How do pupils who get high GCSE grades revise?

May 20, 2019



Exam season is well and truly underway. Students are heading from one exam to another as they look forward to a long summer of relaxation and de-stressing. I work with lots of GCSE students, helping them with their revision strategies. Over the years, I have noticed a number of factors that separate the students who achieve high grades from those who don’t. GCSEs are not all about how ‘intelligent’ students are. Achieving high grades at GCSE has a lot to do with an effective process of revision and the ability not to just memorise facts parrot fashion, but to be able to apply them to different contexts and scenarios.

Here are my tips for GCSE revision for students looking to achieve high grades: 

  1. Make a realistic revision schedule and stick to it. Having a plan before doing anything will always mean better performance because of the clarity it brings. Students must factor in regular commitments, know when their most productive times of the day/evening to study are, include regular breaks and plan for an achievable number of hours revision per day. Students should also break down their subjects into smaller topic areas for each revision session. For example the timetable doesn’t just say 6-7pm Biology, but 6-7pm Biology - Cell Structure. It could also include the revision method to use (eg revision guide, flashcards, past paper etc)
  2. Take your time. Starting the revision process early will meant that there is plenty of time for students to revise at a realistic pace and approach it on a little and often basis which is the best way to take in information. Just because students spend time at their desk doesn’t always mean that they are revising successfully. Revision is more about the effectiveness of revision rather than the hours put in. Starting revision early means that if students are having an ‘off’ day they can take a break for the day or part day and then return when they feel more productive without feeling too pressured.
  3. Take exercise. Physical activity can have a very positive impact on focus, concentration and creativity. Whenever students feel stuck and struggle to focus on the task at hand, taking some exercise will help them to gain clarity and boost their concentration. It doesn’t have to be a trip to the gym or a long run – even a 20 minute brisk walk round the blog can make a big difference.  
  4. Take breaks if you feel overwhelmed or the information is just not going in. If students spend hours sitting at a desk desperately trying to learn something when they are just in the wrong frame of mind or physical state this is a massive waste of precious time and can lead to feelings of panic and low self esteem. Knowing when to take a break or move onto another topic is a useful way to keep productivity and motivation levels high.
  5. Know the syllabus and do past papers and mark them against the mark scheme. It’s not all about simply memorising content. Students need to get into the habit of applying that knowledge to different exam questions. By doing past papers and getting to grips with the mark schemes students can get in the head of the examiners, learn what they are looking for and discover how to pick up easy marks.
  6. Have a routine. Routines, rituals and habits are vitally important for effective revision. Routines make sure that the brain knows what is happening at each stage and makes it easier to get into the zone for revision. Habits like revising at the same time each day, in the same location or using the same materials can all help to prime the brain that it is time to work and can boost productivity.
  7. Read the exam question at least twice before starting to write. It’s very tempting for students to just start writing if they see a keyword in an exam question that they know about. They can spend a long time writing down everything they know about that keyword when actually the question was asking something very different. To get the highest grades, students should read and re-read the question, underlining the command words (eg examine, evaluate, describe, compare, contrast etc) to make sure they are only spending precious time writing material that will pick up marks. For longer answers it is also worth spending a few minutes making a plan to ensure their work reads well and flows well from one concept to another.
  8. After the exam move on and don’t dwell on what’s already done. It’s tempting for students to dwell on a bad exam. This is time wasted that could be spent focusing on the next exam and how to get extra marks in future papers. Focusing attention on what students can control rather than what has already happened (and can’t be changed) will make for a more positive outlook and ultimately a better future performance.

I hope you have found this article interesting and have some ideas to share with your children. If you need extra help with GCSE revision strategy then take a look at my HeadsUp! Revision Strategy programme. Designed specifically for year 10 and 11 students to take the stress out of revision and make it more enjoyable! Available as a half day workshop, 4 part webinar series or a 1-2-1 tailored programme.


Practical and interactive workshops to improve the effectiveness of GCSE revision and boost motivation.

Click HERE for more details


The HeadsUp! Webinar Programme is a series of 4 live and interactive webinars covering all aspects of GCSE revision.

Click HERE for more details


For students who prefer a more personalised approach, over 4 one hour 1-2-1 sessions we will cover a variety of techniques an strategies to improve GCSE revision strategy – either in person or via Skype

Click HERE for more details


for 7-11 year olds full of strategies to boost confidence, reduce worries, deal with anger and improve friendship skills.
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Calm Tookit for Parents stackEasy, useful and highly effective strategies to keep you in control even when your kids are pushing your buttons!
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Parent PowersA 4 week programme to take the stress out of being a parent and make family life more enjoyable.
HERE for more details

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This post was written by Beth Parmar