2 Weeks to Go!

Last minute stuff.

Some questions may require you to carry out calculations, so don’t forget to bring your calculator to the examination.  However, you do not always need to use your calculator – you can often do the calculations in your head as they usually involve simple numbers.  If your answer looks horrendous (eg. 5.66782) then it is quite possibly wrong.

Show all working in your calculations.  Even if your final answer is wrong, you may still pick up marks if the working is seen to be correct.   You will not be penalised if you carry forward an incorrect answer to a subsequent calculation.   Are you expected to include the unit in your answer?  Some questions provide the unit, but in other cases you will be expected to provide it (in this case the unit is usually worth one mark).

In some questions you may be asked to plot graphs or bar charts, and then interpret the information. When drawing graphs, lines of best fit are usually required (be careful – in Maths you are often expected to draw dot-to-dot lines.  This is not a transferable skill between Maths and Science).

Some questions may actually give you graphs and bar charts with the data already plotted.  You will be expected to extract information from the graphs and bar charts, and use this information in your answer.

Avoid white space. What do I mean by this?  I say this to my students over and over again – YOU WILL NOT GET MARKS FOR BLANK SPACES!   Simple.   Even if you have to totally guess, just put something relevant down – you may get lucky and give something the examiners are looking for.   If you get totally stuck then look at the question – what is it about?  What keywords can you recall that may be of use?  For example, if you recognise that the question is about photosynthesis then you might be thinking ….. chlorophyll, chloroplast, light, oxygen, limiting factors, glucose ….     Construct a sentence using some/all of these keywords and you might get a precious point or two.

With two weeks to go you really should be consolidating your learning, and not trying to retain too much new knowledge.  This is where your colourful revision notes, posters, flash cards, etc. should become really useful.  You’re on the downhill stretch here – go for it!

3 Weeks to Go!

Know what to expect.

Last time we talked about knowing your equations, and how you should have prepared for these before the exam.   It’s so important to know whqt you might expect in the exam paper, so I really do recommend that you get hold of some recent past exam papers.

Look at the front cover of the exam paper – what code is used?  Have you been on to the examination board website and looked at the specifications for your subjects?  The specifications tell you what you need to know, and exactly how you will be tested.

Of course, you must know the date of the exam, the starting time, and the duration.  What equipment do you need?  A black pen, ruler, calculator, see-through pencil case, etc. There’s no point in turning up at the exam room without the essential bits of kit – be prepared beforehand!

Look at the instructions – do you answer all questions on the paper?  Make sure you answer questions in the spaces provided, but don’t think you have to fill all the space.   If you’re giving a one sentence answer and there are three lines provided then just use whatever space you need.  If you find that your answer is longer than the space provided then don’t be afraid to put your hand up and request extra paper.

If the question requires you to do a calculation then make sure you show all steps – you may get the final answer wrong, but if you show your working you may still pick up marks. Practice setting out calculations prior to the exam so you know what to include.  Some calculation questions give you the units, but others may request that you give the unit – there will always be a mark for doing this, so make sure you don’t waste precious marks.

How many marks is the exam paper worth? How much time is allocated per mark?  Use this information to pace yourself as you work through practice papers.  Be prepared for questions about ‘working scientifically’ – if you’re not sure what this means then check it out.

If you know what to expect then you’ll be much better prepared – and that’s what it’s all about!

4 Weeks to Go!

Know your equations.

Up to a couple of years ago it was not necessary to remember equations in Physics as students would be given a sheet during the exam that contained all the equations they might need. Times have changed!   There is now an expectation that students will remember over 20 different equations.   The requirements are published by the examination boards – for example, this link will take you to the Edexcel required equations sheet.


So how do you learn so many equations?  In my last blog post I described how flash cards can be used as an effective revision tool, and they are particularly good for assisting with equation memorisation.  On one side describe the equation required – for example ‘what equation links together frequency, wave speed and wavelength’ – and on the reverse put the solution.  The cards can then be referred to whenever you’ve got a moment – in the car, on the bus, standing in a queue (!).

Another way is one that my eldest daughter frequently used when she was revising for her exams.  She would get lots of A4 paper and coloured pens, and she would write down in big and bold letters the various equations. She would then stick them on walls around the house, so wherever she went there were reminders of what she needed to learn.  The ceiling of her bedroom was covered in A4 sheets, and she would lie on the bed with Charlie, her dog, and just let everything sink in.

The walls were literally covered in A4 sheets, including in the toilet, and it meant that I didn’t have to decorate for several months!  This technique really is effective – why not give it a go?

Lastly, you need to know how to re-arrange equations.  For years we have advocated using the ‘equation triangles’ as a way of working out the various re-arrangements, and I still believe that they are very effective.  Recently some teachers and examiners have tried to steer students away from triangles, so they didn’t become too reliant on them, but as far as I am concerned, they work, so why not stick with the tried and trusted?

Good luck with remembering your equations, and don’t forget to book ‘self-care’ into your revision timetables and look after yourself.

