How to study for your GCSE exams

The importance of good GCSE results can't be emphasised enough, with the exams the gateway to the best further education and the main foundation for a good career and higher salary. Comprising of theory and practical tests depending on the topic, the exams thoroughly explore a student's knowledge of each subject, whether it's a branch of science, foreign language or general topics like maths, geography, history or business studies. Preparing properly for an exam requires more than just last-minute revision or "cramming"; you need to plan weeks ahead to perform at your best on the big day.

Organise course notes

After several years of study, it's perhaps no surprise your course notes are spread across various books and notepads. Spend time organising your notes and if you missed any classes or topics, make sure you get hold of the relevant material. Ask your teacher for a revision study checklist and file your notes according to the date, subject or general theme. Don't be afraid to use colour pens and sticky notes to highlight the most important parts and buy some binders and box files so notes for each topic don't get lost and can be referenced quickly.

Obtain old exam papers

GCSE exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are usually set by the same exam boards year after year, so while the questions change, the general format and theme remain the same. Ask your teacher for past papers and examiners' marking guidelines so you can see if the answers are multiple choice or require a detailed written explanation. Organise your revision notes so they are in the same order as the topics appear in the past paper. The website of each exam board also allows you to download practice exam questions.

Buy revision guides and books

Rather than just relying on your course notes and past exam papers, invest in several revision guides and books. Written by experienced education professionals - and former examiners - they often provide a fresh insight to a subject that will allow you to approach questions and themes from different angles and perspectives. Sold in book stores or via online retailers, they also contain a range of useful exam advice, revision hints and study tips.

Swot up online

Innovative technology means students in the 21st Century are not restricted to books and other tangible revision tools. Power up your PC to take advantage of the Internet, and the world of information at your fingertips. Whether you have a laptop, desktop or smartphone, you can access free websites such as S-cool that provide fast access to course material, revision guides and interactive applications. Download and print off useful maps, charts and graphs.

Practice makes perfect

Draw up a comprehensive revision timetable well ahead of your exams and set aside a few hours a day to study each subject very thoroughly. Involve your friends and family, particularly if the exam includes a practical activity like a conversation in a foreign language. Ask each other questions and time yourself so you get used to writing under pressure. Create summaries of your course notes and add diagrams, charts, graphs and maps to illustrate the most important aspects of each topic.

Study in comfort

Attempting to revise in a busy or noisy environment where there are distractions is a waste of time so choose a quiet and relaxing location where you feel comfortable and can take a break every hour to recharge your batteries. Music can help you relax but select the CD or radio station carefully as you need to study, not party. Have a snack and drink every couple of hours to refresh. If you feel the need to break the routine, you could always take your books to the garden, local park or even the beach.

Relax and refresh

For the vast majority of teenagers, GCSE exams are the first time they will ever sit a test under pressure and against the clock, so it's not surprising many get stressed and worried in the weeks and days before. Reduce this anxiety and boost exam performance by getting plenty of rest and sleep and ensure you eat well, drink plenty of water and cut down on caffeine-laden drinks that may affect your sleep pattern. Get plenty of exercise and don't stay up late watching TV or partying; there will be plenty of time for fun once the exams are over.

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About the Author

News, business and sports journalist James Andrews began writing professionally in 1996. His articles have appeared in the "Coventry Evening Telegraph," "Daily Mail," "Newcastle Evening Chronicle," "The Sun," "Herald Sun," "Football Business" magazine and online at He holds a National Certificate in newspaper journalism from the National Council for the Training of Journalists.