How to Revise for A Level Exams

Revising for your A level exams often feels quite daunting; there may be lots of pressure to achieve the grades you need to get into your first choice university, or you might not be sure how to begin revising for the subjects you take. Thankfully, we’ve got ten easy tips to help you get started and stay on track when revising for your A levels and maximise your chances of getting into your dream university.

Whether you’re looking for some support with revision techniques in general or more intensive support in one or more subjects, The Profs’ team are here to help. Browse our Subjects page to see all of the subjects we cover or reach out to us via our Contact Us page today.

1. Make a list of everything you need to know

One of the reasons revising for your A levels can feel so overwhelming is because there is a lot of content to learn for at least 3 different subjects. In addition, the content you need to revise for your A levels is far more in-depth than the content that you needed to revise for your GCSEs.

It’s therefore a good idea to make a list of everything you need to know before you even begin your revision. This will help you feel a little less overwhelmed and ensure that you don’t miss any topics out.

To make the list, refer to the specific A level syllabus from your exam board. You may have been given an outline of this syllabus by your teacher at the beginning of your course, however you can also easily find it online. Keep referring back to this syllabus to ensure that you don’t miss any content, and keep a note of where to find it online so that you can find other resources, like past papers and mark schemes, easily later in your revision.

2. Turn your list into a revision timetable

Now you’ve noted down everything you need to revise, you can turn it into a revision timetable. Creating a timetable will allow you to spread out your study time evenly over a more sustainable period of time, rather than cramming during the days leading up to your exams. It also makes the process of revising far less daunting, as you’ll have a clear visualisation of what needs to be done.

Make sure that every section in your list is covered at some point in your timetable, even if you think you already know it. Although revision can be about learning things you didn’t quite understand the first time you were taught, it’s just as important to refresh your memory on the things you do understand, too.

You should be realistic with your revision timetable and ensure that you’ve scheduled in time for breaks and your other commitments. If your timetable is too full and you don’t give yourself plenty of breaks, you’re less likely to stick to it in the long run.

Top tip: When planning your revision timetable, consider which subjects and topics you particularly struggle with, or that you need more revision on (for example, content that you covered right at the start of your A levels or don’t quite understand fully). Then, you can allocate more time to these areas and plan to get any additional help if you need it (such as from a parent, teacher, or private tutor) to ensure that you are using your time wisely.

3. Set small, achievable goals

As part of your revision timetable or at the start of each day that you’re revising, it can be helpful to set a few small goals that you’d like to achieve by the end of the day. They don’t need to be huge undertakings (like learning a whole topic in a day) – in fact, it’s best to keep them achievable and sustainable. For example, you might want to learn five key definitions for a topic off by heart, or learn a particular theory in detail.

Setting these small goals will give you a sense of purpose throughout the day and a sense of achievement when you meet them. In the long-run, this will help to give you the motivation you need to continue revising and help to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed as your exams near.

4. Find a revision style that works for you

Not everyone learns in the same way! While some people might learn best by drawing mind maps and making revision cards, others prefer to copy notes from a textbook, and there are countless other techniques to try.

There’s no one right way to revise and it’s important that you find a revision style that works for you. You might also find that the techniques that worked for you when revising for previous exams, such as GCSEs, aren’t as useful for more advanced study or for the specific subjects you’re revising for. Give yourself time to explore different techniques and do mini tests after each to see which helps you remember information the best.

If you find that a mixture of different ways works for you, even better! You can use this to your advantage by mixing up your techniques so that revision doesn’t become boring or repetitive.

You might also find that different revision styles lend themselves better to different subjects. For example, making revision cards might work really well for Science subjects, while mind maps might work better for English Literature. Different techniques also work well for different types of information, for example: mnemonics can be useful for revising lists, while recordings can help you learn phrases in other languages. Find more tips and techniques in our Revision Hacks blogs.

5. Remove distractions

One of the biggest problems students face when it comes to revising, especially at home, is overcoming distractions. With phones, laptops and other devices just metres away, it’s hard not to reach for them when you’re feeling bored or are in need of a quick break. However, these breaks are never usually quick and you’ll more than likely find yourself down a rabbit hole!

To overcome this, we suggest removing all distractions from the location in which you’re revising. Put your phone on ‘Focus’ mode or download one of the many apps available that limit your screen time on the platforms and games you find most distracting. We also suggest only listening to music or having a television on in the background if you genuinely find it helps your concentration. In our experience, it’s actually best to train yourself to work in silence, as these are the conditions you’ll face in your exams.

Top tip: If you’re finding yourself reaching for your phone despite all your efforts, then try time-blocking. This is where you schedule in regular breaks of around 5-10 minutes every half an hour.
Set a timer for 25-30 minutes and try to focus on revision just for those 25-30 minutes without giving into any distractions. Then, take a 5-10-minute break where you can use your devices, get some fresh air, or listen to music – anything that helps you relax and reset. Then, return to your desk for your next 25-30-minute revision session, and continue the cycle.
If you can’t cope with being separated from technology, use it to your advantage and work with an online tutor! The Profs offer structured revision sessions with an experienced tutor who can keep you focused and on track.

6. Take plenty of breaks

Have you ever had the feeling that the words on the page just aren’t going in? Or what you’re being told is going in one ear and out the other? This is probably because you’re overworked and you need a break!

