GCSE and A-level maths physics and chemistry exams – the most efficient way to prepare.

12 min read

30 June 2023

This will show you how to revise for A-level and GCSE science and maths exams, in the most effective way. For science I mean chemistry and physics at A-level or GCSE. The best way is by actually doing questions, seeing what you don’t know, then fixing it straight away. Don’t just do whole papers and mark them all in one go to get a grade, again and again. As soon as you find something you don’t know – fix it! Don’t wait. Stop doing the question and actively learn the principles, skills or knowledge that was missing. Think rather than memorise. Improve rather than test.
In physics and chemistry GCSE, there is a decent amount you can memorise, with some basic understanding.
In GCSE maths you will have to understand things as much as you can. Not just memorise them. That way when a tricky non-standard question comes up you can answer it. And they will come up.
In A-level maths, physics and chemistry trying to use GCSE memorisation tactics is a waste of time. You MUST have fundamental understanding. You must avoid memorising not just the topic material, but the types of questions as well. Just doing past papers isn’t enough. Those questions are the ones guaranteed to NOT appear as question don’t come up twice. Ah you say, but similar ones do. OK – so think of similar ones yourself and actually be prepared for the exams coming up, not the ones from years ago. Thinking of your own questions, and repeating out loud what you read, IN YOUR OWN WORDS, ensures you understand what you are reading, and can apply it to new types of questions. The questions that test the knowledge you are meant to know can be very unfamiliar and totally different to ones like it in previous years. This is especially true at A-level. In GCSE those word based questions you struggle with is because you don’t fully understand what you’ve read. You’ve memorised it and can only repeat it. That doesn’t allow you to answer comparison questions for 4 marks, or structured essay questions for 6 marks.
The method outlined below I have perfected as a full-time tutor of over 10 years. It may seem like you are doing fewer questions per hour and you are. But you will be improving much faster for every hour you work. And your time is limited. Follow it to the letter, and you will improve faster than you thought possible.
Best of luck!
Dr Andrew Lawson
The specification tells you what you are going to get asked questions on.
The revision guide explains how to answer them.
The past papers show you examples of what the questions in your real exam will be like and the mark schemes how each question will be assigned marks.
You need to use your mind, and the above 3 resources to prepare to answer UNSEEN AND NEW questions on what is in the spec.
A) Do one topic at a time until you have mastered all of the ones you need for an upcoming test/exam. To do this follow this guide:
  1. First, make sure you have a grip of the basics and what you need to know. Do this by using the revision guide and closing the book every so often and trying to explain what you read – both the content so you remember it, and in your own words so you understand it. If you aren’t sure of either, go back in, reread, think, close the book and try again. Try to do this phase as quickly as possible. Most of your time should be spent in the next phase.
  1. After that pick a few questions from past papers or the by topic questions section, and then do part 1 of the first question. Mark it yourself using the mark scheme. Then see where the question and the marks in the mark scheme came from in the revision guide and the spec. Think about what other similar but different questions you could get asked. If you see anything in the revision guide or the spec you aren’t sure about, quickly brush up on it. Then do part 2 of the first question. And see where it came from……..and repeat. As you do more and more questions you will stop needing to look in the revision guide and/or the spec, and you will speed up. Keep thinking about what similar but different questions could be asked though. What you should notice is by question 3 or 4 you are being asked things you had already thought you may get asked.
  2. For word-based answers, it is extremely important to see why you didn’t get all the marks. Make sure you are marking yourself harshly. The examiners will! Underlined words have to be there to get the mark. ATEQ – Answer The Exact Question. I want to be presented at the start of lessons with questions and mark schemes you have, with your face annoyed because you can’t understand why the mark scheme is so precise. I will then explain to you why these exact points and not the ones you wrote about are the ones to get marks. Also, 4 marks mean 4  scoring zones. 100 words in scoring zone 1 gets…..1 mark out of 4. Five words in each zone gets 4/4. This is a skill that takes time to develop and practice. Do questions, and bring them to the lesson. I am an expert at explaining these things. USE ME!!!!!
B) Once you have mastered all the topics, move into doing past papers in full with the topics coming at random, initially not under timed conditions. If you get stuck don’t press on. You have found a gap in your knowledge and it needs to be fixed instantly. Use your revision guide, textbooks, the internet and the spec to help you learn how to answer that question. Again think about what similar but different questions could appear, and how you would answer them.
C) Once you are able to move through most of a paper without assistance, you are ready to do mock exams under timed conditions. Don’t stop until you finish a paper, and then mark it carefully yourself. There are no silly mistakes, just mistakes. If you made a calculation error think about why, and what you can change about your methods (presentation etc.) that will prevent you from doing that again. Don’t just say ‘I won’t do that again’. That doesn’t work. Don’t panic if you run out of time. Think about why you did and try to improve slowly but surely.

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