5 Weeks to Go!

Know Your Practical Skills.

In a previous post I talked about the practicalities of making flash cards.  Have you had a go at making any yet?  Over the past couple of years there has been a greater emphasis on students learningformulae, and flash cards are ideal tools for helping with this.  So on one side of the card write the formula needed – for example, what is the formula that links distance, speed and time? – and on the reverse side write down the answer (speed = distance divided by time  – as if you didn’t know!).

The cards can also be useful in learning your basic practical-related skills.  Do you know the names of all the commonly used practical equipment?  You need to be able to distinguish between your conical flask, beaker, measuring cylinder, etc.   And do you know your Physics equipment?  What do you use to measure current and voltage?  Check your spelling – an instrument used for measuring is a meter(eg. thermometer), whereas a unit of length is a metre(eg. millimetre).

How confident are you with experimental design?  In any experiment you will have three types of variables. The independent variableis what you are changing.  For example, in an experiment to measure the rate of reaction between magnesium and hydrochloric acid, your independent variable would be the acid concentration – you might carry out the experiment using five different concentrations.

In this experiment, your dependent variable (what you are recording) would be the change in mass of the magnesium, or the time taken for the magnesium to disappear.   Finally, you have control variables– you need to keep these the same throughout the experiment.  In our example you would need to keep constant the temperature, the volume of acid, the mass of the magnesium at the start – and I’m sure you can think of others.

Having carried out the experiment do you know how to present the data in a table?   Do you know how to draw the graph?  On which axis should you put the independent variable? (normally it’s the x-axis – I’m assuming here that you know your x-axis from your y-axis!).

Analysis of an experimental design, or analysis of recorded data could come up anywhere in your exam paper, so make sure you are prepared – revise your practical-related skills!

6 Weeks to Go!

Flash cards, revision cards, record cards …… whatever you choose to call them, those little bits of card can be very effective revision tools.  In various formats they have been around for many years, and I can remember taking my ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level exams (yes, I have a good memory!) and using printed cards with all the necessary information on them – the writing was so small I could barely read what I needed to remember.

As a University student I progressed to making my own revision packs using the 6 x 4 cards that I purchased from stationers.  We would have thick bundles of these home-made revision materials, and we would spend endless hours just testing each other.

Students these days still make their own cards, and there are lots of these ‘flash cards’ available online, or as Apps for mobile phones.  So how do you go about making effective flash cards?  Here’s a few simple steps:

  • – On one side of the card write a question, or prompt, or draw a picture
  • – I always like to use lots of colour, so add this to really enhance the information
  • – On the other side of the card you should have the piece of information or answer
  • – It’s best to stick to one piece of information per card and keep everything simple – don’t overload  the card with too many facts
  • – Now you’ve made the cards, add to them and refer to them as often as you can

If you prefer to purchase cards online, or use software to generate your cards then that’s absolutely fine.   CGP Books do some great bundles of revision question cards, and at www.quizlet.comyou can find many study sets and you can also create and save your own.

You may not have considered making revision cards in the past, but why not give it a go and see if it works for you!


7 Weeks to Go!

A few weeks ago I sent out a blog post in which I highlighted that there is no such thing as a ‘photographic memory’.   It just doesn’t exist, and everybody has to make an effort to learn information by revising prior to their exams.

I hope that by now you will have finished your courses, and you’re now in the process of trying to retain as much of the information as possible.  The key point here is that there’s absolutely no point in just reading or highlighting your notes.  You really have to do something with the information.

Years ago, as a student at University I finally stumbled over the revision method that worked best for me.   When faced with a pile of lecture notes I learnt to condense them – my method was to condense four pages of notes into one page of A4 paper.  As I condensed them I also added extra material from revision books and textbooks (we didn’t have the internet in those days!).

I used lots of colour and shapes, cutting out the waffle and picking out what was important.  Diagrams were a real favourite, and I would copy stuff over and over again until I was confident that I had grasped the key points. Up to this point I had never found revision easy, and as a result of my poor technique I has always under-performed in exams.  This was my ‘light-bulb’ moment, and I never looked back – I actually began to enjoy revising for exams!

As I have said before, there is no one technique that suits every individual – you just have to experiment a little and find out what really suits you.  But you must do something with the information – flash cards are another way of achieving this, and in my next post I’ll be looking at how you can put together your own sets of really effective flash cards.

Until then, keep revising – but don’t forget your self-care!

8 Weeks to Go!

OK, so now things are getting serious!  The next 8 weeks will whizz by, and very soon you’ll be facing your first science exam.  But hopefully you’ve got everything under control, and you’re following your amazing revision plan.

Before I forget to mention it, let’s talk very briefly about keeping everything in perspective and self-care.   It’s so important to take breaks from your revision, and have some planned ‘down-time’.  Do something for yourself every day – this may involve going to the gym, or a bit of shopping, or keeping up with a favourite hobby.

