Why you need to make past paper practise part of your revision

As the start of summer exams gets closer and closer, GCSE and A-Level students can often feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do in the time that’s left.

It can feel like you need to spend as much time as possible cramming your head with information in order to learn it all in time for your exams. 

And, if you’re in this state of mind, you might not feel like you have time to practise past paper questions. Or you might think that you shouldn't tackle any questions until you've finished revising every topic. 

But, doing past papers isn’t just a bonus activity to try and squeeze in later once you've learnt everything. It’s actually an integral part of effective revision. 

In this article, I’m going to explain: 

  • Why practising past papers is such an important part of revision
  • How to make past paper practise part of your existing revision 
  • Why marking your own work can make a big difference to your final grade

Why is practising past paper questions such a powerful form of revision?

It focuses your revision on one topic at a time

If you struggle with a particular question, it highlights that you need to spend more time revising that topic. 

It’s a form of active revision

Active revision is doing something with the information you’re learning. 

In this case, you’re applying it to a specific question and using it to form your answer, then analysing your answer to see how many marks you'd get. Doing so creates structures in your brain that store the information, meaning you’re more likely to actually remember it.

It helps you think like an examiner 

Marking your own work after you’ve answered the question allows you to get familiar with the mark scheme. After marking a few questions, you’ll be able to get into the mindset of the examiner and understand exactly what they need to see to be able to give you the top marks. 

How to build past paper practice into your revision

The power hour is a really effective form of revision and a manageable way of getting some focused past paper practice in. 

When you follow the power hour, you’ll find that past papers are actually part of your revision rather than just being a way to test yourself after you’ve learnt everything. 

Here’s how you do a power hour: 

1. Choose a past paper question

Click here to watch a video I made about how to find past papers and mark schemes for your subject. Once you’ve found a past paper for your subject, pick out just one question from it. 

2. Revise

Set your timer for 20 minutes and revise what you need to know to answer the question.

3. Write your answer 

Set your timer for 20 minutes again. This time, write the answer to the past paper question you chose.

4. Mark your answer 

Use the mark scheme for the past paper you used to mark your own answer. 

5. Get feedback  

Show your teacher your answer and how you marked it. They’ll be able to give you feedback on how you did, how you could improve and whether your marking was accurate. 

Click here to download an infographic that explains exactly how to do your own power hour, step by step. It’s designed to be printed out and stuck wherever you’ll see it. 

Where the real change happens

During my time as a teacher and now working with students and their families in The Extraordinaries Club, I’ve heard from so many GCSE and A-Level students who say that they've completed countless past paper questions but their grades aren't improving. 

The problem is, if you don’t also mark all of those past papers, you don’t learn to think like an examiner. That’s why step 4, marking your answer, is such an integral part of the power hour. 

By analysing how you did and comparing your work to the mark scheme, you’re practising looking at your work like an examiner would. You'll identify exactly what you can improve and what you need to do next time to increase your marks. 

It’s not easy to look at your own work with a critical eye but it’s a really important skill to learn. This is where the change happens, so stick with it! 

Over to you

If you want to learn to think like an examiner, it’s time to make past paper practice a consistent part of your revision. You’ll be able to walk into your exams knowing how to deliver exactly what the examiner needs to see to give you top marks. 

Would you like more help making your revision more effective so you can prepare yourself for really successful exams? Download a free chapter of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take

In this chapter, you’ll:

  • Learn why learning styles matter less than learning methods
  • Find out how to use your past learning experiences to develop revision methods that work for you
  • Discover how to develop revision techniques that help you learn more efficiently and effectively – leaving more time for you!

Download the chapter for free here.

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