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SIS Semarang Junior College A Level Programme

20 tips from students to students on how to excel in Cambridge A levels

How do you get an A* in your A-levels? Well, the best way to find out is to ask people who’ve done just that.

We found this useful information on The Student Room website. Advice from students who have already sat their A-level exams and walked out with at least one A* grade. And they told The Student Room how they did it.

So, read on for a monster guide to maxing your revision. There are tips here from those who’ve aced maths and the sciences and those who’ve got top grades in English, history and other essay subjects.

Dip in and take what feels useful. Good luck in your exams!

1. Practice is key

Getting your hands on past paper questions and answers is very important. You’re able to make connections between different areas of the syllabus. This is very important when it comes to A/A* questions.

So put down those revision cards and mind-maps once you’ve learned them. There’s no point going over something a million times; you need to practice using it. At least two weeks before exams, start concentrating on past papers. Do each one at least twice. With each one, trawl through the mark scheme and ensure you understand everything there. This gives you a better idea of how to think through an exam question.

I rarely just know the answer, I have to think about it and work it out in the harder questions. That’s what you need to be able to do to get the high grades.

2. Get the examiners’ reports

I studied three essay subjects. All required some form of factual memory, but I essentially focused on revising exam technique rather than the actual knowledge. If you are studying sciences, maths, anything that you can’t make up during the exam, then the following may well be useless to you.

But my big, big number-one gold-star neon-sign advice that I would give to everyone (and I genuinely believe is the only reason I got my A* in English Language) is read the examiners’ reports. Then read them again.

What baffles me is that, year upon year, the exam boards make public a document that is – wait for it – written by the people who are going to mark your papers. And in it, they tell you what they like to read. They also give you examples of what not to do.

Exam-technique wise, this is essentially the most useful and important resource you have. Utilise it. Be all fancy and print them off and highlight key points and make spider diagrams. Stick them on your fridge. Memorise them then eat the paper. Whatever. Just make sure, if you’re doing an essay subject, you walk into that exam knowing that, for the last five years in a row, examiners have given high marks to pupils who offer criticisms to viewpoints, or who relate to personal research, or whatever.

Yes it’s learning for the test which opens a whole pedagogical can of worms, but c’est la vie. These exams are important so ignore your own educational philosophy and learn to please the Higher Powers (examiners).

3. Try to relate your subjects to everyday life

This may sound crazy, but it works. My best friend and I were both studying Tess of the d’Urbervilles in English lit and had to learn as many quotes as possible from the book for the exam. To revise-without-revising, we would teach each other relating our conversation to the book.


Her: I’m so hungry, now I know how Tess felt when at Flintcomb-Ash with nothing but hard root veg

Me: Ugh same, when will my Alec (pizza) return from Brazil (the oven)And so on. Try to make it funny. You’re socialising, you’re learning, you aren’t bored. It’s win win.

4. Start well in advance

It might sound clichéd (I’m sure all teachers say it) but there’s nothing worse than the feeling of panic and stress created by trying to cram revision. If you start weeks in advance you’ll get a good pace and it means you can go to teachers for help on topics you don’t quite get. I started very gentle revision (making notes) around late March/early April time for my June exams.

5. Practice papers

It’s a good idea to do practice questions on topics as you go along with your revision, rather than do a bunch of them at the end of revision. You might have interpreted something wrong when revising, or not quite nailed exam technique, so save half of the papers for “going along” with revision and half to test your knowledge by the end, so you know where to go back and what to revise more.

6. Break down your subject into ordered sections

Breaking down the exam into lots of little sections makes revision less daunting, and you’ll know exactly where you stand in terms of how much you’ve done. For my exams I broke down a module into 20 sections or topics and so it didn’t seem like much of a chore to start the next one, as they didn’t last long. Then, before I knew it, I’d whizzed through the module without it being much work.

7. Track your revision

I’m not one for making and sticking to timetables, but I found this actually really worked. I drew up a table in Excel and had columns for Subject, Date, Topic, Number of Hours Studied, Cumulative Number of Hours Studied for that Subject, Next Topic to Revise. I even colour-coded each subject so I could see how much I had done for each, at a glance. The benefit of doing this was that I could directly compare the number of hours I’d spent revising one subject to another, and which one I should spend longer on. Of course, some subjects may require more hours of revision than others, but I found this to be a good guide.

8. Revise continually

Don’t leave it a few weeks before an exam. Revise the stuff you’re learning as you learn it. Go home from school and make flash cards and posters and so on. That way, when you come to the exam period, you already know most of it and it’s just brushing up on final details. Don’t frantically cram for an exam. There’s no point – it won’t go in.

9. Flashcards are life savers! 

Get a question wrong? Flash card it, and then test yourself later on. This is useful for when you’re constantly forgetting definitions and stuff like that. This was my preferred choice at A-level.

10. Key events

When I was revising for my A-levels, I went to the cinema, played sport and did lots of other things to benefit revision. Why? Because when something funny or enjoyable happens, you tend to remember the stuff that happens around it. I remember how an MRI machine works because my cat fell down the stairs while I was learning it! Use colours, use music – experiment with it

11. Learn in layers

Learn the principle behind something, and not just the facts. Get a general understanding of the topic first without trying to get all the details first time round. Plan to cover all the material three times, with each time adding slightly more detail, and you’ll pick it up in no time.

12. Use past papers as much as possible

It’s no good memorising a ton of facts if you’re not going to be able to answer the question correctly. Exam boards use similar styles of questions every year and therefore past papers will get you best prepared.

13. Repetition

If you spend an evening learning something don’t leave it and come back to it in several weeks. Look over it again briefly the next day, then again in three days, then again in a week, two weeks and so on.

14. Use colour

Lots of colour helps liven up notes and makes them look more interesting.

15. Get some sleep

Don’t fret over the exam, make sure you get a normal amount of sleep – and eat healthily, too.

16. Keep at it

I did science A-levels and for me the key thing was just to do as many past papers as I could get my hands on. If I’d done them all and still couldn’t answer every question, then I’d go and do them all again.

17. Revise everywhere

I’m quite lazy and don’t like writing revision notes. But for formulate I had to learn I’d write them on bits of paper and stick them on the bathroom mirror, or indeed any bit of wall that I’d be likely to be standing in front of.

18. Motivate yourself

I stuck a picture of Trinity Hall (from where I’d got an offer) in front of my desk to motivate me to actually do some work.

19. Stay focused

If I got fed up with one subject, I’d procrastinate by studying something else, instead of doing nothing at all.

20. Know your marker

The strategy that helped me most was to completely familiarise myself with mark schemes. That way, you become familiar with terms that examiners look for and can instantly remember key words when you come across a related question.


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