If you can get out in the fresh air then that will really help. And don’t neglect your diet – we’re not talking here about weight loss or weight gain, but simply having regular meal times, with plenty of fruit and veg.  Think about your source of protein intake, and try to keep everything balanced.   I’m the world’s worst when it comes to drinking water – I need to be constantly reminded to take regular sips of water, but research has shown the importance of staying hydrated.

Perhaps most important of all is the need to get regular sleep. During sleep your body will process what you’ve been learning.  Before going to bed make sure you really switch-off. Watch television if you want, but the best relaxation is to read.  Avoid doing anything that involves looking at a phone screen, or a computer screen. And whatever else you do, leave the phone out of the bedroom.  Put it on charge elsewhere, but do not take your phone to bed with you!

The last point about switching off before bedtime is just so important.  You need to get into good sleep patterns with sufficient hours of rest.  Your aim should be to wake refreshed and raring to go!

Exams are important, but your health should be your primary concern. If you’re finding everything getting on top of you then find somebody to talk to.  Sometimes it’s so good to offload to a sympathetic ear!


9 Weeks to Go!

In my last post I shocked a few people with my statement that you can ‘Get marks on your Science paper without knowing any Science!’.    Well, did you check it out?  Hopefully you did, and now you know that you can get some very useful marks from data handling questions.

The majority of questions will still require that you know your science, so here’s a few tips to enable you to extract the maximum number of marks.

How many marks are the questions worth?  Use your time appropriately – the usual rule is ‘one mark per minute’. So, if you’ve got a question worth five marks you should spend about five minutes answering it.

Look for the command words and underline them.  Command words tell you what to do.  For example:

Calculate – complete a calculation

Describe – talk through a process or trend. (Imagine you are talking to a friend on your mobile phone – they can’t see the question you’re looking at, so your description needs to be clear and to the point.)

Explain – give reasons for something

Suggest – give possible causes for

As you work through the questions underline any key information.  Don’t be put off by the space expected for your answer.  There may be five lines and you use only three – that’s fine, so long as you’ve included all relevant information in your answer.    You may find that you need more space – be careful, and don’t start writing in the margins or cramming words together.  If needed, request another sheet of paper from one of the exam room supervisors.

Make sure you read through your responses really carefully – you can’t afford to throw marks away by not using the correct terminology or relevant scientific terms.  Between each question chill for a moment – stay relaxed and focused.

In my next blog post we’ll be looking at ‘self-care’ and what you need to do to look after yourself during the busy exam season.

10 Weeks to Go!

How are you getting on with your revision plan?  Hopefully by now you are well into a routine, and everyday you are ticking off more subject content on your list.  I want to share with you something that is quite amazing:

Get marks on your Science paper without knowing any Science!

What?  Have I gone mad? Not in the slightest!  While I am of course encouraging and enabling your learning of Science through my courses, you can actually get a decent number of marks on a Science paper without knowing any Science.  You need to look carefully at past papers.  In particular, look for questions that include tables of data or graphs.

I’m looking at a paper right now, and in particular I’m focusing on a question about Ecology.  The first part of the question provides you with a picture of insects in a petri dish, and you are asked to complete a data table simply by looking at the picture – a very easy two marks.   The next question asks you to draw a bar chart of the data – this is worth another five marks!

The final ‘data’ part of the question asks you for a comparison of two sets of data on the bar chart.  This couldn’t be easier, and it’s worth three more marks.  So, in total, if you answer all the data marks in this question (out of 17) you could have scored a relatively easy ten marks – without applying any Science knowledge!  Isn’t that amazing!

It’s worth having a look at past papers just to see how many times questions involving data pop up.  With a little careful thought and application (but no Science knowledge!) you should be able to accumulate some very valuable marks!

There’s lots to learn from a careful analysis of previous questions, and in my next post I’ll be delving a little deeper into the wonderful world of past papers.

11 Weeks to Go!

In my previous post I said that I would be looking at my favourite revision tool.  Without a doubt my number one approach to revision is the use of past papers!

Over the many years of my teaching career I must have helped many students with their exam revision, and whilst I agree that one approach does not suit all, I have found that going over past papers has had the greatest benefit in helping students to reach their potential.

So where do you start?  The first thing is to find a good source of exam papers.  If you can get the corresponding mark schemes and examiners’ reports then even better.  I use a site called ‘Save My Exams’ as my source of materials.  (https://www.savemyexams.co.uk)

Using Google you can search for free papers, but with ‘Save My Exams’ you are able to download topic-specific sets of exam questions.  This is really helpful when you’re revising particular areas of the specification.

What’s so great about using past papers?  There are several compelling reasons.  Firstly, you need to understand exactly what the examiners are asking you for.  What are the command words?  How much detail do you need to provide?   Secondly, there are only a limited number of questions that the examiners can ask you. How many different ways are there to ask questions about photosynthesis?

You will see very similar questions appearing over and over again, so if you’ve had experience of a wide range of questions then you should know what to expect.  If you’re organised, then you can file the papers away with your revision notes, and you will be on your way to producing excellent revision resources!

In my next post I will be looking at how you can use past papers most effectively.