Although you might be tempted to revise topics back-to-back, especially on the days running up to your exam, it’s important to allow your mind time to rest. Revision is only effective when you take breaks that allow your brain to soak up what you have learnt. If you need to re-adjust your revision timetable to allow for more breaks, then don’t be afraid to do so; it is meant to be a tool to help you, not to hinder.

Try to do productive things on your breaks that allow your mind to switch off. For example, rather than scrolling through TikTok, try to do some exercise, read a book, get outside for a walk, grab a healthy snack, or listen to a podcast. All of these things will fuel your body and brain and ultimately improve the quality of your revision.

7. Do practice papers under timed conditions

You’ll never be able to predict exactly how you’ll perform in the exam, but doing practice papers under timed conditions is the closest you can get. Mimicking the environment of your A level exam is one of the best ways to test your knowledge and gauge how well you are prepared for the real thing.

Practice papers are also helpful tools for you to familiarise yourself with the format of your exam and how questions may be structured. Similar styles of questions come up year after year (i.e. asking you to use information in the same way), so it is an advantage to know how to answer these in advance.

While your knowledge of your subjects is absolutely crucial to how well you perform in your A levels, we often find that students struggle with the other challenges of exams, like finishing all of the questions in the allotted time, showing all of your working out clearly and logically, and structuring answers in a way that allows you to achieve the most marks in the exam. The mark scheme is your best friend here, as it allows you to see how points are awarded so you can easily tick these off when writing your answer to get full marks. Working with an expert A level tutor can also be a great way of building your confidence, becoming more familiar with the exam, and learning time management skills and hacks to maximise your performance on the day.

Top tip: If you aren’t able to create a mock exam environment at home, then ask your teachers if they can arrange some time for you to complete one at school. Alternatively, you could go to another quiet place like a local library where you’re less likely to be disturbed or distracted.

8. Ensure you have an optimal study zone

Your revision environment should be anywhere you feel relaxed and undistracted. The best study zones are locations that are quiet, give you natural light, and are spacious enough for you to organise your books and notes.

Most of the time, you’ll probably be revising at home on a desk or at a table. Make sure that you allocate this spot as your revision spot only. Try to keep distractions away from that area and don’t be tempted to revise in places where you’re not able to fully concentrate, such as in your bed. If you can keep a separation between ‘work’ and ‘play’ in your mind, it will make it much easier to focus and to relax.

Sometimes, no matter how optimal your study zone is at home, you can start to feel irritable and bored of being in the same place for long periods of time. If this happens, try switching up your location to give your revision a change of scenery. You could go to a study area at your school or to a local library or quiet cafe. You might even try co-learning with a friend at their house, or with a private A level tutor (either online or in-person). Working away from home or changing your environment may give you the break you need, while still being productive.

9. Look after your mind and body

If you’re going to perform well in your A levels, you need to be on top form. That means you need to be as relaxed, awake, and healthy as possible. Therefore, part of your A level preparation should include eating healthily and getting plenty of rest and sleep on the run up to your exams.

Most importantly, try to make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is the time when your brain processes everything you’ve learnt during the day, so getting enough of it will greatly improve your cognitive ability in the long-run. You’ll also be able to concentrate better and feel more positive during the day.

Top tip: Some students struggle to sleep on the run up to their A levels due to a range of factors, including anxiety about your upcoming exams or the pressure of achieving the grades needed to get into your first choice university. If this happens to you, try not to worry too much about the exact amount of sleep you’re getting and concentrate instead on the quality of your sleep.
There are lots of habits you can incorporate into your routine to improve the quality of your sleep and lower any anxiety you might have about your exams. Some helpful tips include: avoid using screens in the hour before going to sleep, remove devices and distractions from your bedroom, avoid caffeine after lunchtime, go to bed at the same time every night, and try listening to a podcast or music to help you drift off.

10. Seek help if you need it

There’s nothing wrong with seeking some extra support to prepare for your A level exams. Whether you need help with specific subject knowledge, time management in the exam, or want to know how to maximise your marks in your specific test paper, a tutor can be invaluable to your preparation.

The Profs’ A level tutors can help you prepare for any and all subjects you study. Our tutors have in-depth knowledge of the mark scheme for each subject and exam board you study and can offer advice on how to tailor your answers to this. We’ve also helped hundreds of students achieve As and A*s, which have helped them secure places at top UK universities including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, and other popular Russell Group and red-brick universities. Reach out to our team today for a free discovery call to discuss your individual needs.

FAQs

Do I need to take a university admissions test as well as my A levels?

Some universities and specific degree courses require you to take an admissions test as well as your A level exams. These tests are usually taken before your A level exams and will be used by universities to determine your suitability for the course you’re applying for and decide whether to offer you a place.

The most common courses to require an admissions test are Medicine, Law, and Mathematics, however top universities like Oxford and Cambridge require admissions tests for most of their courses. To find out more about university admissions tests in general, read our helpful guide. For more information about Oxbridge admissions tests specifically, check out our extensive Oxbridge admissions test table.

Do I need to revise for university admissions tests?

If you are required to take a university admissions test, it is important that you revise for it just as you would for any other exam. Your performance in an admissions test could mean the difference between you being offered a place or not, so preparation for the test is not something that you should take lightly.

The exact preparation you should be doing depends on the admissions test you are taking. For example, the Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA) for Engineering at Cambridge requires very different preparation to the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) for Medicine, and so on.

Start by doing your research into which admissions test you need to take and what is included. Our guides to the Oxbridge admissions tests and other university admissions tests are great places to start.