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4 things I wish I knew when doing my GCSEs and A-Levels

GCSE and A-level examinations are underway, and while many of you are likely spending this half-term studying hard, I wanted to share some insights I wish I had known when I was in your position. These tips can help you navigate the rest of the exam season more effectively.

Using effective study techniques is an important aspect of revision. Are you writing tons of notes but finding that you still can’t remember anything? If so, consider these scientifically proven study techniques to maximize your study time and ensure that the content you review is stored in your long-term memory.

Effective study techniques: Note-taking can be highly effective, but only if done correctly. Instead of merely copying the textbook, try using the chunking method. This technique involves breaking down large chunks of information into smaller, logical ones. You can learn and retain information more effectively by breaking a topic down into smaller, more digestible pieces. Research in psychology demonstrates that working memory is a cognitive system with limited capacity. This implies that we are limited to the amount of data we can temporarily store at a time. You can expand the quantity of knowledge that can fit in your working memory by grouping information together.

Active Recall & Repetition: Now that you have created a concise and organized set of notes, instead of passively reading them, actively test yourself on the material. Use flashcards or practice questions to quiz yourself regularly. Combine this with spaced repetition, where you review the material at increasing intervals, to reinforce your memory over time. Students who use this method tend to retain more information than those who merely read through notes. See the diagram below to understand how repetition allows for greater memory retention.

Mastering the exam technique: Exams are all about mastering technique, making test-taking skills an important part of revision. The best way to do this is by going through practice papers. This helps you understand the type of questions you may encounter, see how marks are awarded, and enhance your confidence to tackle these when the real exam comes around. Doing practice papers is advice I'm sure you hear a lot. When I was sitting my exams, I didn't always feel like my knowledge of the material was good enough for me to move on to practice questions. However, regardless of where you are in studying the materials, practice questions are an amazing way to ensure you are putting the knowledge you have learned to use in the best way to achieve top grades. It gives you a chance to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings. The more you make mistakes, the more you’ll learn.

Taking care of yourself: This is undoubtedly the most important thing I want to emphasize. Exam season can be tough on students, and you might think you need to push yourself to the limit. However, ensuring you get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and take time to relax is the best way to achieve academic success. The idea that these practices are time-consuming is a myth; there are many simple and effective ways to take care of yourself that are equally as productive as studying.

With a month or so left of examinations, we wish you the best of luck! We hope you find this information useful and are able to apply these techniques as you prepare for the final push.

Remember, exams are your opportunity to showcase everything you’ve learned.

Stay confident and take care of yourself.

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