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There are two ways you can see ‘exams’

The first way is revise for exams, spoken by a teacher, with all the spiel about exams being the gateway to your future and without doing well, implying you won’t amount to anything; you’ll be stacking shelves in Tesco before you can say ‘exams scare me more than Trump’.  

Naturally, this association with exams is known to cause a minor breakdown; illusions of running away, sobbing, sweating, shouting, a raising of blood pressure, and at best, a general poor, miserable mood – have all been reported, when revising. 

Then there’s ‘revise for exams’. Exams in the sense that you get the chance to take all that knowledge you’ve acquired over the years and put it in one place. You’re not worrying about the future, you’re only worry is to use that information to portray exactly what you’ve learnt and understood in a clear and succinct way on the day. Think about it as a hoop – just a hoop to jump through. A hoop that everyone has to jump through and most people you know have jumped through previously. Let’s call it the ‘exam hoop of happiness’. So what’s the best way to prepare to jump through this hoop?

Hoop one: Revise – Past papers

It amazes me how many students we talk to who say they’ve never looked at a past paper! I find this crazy, why would schools not look at them? They say practice makes perfect and to be perfect, to master a skill, you need to work on that skill for 10,000 hours! You’ll spend that on Instagram or some other nonsense, so spending it on revising would certainly be beneficial. Having said that 10,000 is quite a few hours, so let’s be a bit realistic. The rule is the more past papers you do, the better you’ll do! It’s simple learning; familiarity and replication. Take a driving test as an example, you’d never turn up to the test, having not had a single driving lesson, sit behind the wheel and say “which one is the brake?” That’s an instant fail, you crashed into the building. You’d never do it, and your GCSE, A-level or Pre-U exams should be no different – get those exam papers out, do one, do two, do three, and review them. You can find all exam papers on the Edexcel, AQA and OCR websites. And you can also find the answers to those exam papers on the same websites, under mark schemes. Otherwise search for them online, they’re easy to find.

Hoop two: Revise – Seven is the magic number

George Milner in 1956 found that the magic number for encoding in short term memory (this memory lasts less than 30 seconds, due to decay or displacement, if repetition doesn’t occur, and is usually encoding using auditory stimuli) was 7-/+ 2 chunks, so, a maximum of nine chunks of information at any one time. Information should be digested in small, manageable, bite-sized chunks. Think about a lot of things you remember and code in memory, they are in chunks; a pin code, a password, a phone number, 0203 9500 320, the whole number is too long to remember, so we automatically break it down, to make it manageable. Your brain does this automatically for you, so use that automatic help, and break things down. When revising, make sure you only revise the key small bits of information. Don’t go mad and write and write, you simply won’t remember the information, then use this information as the foundation for essays plans, poetry analysis or even for recalling an Economic theory.

Hoop three: Revise – Spider diagrams

These are linked to chunking; spider diagrams allow students to focus on important areas in visual learning (chunking is often auditory. You’re combining stimuli here) which is simple and doesn’t require a huge amount of repetition. The best way to revise for your GCSE, A-level or Pre-U exams is to plan them, and the easiest way to do this is through spider diagrams. They give you a short, sharp way to analyse and assess the key points. Let’s look at a quick example – Psychology A-Level AQA Memory. Note – No Pablo Picasso is not reborn, but I appreciate your support. (Aka, I’m the opposite of an artist.)


Psychology – quick spider diagram for the Mutli Store Model of Memory
Making information visual increases memory capacity and learning.
Good luck with your exams this Easter!