How to Revise for GCSE Exams

Revising for your GCSE exams (and/or iGCSEs) often feels quite daunting; it may well be the first time you have prepared for exams, so it can be difficult to know where to start. Thankfully, we’ve got ten easy tips to help you get started and stay on track when revising for your GCSEs.

If you’re looking for some support with your general GCSE revision 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 GCSEs can feel so overwhelming is because there is a lot of content to learn for a lot of different subjects. Before you begin your revision, start off by making a list of everything you need to know for each subject. This will help you feel a little less overwhelmed and ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Your teacher may have given you an outline of your course content to make this easier – if not, ask them for a copy or for them to point you in the right direction to find the syllabus yourself. You can usually find your full course outline by searching for the subject you’re studying and the exam board it’s under, for example, ‘GCSE Biology AQA’.

Then, go through each module in your syllabus and bullet point the key sections under that module that you need to revise. For example, if you’re studying Biology, you might have to cover a topic such as ‘Cell Biology’. Under ‘Cell Biology’, you might need to know about: Cell Structure, Cell Division, and Transport in Cells. Some topics might have additional weighting in the mark scheme, so make sure you make a note of this when doing your planning so you allow extra time to study these areas.

Top tip: Make a note of the exam board that each of your subjects is run by, for example AQA, EdExcel, OCR, or another exam board. This will make it easier to find additional resources like past papers and mark schemes later on 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 a longer time ago 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 how to use a particular mathematical formula.

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 ways, too.

There’s no one right way to revise and it’s important that you find a revision style that works for you. 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.

Top tip: Now is the best time to work out what type of learner you are and which revision styles work best for you. If you start early, you’ll have plenty of time to try out different approaches to revision and really hone the skill of revising (which really is a skill in itself!). Any techniques you get under your belt now will not only benefit your GCSE exams, but also help to prepare you for many of the future exams you’ll face, such as A levels and even university exams.

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 an 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, 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.

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 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 GCSEs, you need to be on top form. That means you need to be as relaxed, awake, and healthy as possible. Therefore, part of your GCSE 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 GCSEs due to a range of factors, including anxiety about your upcoming exams or a change in your daily routine. 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 loads 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 GCSE exams. Whether you need help with specific subject knowledge, time management in the exam, or want to know how to maximise your marks in the exam, a tutor can be invaluable to your preparation.

The Profs’ GCSE 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 9s and 8s (formerly As and A*s), which have helped them secure places at sixth forms and colleges and prepare them for the next stage in their education. Reach out to our team today for a free discovery call to discuss your or your child’s individual needs.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t get the grades you were hoping for, then don’t panic! You’ll often have the opportunity to resit your exams, and our tutors can help you get the grades you need the second time around. Find out more about our resit tutors here.