Updated: Mar 28
The key to becoming an effective student is learning how to study smarter, not harder. Fortunately we had some Grade 9 students and GCSE teachers join our webinar and share the powerful habits that high performing students implement to help them achieve GCSE grades 8 & 9 consistently.
Create an optimal revision area
Find a clean, quiet study place and clear away all distractions (yes, that includes your phone and any Instagram or TikTok notifications). Remove anything and anyone that might interrupt your thoughts and have a clear desk. Here is a useful checklist to make sure you're revision ready:
Do you have the necessary supplies and stationery within reach?
Is the lighting good?
Your desk is tidy and uncluttered (do this before and after each study session)
Is the room a good temperature?
Is your chair comfortable?
Is the room quiet? (Use earplugs if necessary)
Make sure your phone is in another room or turned off
Let family members know not to disturb you until the end of the study session
Gather together all the notes and reference books needed
Get a glass of water
Set a timer (The app Forest is popular with our students)
Start early and be consistent with length of revision sessions
At the start of their GCSE term the majority of students have a relatively low revision commitment (in terms of daily hours studying). As the term progresses and their exams get closer the number of hours of studying will steadily increase and then one or two weeks before the exam the studying (and stress) will suddenly increase even more as the pressure from the exams motivate them to start cramming in preparation.
This is how most students revise but it's just not studying smart, it is quite a stressful way of approaching your exams. Our experts say, at the beginning of the term set a goal of the number of hours that you will study everyday (not less than 2 – 4 hours). Make sure that whatever you choose you can maintain throughout the whole term.
The benefit is that as you progress through the term, your 2-4 hours of studying stays the same where most other students have to increase the number of hours they study because they need to catch up you don't. You stick to your 2-4 hours throughout the middle of this term and even just before the exams.
This builds your confidence and reduces stress because you started preparing for the exams well ahead of time. So study smarter, set a number of hours to study at the beginning of the term and stick to it. Start preparing for exams right before the beginning of the term and then when you exams do come around you'll be completely prepared for them.
Successful students typically space their work out over shorter periods of time and rarely try to cram all of their studying into just one or two sessions.
Daily revision routines
So now you’ve set how many hours you’ll revise each day, a high performing GCSE student will have a productive daily routine that structures what they’ll revise and when (considering when they find it most efficient to learn).
Create a routine for yourself that is non-negotiable. These daily disciplines typically take 21 days of repetition to become a habit, after that it will just feel normal and became a lot easier.
When you study at the same time each day and each week, you're studying will become a regular part of your life. You'll be mentally and emotionally more prepared for each study session and each study session will become more productive
We know the mornings are not every student’s favourite time, but there is a lot of research that says your first few hours after waking are when you’re able to concentrate and learn the most.
schedule specific times when you’re going to study -- and then stick with your schedule. Students who study sporadically typically do not perform as well as students who have a set study schedule.
Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future!
High performing students surround themselves with other high performing students, in study groups or on a 1-2-1 basis. Observe them, watch how they study, how long they study and what tools and techniques they use and incorporate those into your routine. Be around people taking GCSEs as seriously as you and with similar goals.
Set goals and commit
Simply studying without direction is not effective. You need to know exactly what you need to accomplish during each study session. Before you start studying, set a study session goal that supports your overall academic goal i.e. today I'll complete three practice questions on GCSE Math Probability.
High performance students are willing to pay the price. If you ask your classmates ‘what GCSE grades they want?’ they'll probably say 8 & 9 grades. However, the vast majority of them are not willing to put the work in, consistently and to sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed in order to get that top 5% or 10%.
This period of your life isn’t for ever, for the short amount of time you need to get your head down, it is worth sacrificing some social, gaming or exercise time to make more time to study.
You’ll thank yourself for keeping everything organised later in the term, when you are able to easily find and reference your revision materials and notes.
Make sure you file lesson notes for each subject and in date order.
Review what you learned in class
Reviewing new information that you learned in class is one of the most effective study habits you can develop. Before the end of each day, read the notes you took or re-read the chapter that your teacher taught in class.
It won’t take long to do, and it will help you retain what you learned. It will also make the process of moving the information from short-term to long-term memory smoother.
Anything you don't fully understand, write down to ask your teacher next time you have that lesson.
Sleep and stay hydrated
Being well rested makes us more alert and energised, it also improves your ability to understand and recall what you revise.
The best way to make sure you get eight hours of good quality sleep is to go to bed at the same time each night. (Set an alarm to remind you, if necessary.)
Time your revision sessions and breaks
Most people find it hard to concentrate for more than 45 minutes at a time, so take a 5-minute break from studying every 30 to 40 minutes.
When you start a study session, set a timer for 30 to 40 minutes and then take a break. Our students like the app Forest to help keep them focused and present.
Likewise, set the timer for the end of the break so you know when to get back to work.
Test yourself after each study session
End each revision session with a mini test on what you've been learning or practicing. This makes it much more likely that the new information will form meaning for you and be something you remember.
Highlight some of the key things you’ve learned e.g. in history, the date of an important event. Either on paper or a flash card tool like Anki write down some test questions and answer them without looking at your notes.
Do this at the end of each study session but then a day or two later, pull out the test questions and see how many answers you can remember.
Focus on what makes the biggest impact
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the output is a result of 20% of the input, so 80% of your grade is probably as a result of 20% of your studying. So you need to double down on the revision tasks that are making up this 20% and having the biggest impact. The routine of testing yourself after you revise and being critical of your practice paper score can help identify what is having the biggest impact.
Studying one subject for eight hours in a day can often be a waste of time, a far more effective way can be to study that subject for one hour every day for eight days. This takes advantage of the spacing effect where it gives your brain enough time to process the information and store it in your long term memory.