lapses and you won’t be able to take the information in, so take short breaks away from your revision area (for 5-10 minutes) before starting again.
When splitting up your week, try to schedule the revision time for when you are most alert and focused – many people find this is early in the morning. It is also important to make your schedule realistic and allow time for social activities, exercise and rest.
Share your revision plan with friends or family to keep yourself accountable and ensure you to stick to it. Also trying to keep revision at routine times of the day, rather than change it every week. Routines create structure and help you reach your revision goals, plus reduces procrastination. The real power in routines is the way they can help us build momentum, break bad habits, prioritize our time and make us more efficient
Tip: Take regular breaks to let your memory recover and absorb the information you have just studied and make sure you don't just revise the subjects and topics you like. This is the classic mistake. Instead, identify and work on your weaker areas.
Don’t just read the textbook
Do not just passively read the textbook and expect the subject to jump off the page and stick in your head. Use the ideas below to transform the information, manipulate it, do something active with it to make it memorable and meaningful to you.
The benefits of a more active, elaborative interrogation of the subject are well researched. One study asked students to remember a range of sentences, the group who only read the sentences recalled just 30% of the information, a second group who (wrote down and) explained things in their own words and were encouraged to consider ‘why’ recalled 72% of the information.
Use mind maps to connect information
Start with a central theme and organise the information from it into subjects. Label the branches with single words or short statements that have a relationship with the main topic.
Illustrate a subject or your answers
Very often visual references are easier to recall than only written ones. Just don’t procrastinate trying to create a work of art.
Perfect your note taking
You’re not trying to rewrite the entire text, these should condense a lesson or even a full term’s worth of a subject into a succinct information-rich memory-jogger, which is easy and quick to read. Ensure you write down keywords – for example, if you’re making notes for a history class it would be dates, or key figures.
Make sure your notes are organised and easy to use, it will save you a lot of hassle down the line – especially as you’ll be studying for Mutiple subjects when doing GCSE’s. It can get really overwhelming during long revision periods if you have loads of notes everywhere, sheets of paper stuffed in bags or lose in different notebooks or folders.
Tip: Studies have shown that handwriting your notes (versus typed on a computer) is more effective for memory retention and that rather than creating large blocks of text, highlight key stats, formulars etc in bulleted list or tables.
Make quick summaries at the end of a lesson or subject, like the synopsis on a book. This will make sure you’ve hit all the main points, and when you get closer to the exam, the summaries might be all you need to recall the detail too.
A different discipline to note taking, flashcards help you break down the revision of complex subjects up into bite sized parts and to test yourself on your knowledge. The exam board marking criteria (mentioned above) will highlight the topics you want to learn.
Keep your flashcards simple, on one side write a key term, on the other side write a definition. Then build up a set per subject, making flashcards until you've covered all of the key component of that GCSE subject. Again, you can add simple illustrations, flow diagrams and other visual references.
Practice past paper questions under timed conditions
You can find past papers on every exam board’s website and these should be practiced under timed conditions. If you run out of exam questions, try websites like Sparknotes, or Shmoop which have designed their own questions similar to that of the actual papers.
One of the most valuable aspects of past papers comes after completing them. Take the time to analyse your answers against the marking criteria and examples answers (of provided), as a way to identify where you have knowledge gaps that need addressing. Use of the MARCKS technique for analysis allows you to reflect on any mistakes and how they can improve next time.
Explain your answers and understanding of a subject to other people.
If you can explain an answer or subject to a family member in a way that they understand, then you’ve got it clear in your head too, otherwise it highlights where you need more work.
Know your command words
Along with the marking criteria found on your exam board website, ensure you familiarise yourself with the ‘command words’ - these are the words and phrases used in exams and other assessment tasks that indicate how you should answer the question, so pretty important!
Most exams boards will have different lists of command words per subject and being able to spot these words as soon as you first scan a question – and thinking about what they mean – will both save you time and get you extra marks in the GCSE exams.
Maintaining Motivation & Energy
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re really stuck on something. The feeling of progress is a key part of motivation, so don’t let one tricky subject trip you up. Just make a note of your questions and book some time with your teacher, but then continue with the remaining revision.
Small immediate rewards placed at the end of each 45-minute revision session, like a brew and biscuits or ten minutes on social media can be helpful. You can also add larger milestones into your overall revision schedule and work towards rewards like, a trip to the cinema if you complete every planned study session that week.
Recognise and celebrate your achievements. You’ll be surprised how satisfying it is to put a big green tick against every revision block that you complete on your schedule - review it at the end of each week to motivate yourself for the next one. Even better, do this publicly and you’ll get another shot of motivation when other people recognise your efforts. Many of our student’s repost this graphic after each revision session, they feel great when they review their social media timeline and see it repeated throughout the week.
Do something physical. When you're not revising, use your spare time to get away from your books and do something active. Exercise is good for taking your mind off stress and keeping you positive, and it will help you sleep better.
Effective revision strategies include:
Spacing out revision sessions. This gives your brain time to forget and then re-learn topics - achieve this with a well planned revision timetable.
Keep revision blocks to 45 minutes with 10 minute breaks between.
Group study sessions. Having other people around you revising the same topic encourages discussion and understanding. Revising with other GCSE students (at your level) can also be useful when you get stuck on a particular topic or practice question.
Vary your revision techniques (see methods above) to better engage with the subject and activate learning
Teaching the material to someone else. This technique forces you to think about the material in a clear and structured way.
Flashcards. Ask a friend or family member to write out one exam question per card with the answer on the back. Have them choose a card at random for you to answer
Effective exam strategies include:
Highlight important instructions on the front cover of your exam.
Highlight the command words and key words in each question.
Circle the number of available marks for each question. This will be indication of how much to write and how many points to include in your answer.
For longer mark questions, write a brief plan at the beginning of the answer neatly.
Interrogate the question: make sure you have read the question correctly. Make sure you are answering exactly what it is asking.
Think about key words / quotes / examples / facts that would be needed in the answer, to help you plan and get your mind thinking.
When you have completed the question, tick off the highlighted key words to ensure you have answered it correctly and in the depth required.
Never leave the exam early. If you find you have extra time, double check your answers.