Rethinking GCSE exam revision

What is revision?


‘Revision’ is a word that gets used profusely throughout your school life, but never more so than in Years 10 and 11 when your GCSE exams are the prime focus, and it tends to be taken for granted that you know what it means, what it involves and what it accomplishes.


However, taking just a short amount of time now to consider what revision does – and what it doesn’t do – can make a big difference when it comes to your actual exams.


Think about the end goal first – what do you want to achieve? That’s an easy one – you want to achieve the highest marks possible on each of your GCSE exam papers!


So, how do you make that happen? How do you ensure that when you sit down in the exam hall, turn over the paper and start to read the questions, all the relevant knowledge will spring to mind and you will be able to apply it quickly, efficiently and accurately to gain maximum marks?


‘Revise, revise, revise!’ I hear you cry. But what does that actually mean and to what extent will it help you in the exam?


The Oxford English Dictionary defines the act of revising as ‘[rereading] work done previously to improve one’s knowledge of a subject, typically to prepare for an examination.’


And, yes, of course that is really important. You need to read through your revision guide and  notes on a subject to make sure you understand it – subject knowledge and understanding is, without doubt, the essential starting point for being successful in any exam. However – and this is the crucial thing – revising in this way alone does notguarantee great marks.


We’ve all experienced that mouth-drying, stomach-plummeting moment when you turn over an exam paper and your mind goes completely blank. This is where ‘revision’ in the traditional sense falls down. It doesn’t help you to develop key exam skills, such as the rapid recall of relevant information and the ability to apply that knowledge to explain an idea or solve a problem.


This is where you need to rethink your revision. The key to exam success is not cramming as much traditional revision into your time as possible. In fact, that’s a poor use of your time. Instead, you need to combine a bit of traditional revision with lots and lots of practice testing.


Why practice testing is important


Practice testing produces far better results in the final exam than any other technique. There’s lots of psychological and academic research that supports this. Without getting bogged down in the neuroscience, practice testing helps because it encourages you to retrieve information from your memory. This act alters how you store the information, making it more accessible and easier to recall in the future. The more you repeat this process, the longer you are likely to retain the information and the easier it becomes to recall.


How to test yourself


There are different ways that you can test yourself. For example:


  • flashcards
  • quick recall questions of the kind you find in revision apps and online quizzes
  • test-style questions, such as those on past exam papers and practice papers.


Don’t forget to check your answers


No matter how well you think you did in a practice test, always check your answers – getting feedback is a really important part of the process!


Don’t worry if you get a question wrong; just do a bit of focused revision. Note the word ‘focused’ here – don’t let yourself get side-tracked! Refer back to your notes, read over the topic in your text book or revision guide, watch a relevant explanatory video… make sure you understand what the correct answer is and why. This process will improve your subject knowledge and ensure you don’t get similar questions wrong in future.


Practice papers are your best friend!


If there is just one piece of information that you take away from this article, it should be: use practice papers!


Here are just a few reasons why practice papers are completely invaluable when it comes to ‘revising’ for an exam:


  • they ensure you focus on essential content without straying off topic
  • they help to highlight areas where you need further revision and practice
  • they familiarise you with the different question types and formats used in the exams
  • the answers / mark schemes are usually student-friendly (unlike past papers) and show you what examiners are looking for to award full marks
  • individual questions require you to draw on knowledge from a range of different topics (no other resources provide solid practice in this important exam skill!)
  • you can use them to track your progress by comparing your scores
  • they will boost your confidence – you’ll feel much happier walking into the exam hall, because you’ll understand exactly what you need to do.


Exam Papers Plus has just launched a new range of GCSE exam practice products. These consist of higher tier exam-style questions, plus answers, which have been written by subject experts and can be downloaded for use at home immediately after purchase. Each question is supported by a video that provides a worked solution to the question, plus top tips on how to tackle similar questions, avoid making common mistakes and ensure you pick up all the marks available.


Planning for success


The most effective way of using practice testing is in short bursts that are spaced out over time. So, rather than blocking in one subject at a time on your revision plan, try to schedule lots of short sessions for each subject spaced out over the months running up to your exams.


Revise your revision!


So, as virtuous, satisfying and reassuring as it feels to pore over a text book or your class notes, highlighting sections, adding annotations and making further notes, this should only take up a small part of your revision time. Arm yourself with a stack of good quality practice papers and start reinforcing understanding, improving recall and developing the essential skills you need for exam success. It’s time to change your battle cry: ‘Revise, practice test, practice test!’

GCSE Biology: Key Skills Pack – Providing Essential Exam Practice and Preparation



The most effective way of preparing for an exam is to use repeated practice testing – it has been proved to produce far better results in the final exam than any other recognised revision technique.


Past papers and exam-style questions play an essential role in this process as, not only do they test and improve recall of key ideas, they also help to build essential exam skills.


