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Smart Revision for Reformed A levels

With most subjects now overhauled and exams taken at the end of the course there’s even more pressure on students to adopt effective revision tactics. This summer sees the first new A level exams and the return of traditional three-hour papers in some subjects. They are designed to be tougher with less coursework and more demanding questions. The new A levels are not modular so it’s no longer possible to plan revision in bite sized chunks for each paper. The option to retake parts of the exam to boost the overall grade has been removed and students retaking in future will have to redo the complete A level.  

George Burns joined RIC to take A level courses in Mathematics, Economics, English Literature and Statistics. He was Head Chorister at Canterbury Cathedral and is applying to study Economics at university. George writes: “Many students will find that the period leading up to exams are taken up by a composition of stress, procrastination and regret. There are ways to help solve these issues, hopefully making your exam period calmer as well as stopping August from feeling like an impending doom. 

Revision techniques differ from person to person. For this reason it is best to avoid comparing time spent revising with friends (a subject which usually contains fictional figures). Just because your best friend thinks mind-maps are effective doesn’t mean you will too. 

Many will feel they have not done enough during the final days leading up to the exam, leading to cramming and unnecessary stress. To alleviate this, preparing early on will allow you to feel comfortable and address the final touches such as exam technique. 

How your time is spent can lead to procrastination and, further on, regret. So, instead of fighting a constant battle between Netflix and revision try to create a realistic timetable you can stick to. One way is to split an episode of your favourite box set into 15-minute segments and use them for small breaks for your work. The most important point of this timetable however is that the time you have allotted for revision is spent with full concentration on the work you are doing. It is more productive doing 3 hours of focussed revision than 8 of unproductive work with a phone and social media outlets in the background. 

Another important factor to learn to manage is pressure from those around you. Challenging yourself can be positive. However parents, teachers or friends putting excess pressure on you can be negative. For this reason, do not allow pleasing others to be the main incentive of what you want to achieve. Nerves before exams are almost inevitable, however if these tips are followed along with a healthy amount of food, water and sleep you should be able to avoid needless anxiety and stress.” 

Joe McManners joined Rochester Independent College having already achieved 10 A*s at GCSE and 3 A*s at A level in Maths, English Literature and History at Tonbridge School. Changing direction, in order to aim for medicine, he is now taking one year A level courses in Chemistry and Biology.
 
Joe says: “I tend work in silence when I’m rote learning, but if I find myself lagging, I’ll get out a bit of Pendulum on my iPod and have a 5 minute burst to shake off the cobwebs. It’s really is effective and stops me drinking too much coffee! Sometimes, I’ll stand up and walk around the room incanting chemical equations to myself, so after 20 minutes or so I’ve learnt a whole portion of material.
 
A really good way to bring less engaging material to life is to work with a friend and run through the book together, asking each other quick-fire questions back and forth like a game of ping-pong. This way, by the time you come to sit down to the work, you are already familiar with the material the neurological pathways have already been illuminated. It can be high-energy and is much easier than struggling away by yourself.
 
To keep on track I always write a timetable so I’ve defined my goal parameters for that evening’s work. To prevent distractions, when I’m on, the phone is off; Facebook updates, emails and texts I catch-up with during teabreaks. A good way to keep in the zone is to go outside during rest times and get some fresh air: I tend to stand in the porch with a cup of tea. Or if it’s too cold outside, I’ll do a few press-ups, to get the blood flowing.

Whenever there’s something I don’t understand I get out my post-it notes and flag up the problem. I then go and see my one of my teachers after a lesson, who are all very happy discuss things. So no stone is left unturned, and things that once seemed insurmountable boulders in the road looking back now seem more like pebbles.
 
Studying a complicated subject like Chemistry involves as much interfacing with the material as possible, so I study in the lunch queue and I study on the train. But it’s also good to get totally away from work at times and say, watch a game of rugby, or go to the gym, it’s fun and aids work by helping to keep you balanced.” Joe precociously shot to fame after starring in the BBC’s operatic version of ‘The Little Prince’ and was subsequently nominated for Album of the Year at the 2006 Classical BRIT awards. He is now at Oxford University studying Medicine. 

Tom Teverson from Keston never thought he would end up studying English Literature at the University of Exeter. While at Rochester Independent College though he caught the literary bug, scored 398/400 in his A level English, and left with A*A*A B at A level. He says, looking back at his successful revision strategy: “It’s really easy to procrastinate about what you need to do to prepare for exams. Much better to just get on with it! Revision is a slog. It’s about pushing yourself to work hard. Having structure and a schedule helps though.”   

Tom continues: “I would get up at 7am and go for a run, then have a good breakfast and get started by 8.30 or 9 am. I’d work for a couple of hours then take a 15 minute break at 11 ish. I’d then work until lunch and take an hour off. In breaks it’s really important to get right away, detach yourself, go for a walk and not play games on the computer. I’m a bit of a snob about revision guides. Generally I didn’t find them of any use at all. RIC was brilliant for revision notes. The way we looked at texts in English was dynamic, we would sit around and discuss, it was much more interactive, just like the university seminars I attend now.”

Tom’s classmate Maneesh Dhillon from Gravesend who is now studying at Medway School of Pharmacy advises: “Start revising early, at least 3 months before your first exam.” Different techniques work for different students and new technology can support traditional graft. Maneesh says: “I used some revision apps but found Evernote the most useful. This allowed me to store my notes remotely so I could access them via my phone at any time. For example if I was on the bus or waiting for friends I could do a quick session. It did mean that I had to type all my notes up but I was actively working on making them more concise.”

Like Tom, Maneesh advises careful planning and a disciplined approach. He remembers: “I started by making checklists of what I needed to cover then I arranged my notes in order, mapping them against the syllabuses. This way I was able to check if there were any gaps and go through them with my teachers. Once I was organised I was ready to actually get started. I made schedules then just did what I had told myself to do.”

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