Heading into the GCSE exam period – what I wish I had known this time last year

The time is almost here for GCSE students to take the exams they have been working so long for; it’s an opportunity to show the hard work that they’ve been putting in to learning the new, tough GCSE syllabus introduced for most of the GCSE exams last year. I took my GCSEs last year, so the experience and process is fresh in my mind! Here is a brief list of some things which I wish I’d known before I had gone into the exam period.

  1. Mindset is key. However much revision you have done, having a positive mindset is so important. So many times, I have heard “I’m going to fail, I know nothing”. Try and say to yourself “I am going to try my very best in this exam, answer as many questions as I can and show the examiner my best”. This will help you to mentally prepare before the exam. As you are preparing to go into the exam hall, try and think about this, instead of running through any last-minute knowledge.
  2. Focus on yourself. Some people will be flexing their knowledge before the exam, others may claim that they are doing no revision (not always true). Exam period is one time when you can focus on yourself. These kinds of people will just take you off-track, and distract you from what is truly important. If the environment in a form room or canteen between exams is stressing you out, take a breath of fresh air or head to the library.
  3. Extract yourself from social media. I decided to delete Snapchat and Instagram through the exam period, as I felt like I may be tempted to scroll through photos when I should be either revising or having some time off. I found that I didn’t miss it too much, and I didn’t distract myself with what other people were doing, or feel intimidated by seeing people’s photos of their revision. I did like to check twitter from time to time to see the latest GCSE memes, which kept me going through the exam period!
  4. Don’t dwell on what went wrong. If an exam doesn’t go exactly as planned, then try not to spend too long worrying about it – If you found the exam difficult, then chances are, you are not the only one, and the grade boundaries will reflect this. It’s best that you try and focus on what’s coming up next, and how you can prepare yourself for that.
  5. Be organised. Try to make sure you have every piece of equipment you need (especially for Maths exams). Arrive for your exams around 10-15 minutes before they start, to help you to get into the right mindset, and to be able to calm yourself.

I wish everyone taking their GCSEs the best of luck!

Alyssa x

How to Grow your Grades before your GCSEs this Summer

This time last year, I had received my mock GCSE results and was looking to my exams in the summer, which seemed so far away at the time; for year 11’s across the country, it’s the first time you take a public exam. I was tired of hearing the same thing about preparing for my exams, so I’ve tried to put in some different ideas as well as some tips you will have heard before, but are worth remembering. Looking back now, there are some things that I simply wish I’d known, so I thought I would share them with you now!

Before the exams

Know your syllabus. It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but going back to the syllabus time and time again is crucial. While the course content is listed in text books and revision guides, I would recommend always looking at the exam-issued syllabus, because that will tell you exactly what will be in the exam and how much you need to know about it. I think that this is most relevant to the sciences, but you should try and print off a syllabus for each subject and put it in a revision file, going back to it at the beginning of each session.

Required Practicals. For the Sciences, taking a look at the required practicals is time well spent. Learning the methods, variables, equipment will really help you, as there is bound to be a question on one of the practicals. I think that the importance of required practicals is understated, but you should really know them as the questions are worth 6 marks (for my exam board, AQA).

Practice, practice, practice! Practice papers will be your best friend through the exam period. It’s so important that after you have done your practice papers and marked them, that you record your result and which topics you struggled with. This gives you a list of topics to go over in the days leading up to the exam, and to do questions on. I found that some of the questions that I had answered in revision were the same as the ones that came up in the exam! Also, remember to stick to the exam timings!

Order is important. For me, spending a whole morning doing Biology, Physics and Chemistry consecutively would be a struggle – I wouldn’t be able to keep up the motivation throughout because they aren’t the subjects I enjoy the most. Therefore, I found it really useful to order my subjects from favourite to least favourite, then decide on the order of my revision from that.

Take a break. When you’ve worked with no distractions, you deserve a break. Get up from your seat, go outside, exercise, chat to friends or family; try and take your mind off your work for a while and you will go back feeling refreshed. I liked to watch an episode of Brooklyn nine-nine in between revision sessions!

Talk to your teachers. For the humanities subjects, essays make up the majority of the paper. If your teacher offers revision sessions, be sure to make use of them, and ask them if you could go through/give them some essays to mark outside of school work. Hopefully, they should be keen to mark your work to help you secure those top grades!

Quizlet is your best friend. Chances are, you’re already using Quizlet, but if you aren’t, it is an amazing resource that will come in especially handy if you are taking languages. If you are short on time, and cannot create a set from scratch, there will probably be someone else’s set on there that you can use that covers your topics (but if you can, make your own so you can be sure that everything you want is on there, and the process of making them will help you learn).

Online resources. If there are some subjects that you really want to go over or if the content just isn’t sinking in, try YouTube. My favourites were Mr. Bruff for English and Malmesbury Science for science practicals (also has videos for A-Level).

Don’t lose hope. If you didn’t do as well as you would have liked to in your mock exams, use it as a learning experience; it will be of much more value to learn something from an exam that went badly than to ace an exam and lose momentum in your revision. Personally, my result in my Biology mocks prompted me to put the work in by doing practice questions on every topic. Eventually, I managed to grow my grade by 3 grades!

Before your results

Please don’t compare your GCSEs to your classmates or friends. Everyone has their own circumstances, journey and strengths outside school, and those with the highest grades will not necessarily be the most successful. As you go your separate ways after prom, whether you are taking A-Levels, BTECs, other technical qualifications or an apprenticeship, people will remember you for not how many As or A*s you have, but your personality, interests and attitude towards others.

Try your best – I’m rooting for all of you! If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to DM me on my Instagram, @alyssamaereads.

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