Understand your subject requirements
You need to have a sound understanding of your subject requirements before you can plan effectively for revision.
This need not be a difficult process, with the trick being to do this ahead of time for all your subjects.
Ask your teachers for the information you need. Taking an interest in this early will certainly impress your teachers and gives you the opportunity to get the information you need first hand.
If you leave this to the last minute, let’s say just before study leave starts, then it’s going to be a much more stressful task then it needs to be.
Why do I need to check my subject requirements?
Understanding the requirements for all your subjects is not always straight forward.
Exam boards work in different ways, and understanding specifications can be a fine art, even for experienced teachers.
You need to understand exactly what is expected of you so that you:
- Revise the right materials, to the right level
- Don’t waste time revising topics that will definitely not be on your exam
- Can prioritise and plan revision around the different exam papers (and topics) for that subject
- Know exactly what to expect on exam days
- Bring the right equipment
What kind of information do I need to know about each subject?
The specification code and exam board
This will be invaluable later on (see below).
Number of exams
You need to find out how many exam papers you are sitting for every subject.
Length of each exam
Some exams are short, whilst others can be very long in duration. You need to find out exactly how long each exam paper is.
Topics to be covered in each exam
The exam board will be clear about the potential content that is allowed to be assessed in each exam paper.
This information should help you prepare your revision timetable.
The weightings of each exam paper
Not all exams are equal. For example, if you are sitting two exam papers for a subject, one of them may be worth 60% whilst the other only 40%.
The nature of the exam papers
Is it a practical paper? Do I get to choose which sections I answer of am I expected to answer all the questions.
Yes, this will be printed on the front of the exam but it’s best to get your head around it ahead of time too!
What materials and equipment is allowed
You need to fully understand what support materials or notes are allowed to be taken into the exam, if any.
You also need to know if any special equipment is needed, such as a calculator.
Are there any topics I no longer need to worry about
There may be content within your subject that is only assessed by coursework or a practical element that you have already completed.
Make sure you are aware of these topics so you don’t waste time looking at them again.
Typical exam questions
What do typical questions look like in that subject?
It’s likely you will have sat a mock exam and many past papers, but just check that the structure of these is typical of what you can expect on exam day.
For example, how many 8 mark extended questions can you expect to get? How are the marks awarded?
Be cautious when using text books and revision websites
Text books are great, but they are no replacement for the quality information given by a teacher or the official specification.
They should not be your primary source of information about your course.
- A text book or website may not cover all the content needed
- A text book or website may cover content that isn’t needed
- A text book or website may go into details that are far more complex than what your teacher deems necessary
- A text book or website may not go into enough detail
- The text book or website may not exactly match your course
The above concerns are true even if the text book is officially endorsed by the exam board and is definitely in date (the correct version). Trust me!
So, seek help from any books or websites you can find, but do so whilst taking ownership for your own learning and revision. In other words, do not put blind faith in a website or book.
Ask your teacher what they really think about the recommended text book for your course.
Get a copy of the specification (syllabus)
Specifications will vary from exam board to exam board, and over the course of time.
Ask your teacher for the specification code and the exam board for their subject.
This will let you know exactly which qualifications you are entered into, and allow you to officially check the content and structure of the course.
If used for nothing else, you should cross check your revision against the master list of knowledge found on the specification.
What is a specification / syllabus?
The specification (syllabus) is basically the master document that contains everything about the examination course you are studying.
It will tell the teacher (and you):
- The knowledge you need to learn (usually vague and unnecessarily open to interpretation)
- How this knowledge is split into topics
- How this will all be assessed
- The format and weighting of the assessments
- The duration and total marks of the assessments
- Which content belongs to which assessments
These documents are not easy to understand, so although I would recommended that you ask your teacher for a copy, it is prudent to also ask them for the information you need directly (as covered earlier on this page).
Specifications are also freely available from exam board websites, but make sure you download the correct one. E.g. it may look like your course, but be out of date or for a different region.