On a sunny morning at the start of July, next year’s exams seem a million miles away. Those who have just finished can breathe a sigh of relief (well done!), however for students moving into year 10 and 11 in September – now is the time to start thinking about preparations. Trust me… I promise future-you will be thanking past-you!!

As a professional tutor, I see many students starting with a few weeks until exam time. They are feeling overwhelmed with a mountain of last-minute revision, with “content” rather than “skills” becoming the main priority. While the sun is out and the pressure is off though, now is the perfect time to make sure that you are working on the key skills that will help you succeed at next years GCSE exams (or mocks).

So, take a small amount of time each day (preferably whilst relaxing in the garden / eating ice-cream / gazing at the clouds / sitting in the park… delete as appropriate), and build up your knowledge gradually. It’s my job to help – so with this in mind, here are my 5 top tips to help you get started…

1. Create a plan

This is the number one most important tip for starting exam preparation, whether its with 1 year, 1 month or 1 week to go! Make sure you know all the subjects you are working towards, and ask yourself – which do I need to work on most? It’s so important not to overwork yourself (especially if you are starting early), so dedicate perhaps just an hour a day per subject – and start getting your notes and preparations in order.

Of course your plan will (and should) change over time – so keep checking back every few months to think about how things are working for you, and adjust as necessary. Print it out, and stick it on your bedroom wall… if out of sight is out of mind, in sight is “in mind”. Right?

2. Download the syllabi (or syllabuses!?)

This is a great tip that most students don’t think about. Find out what exam board you are studying each subject with, and search for them on google. They will all provide detailed specifications for their course content – telling you everything you will have to study and know in the years ahead. Print these out and put them all in a folder, divided for each subject. This is the start of your revision bible…

Knowing your syllabus inside-out is one of the most useful things you can do. If you have made sure that you know everything on it – then there will be no unpleasant surprises in the exam. It’s as simple as that!

3. Take a look at past papers and mark schemes

If you’ve done step two, then when you are on the exam board’s website – you can also find past papers, sample answers and mark schemes. Especially with humanities subjects (i.e. English and History), the style in which you write is just as important as your knowledge. Make sure that you understand the difference between top-mark answers and low-mark answers, and practice replicating the style of those achieving the highest grades.

As ever, practice makes perfect – and the more familiar you are with both the structure of the exam and the style expected from answers – the less scary this will feel on the day. Print out and annotate a few examples to get started. Some of the main exam boards are:

4. Buy your revision books

Often at school you will be given a big heavy text book, and perhaps a few printed hand-outs attempting to put all that information into a shorter format. These can often get lost with sheets out of order, and by the time it comes to exam time – students are feeling bamboozled where to even start.

But if you take the time to research what revision guides are available for each of your subjects (amazon is a good place to start, just make sure you get the right one for the right exam board!), these will be a massive help both for getting started early and for last-minute cramming. These books also include exam technique tips and tricks, making sure that you are thinking about building your key skills as well as learning the content.

Can’t afford it, or there aren’t any available for your subjects? Don’t worry – combine tips 2, 3, and 5, and have a go at creating your own. You never know, it could be fun… (**definitions of fun may vary).

5. Get creative with your notes

This is key for getting started early. If you’ve got to this stage (and completed steps 1-4), then the next step is to actually start reading your revision books! There’s a difference between active and passive reading however, and even if you’re a young-Einstein in the making, there’s no chance that one year from now you’ll remember all the details of something you’ve quickly skimmed over whilst sunbathing in the garden.

So its time to get creative! Do you find it easy to remember shapes and colours? If so, then great – use this! Get out your coloured pens, and create A3 mind-maps for your key topics. Are you an information sponge for names and dates? Fantastic! Have a go at making flash-cards with key facts and figures you can test yourself on. What about finding it easiest to learn when you’re talking with people? How about recording yourself giving your own lectures? You never know, maybe you’re a teacher in the making… There’s a million and one ways to start your active note-taking, so do get in touch if you need any ideas.

For all those working towards next year’s exams – a massive good luck from me. With preparation and cool, calm cucumber confidence, you are sure to succeed. Just make sure you don’t forget to enjoy the summer in the meantime…!

Any questions for me? Leave a comment, or get in touch.

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