Study Skills offers tips on how to revise and cope with course work
Plan your revision
Keep your revision active
In the exam
1. Get Organised
- Get a copy of your syllabus. If your teacher hasn't given you one, then check which exam board you are taking and look at their website. In most cases, the syllabus can be downloaded for free. (Make sure you check with your teacher that you have the correct syllabus).
- This syllabus is the key to getting a good grade. It tells you exactly what the examiners want you to know. They won't ask you anything in the exam that isn't on the syllabus.
- Get your notes and go through the syllabus with your notes next to you. Make sure you have covered everything on the syllabus. If you think there is something missing, or if there is something you don't understand, ask your teacher.
2. Plan your revision
- Plan both for the long and short term. Decide which days you will revise biology.
- Be realistic. Biology notes are often long and there is a lot to remember. Make sure you give yourself time to go through the notes and learn everything.
- Don't leave your revision to the last minute.
- On the actual days you have set aside for revision make sure you know when you will be having breaks. Try to work out how much you will get through before and after mealtimes. If there is a favourite TV programme on you cannot bear to miss then timetable your revision around it.
3. Start revising - but know when to stop
- The first 10 minutes of any revision session are the hardest. Find yourself somewhere quiet and just start! Forget all those other jobs that suddenly seem so important when there is revision to do. They can wait.
- Frequent breaks are essential. One tip is to work solidly for 30 minutes then have a break to listen to a favourite song. Then another half an hour. After 2 hours have a longer break, a cup of tea and a biscuit, a meal or that favourite TV programme!
4. Keep your revision active
- Don't just read through your notes. You won't take anything. Set yourself little tests: get some past papers from your teachers (mark schemes as well are very useful).
- If you have to learn to label a diagram don't just look at it. Shut the book and see if you can draw it out from memory. This works really well for topics like the carbon cycle or remembering the digestive system but don't get disheartened: it takes a long time before you can get it right. However, it will help you get full marks on questions about the carbon cycle.
- Some people make up flashcards - ie they summarise their notes on index cards. For example, one flashcard may contain the main points about osmosis. Then try to repeat what the flashcard says without looking at it. If you get it right the flashcard goes in one pile, if wrong the flashcard goes in another pile. Then go through the "wrong" pile again until all the flashcards are in the "right" pile.
- You can turn notes into flow charts and annotated diagrams. They will be easier to remember in the exam than a lot of text. This works well for topics such as the kidney, or digestion.
- Get friends or family to test you. Be careful you don't get distracted and start gossiping instead of revising though!
- Use lots of memory aids (and ask friends for theirs). They don't have to be complicated, for example arteries flow away from the heart (both words begin with A) or mitosis gives you two cells (there's a T in mitosis). A well-known example of a memory aid is MRS GREN which gives the initials of the seven characteristics of living things (movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion, nutrition).
5. In the exam
- Answer the question. Don't just write anything about the topic; think about what the examiners are asking. This can be much easier to spot if you have been using your syllabus to revise, and you have seen lots of past papers.
- Don't be afraid to jot down any memory aids you have learned before tackling the question. They will help structure your answer. If you use scrap paper it will have to be handed in at the end of the exam: just remember to put a line through anything that you don't want to count as part of the answer.
- Look at the number of marks the question is worth. This can give you an idea of how much you need to write. For a one-mark question the examiners are probably looking for just one word, or one sentence. For three marks, they will want three keywords, or three separate ideas.
- Keep an eye on the time. If you get stuck, move on and come back to the question later.
- If you finish early use the time to read critically through your answers. Don't just stare at the clock or fall asleep on your desk! You may spot some silly errors and pick up a few extra marks.
And finally GOOD LUCK!
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