In this article, ‘GCSE science: exam board tips’, published by Tes (formerly the Times Educational Supplement), the head of curriculum for science at exam board AQA spoke about the importance of developing exam technique and incorporating as much practice as possible into exam preparation.


Our new GCSE Biology: Key Skills pack is designed to be used alongside exam board past papers to provide an excellent, comprehensive programme of exam practice and preparation.


GCSE Biology: Key Skills – Main Features


The GCSE Biology: Key Skills packis designed for students preparing for the higher tier exam papers (grades 4-9). It is suitable for use for students studying GCSE Biology as a separate science or as part of combined science course.


Here are just a few reasons why the pack is completely invaluable when it comes to successful exam preparation:


  • it is packed with over 150 exam-style practice questions


  • it is suitable for all exam boards – each question is labelled with the relevant exam boards, so that you can easily see which ones are relevant to you


  • it provides coverage of the complete GCSE specification, including topics identified as ‘Higher Tier only’, ensuring that you focus on relevant content without straying off topic


  • it is informed by examiners’ reports from previous years, providing crucial practice in subject areas and question types that have caused problems for students in the past


  • the questions are organised by topic for flexibility – you can used them for focused practice in a particular topic or pick and mix across the specification


  • it includes all of the main question formats that commonly appear on GCSE papers, so that you can familiarise yourself with them and be assured of no nasty surprises in the exam


  • individual questions allow you to practise applying your knowledge across the specification in different contexts, including unfamiliar situations (this is an essential exam skill that revision guides and revision quizzes just don’t support!)


  • the answers and mark scheme are student-friendly (unlike past papers) and show exactly what the examiners are looking for and how the marks are awarded, so you will understand where you went wrong and how to avoid losing marks in future.


Using the Pack


The GCSE Biology: Key Skills pack is designed to be flexible, so that it can be easily integrated into your personal revision programme.


However, to maximise its benefits, we highly recommend that it is used in conjunction with exam board past papers to provide short, frequent practice sessions throughout your revision period.


Getting Started


Start by working through a complete sample paper or past paper from the relevant exam board – AQA, OCR (Gateway), OCR (Twenty First Century) and Edexcel – and then mark your answers.


The results will provide a benchmark against which you can monitor your progress and will help you to prioritise your revision by identifying the topics that you know, the topics that you are uncertain about and the topics that you don’t know. Learn how to do this here.


Focused Practice


Schedule in some time to revise the topics that you don’t know first. Read through your existing notes and refer to your text book or revision guide if necessary. End each revision session with a quick test to check understanding. The exam-style practice questions in the GCSE Biology: Key Skills pack are perfect for this. They are organised by topic, so you can quickly and easily identify which questions to use.


Repeated Practice Testing


Once you have revised any problem areas, you should use the exam-style practice questions for frequent, short practice sessions throughout your revision period. You can just focus on one topic per session or pick and mix questions across all topics.


The Importance of Feedback


It is really important to mark your answers at the end of each session, whilst they are still fresh in your head. Don’t panic if you get a question wrong or drop some marks – look at the mark scheme and make sure you understand what the correct answer is and how the marks are allocated. If necessary, do a bit of focused revision. This process will improve your subject knowledge and ensure you don’t miss out on any marks or get similar questions wrong in the future.


Check Your Progress


At regular intervals throughout your revision period, it’s a good idea to complete a full past paper from the relevant exam board. This will help you to track your progress by comparing scores and identify any persistent problem areas.


Repeating this process, using the exam-style questions from the GCSE Biology: Key Skills pack and exam board past papers, will ensure understanding of the complete specification, improve recall and hone your exam skills, so that you can walk into the exam hall feeling confident and happy that you know exactly what you need to do!


Click here to purchase the GCSE Biology pack and gain immediate access.


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NEW GCSE Key Skills packs now available for Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology

We’ve just released a new set of resources for students preparing for higher tier GCSE exams.



We worked with actual GCSE examiners to create these Key Skills packs.


We thoroughly analysed examiner reports from previous years to identify:



i) the questions/topics that come up the most often

ii) the questions/topics that students struggle with the most



Based on this, we created a set of questions that focus on these areas specifically. These packs provide a targeted and efficient path to preparing for GCSE exams.


The packs are designed for students preparing for the Higher Tier (Grades 4-9).


Each pack comes with detailed step-by-step solutions for every question and a mark scheme created by expert GCSE examiners.


Your child will therefore be able to clearly identify how marks are allocated and what is required to score highly.


The packs are suitable for all GCSE boards. Each question is tagged with the correct exam board so you know exactly which ones will be relevant for your child.


Packed full of relevant questions and solutions, these resources represent excellent value for money.


Click on the links below to learn more and purchase:

GCSE Maths: 149 pages
GCSE Physics: 161 pages
GCSE Chemistry: 127 pages
GCSE Biology: 111 pages


We hope you find these new resources beneficial. As ever, if you have any questions or queries, don’t hesitate to get in touch.