You can find lots of great advice and practical support for students and parents on our A Level hub!
Mock exams are high-stakes tests, especially this year when there is the chance that they will be used as a backup to determine grades if exams are cancelled again. Typically, you’d be asked to do one or two high-stakes tests, and they’d be a few months apart, but this year you’ll need to do more, probably three, and they’ll only be a couple of months part in time.
Keeping up revision intensity over this long time can be challenging, so here are my top tips to avoid burnout in the run-up to exams.
Tip 1 – little and often is vital.
Imagine you needed to revise for 30 hours to be able to pass an exam; you have the choice of doing 30 hours in one sitting in the April before your exams or spreading those hours out over the remaining few months in blocks of 20 minutes sessions. Hopefully, you’ll realise that doing 20 minutes of revision a few times a week is less stressful and better for you than trying to do 30 hours at once!
Tip 2 – retrieval practice is essential.
Retrieval practice is essentially remembering information you’ve been taught. Doing lots of short questions will keep the knowledge fresh and mean it comes more readily during the exams. The Oxford Revise books have pages within each dedicated to just this skill to make this easy for you.
Tip 3 – mix up styles or revision.
While I’m a big fan of retrieval practice, it shouldn’t be the only way to revise. Within a single session, try to use a few different techniques to look at the same information; for example, after doing 20 quick retrieval questions, you could answer a long question on the same topic or try some multiple-choice questions.
Tip 4 – knowledge organisers make things easy.
This is revision, not the exam, so having the knowledge in front of you while you’re doing your retrieval questions or extended response questions is encouraged! This will allow you to quickly find the part you need to answer questions. The design of knowledge organisers is essential. When making the Oxford Revise series, I thought carefully about the flow of information and colour coding to make them as helpful as possible.
Tip 5 – fill in gaps.
The past couple of years has seen a lot of home learning and time away from teachers; it is not going to be uncommon to think you’ve missed a topic; with a few months of revision left, this is the perfect time to fill in those knowledge gaps. Use the content page from your revision guide or the spec to help find out what you need to know.
Tip 6 – learn from mistakes.
Unless you’re perfect (and no one is), you’ll make a mistake on your mocks and will miss marks, don’t let this get you down; use this as pointers on where you need to improve. Did you lose marks from lack of knowledge? Is there a knowledge gap that needs to be filled in? Was it exam technique that cost you marks? Work out why you made a mistake and try not to repeat it.
Tip 7 – ask for help.
As I just mentioned, no one is perfect; everyone needs some help sometimes. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Your teachers, older siblings or cousins can be constructive. There is a thriving community of teachers on YouTube and TikTok who are very helpful in answering questions!
Tip 8 – practice papers are the best revision.
This should be one part of your revision package, starting with a few now building up to more and more as we get closer to the actual exams. They switch between topics and styles of questions in a way that gets your brain working and prepare you for the real exam. You might think that you’ll run out of exam-style questions to do, but the Oxford Revise books have a large section of questions written in the style of the exams for each unit in the book.
Tip 9 – low stakes revision.
Practice papers can seem intense, so it is essential to mix them up with low-stakes ‘easy’ revision. Flashcards, both writing and studying them, are a great alternative that isn’t too taxing on the brain.
Tip 10 – look after your mental health.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to be proactive in looking after your mental health. Take time outside, put away your phone, chat with people around you. Short breaks in-between study sessions will help you focus when you get back to your desk. Make sure you notice when you start to feel stressed and reach out for help when you need it.
Most importantly: remember you are awesome!
If you would like to download a printable handout of these tips you can find a copy here
Primrose Kitten is an experienced science teacher with a passion for helping students to achieve their best. As well as teaching science at both GCSE and A Level, she produces online resources and videos to support students with revision and exam preparation and is the author of the Oxford AQA GCSE Science Required Practicals Exam Practice Workbooks.