How to Cope with the New GCSEs

How to cope with the GCSE changes


Last week, a GCSE student’s Facebook post went viral for highlighting the enormous stress that teens are under with the new GCSE syllabus. She was able to eloquently express the feelings of GCSE students up and down the country, many of whom haven’t been taught the skills needed to revise effectively and cope with all of this increased pressure. 


Whilst student results will certainly be lower this year than in previous years, there are ways that students can relieve a bit of the pressure on themselves and revise in a more effective way. Here are some of the revision techniques that have worked for me personally and for my students, many of which have been scientifically proven to be effective. 


Try to Maintain a Positive Attitude

Science has proven that when test-takers have a positive attitude towards a test, their test scores actually improve. Revision works in the same way - a negative attitude has been shown to change the way in which the brain takes in information. Therefore, if you’re starting your revision thinking you’re approaching an impossible task, then you will actually be damaging your chances of success before you’ve even started.


Students up and down the country are daunted by the new GCSE changes but remember - A-level students have been successfully memorising texts and formulae for years. If a 17-year-old can memorise formulae, then so can a 16-year-old. 


If you’re still struggling to be positive in the face of your GCSE’s, there is a hack - the Superman/Wonderwoman pose. Standing for two minutes with your feet apart, hands on your hips and your head tilted upwards sends a message to your brain that you’re confident, which then leads to better performance. Try it for yourself (but maybe not in public). 


Focus on Specific Quotes

You do not need to memorise an entire text to pass. I repeat: DO NOT try to memorise an entire book. This is a near impossible task that will not improve your marks. 


Instead, make a list of key quotations relating to different topics and memorise these. If you’re not sure which topics to go for, look back at essay topics that you’ve tackled this year and make a list of quotations that relate to each topic. For example, you might make a list of MacBeth quotations that relate to control.


After going through a few essay questions, you’ll start to see that some quotations pop up more than others - focus on these - these are key quotations can be repurposed for different exam questions, saving you a ton of time.


Learn in Different Ways

Staring at a piece of paper will not help information to entrench itself in your long-term memory. Instead, find a variety of ways to go over the same material to help your brain to recall it. 


You can do this by copying out quotations and formulae on paper, reading aloud, listening to audiobooks or even by explaining a topic to a friend. Each time you go over this material, you’ll be helping it stick in your mind for the future. Remember, if you’re explaining a topic to a friend, pick a friend that will participate and not try to distract you. Chit-chat and revision don’t mix. 


Test Yourself

Testing yourself has been scientifically proven as one of the best ways of improving your test results. You don’t have to complete a whole practice paper, either. Completing a quick few questions will do. To save time in essay subjects, you may want to test yourself by writing an essay outline rather than the whole thing.


Take the time to mark your work thoroughly after each test. If you’ve made mistakes, read through the instructions carefully and return to the question a little while later. See if you can now complete the question independently. If not, you may need to review the answers another time. You should not try to do the question again immediately. By leaving a short gap between your review of each question, you’ll be practising a technique called “interleaving”, which has also been proven to help long-term retention of information.


Don’t Be a Jack-Of-All-Trades and a Master of None

Try not to spend too much time flitting between different question types if you’re not mastering any of them. In each subject, you will have certain strengths (even if they only seem small). Don’t forget to test your strengths every now and again to make sure that you can be accurate 100% of the time. You don’t want to lose easy marks by spreading yourself too thinly. 


Know when you’re working effectively… and when you’re not

It’s easy to give yourself a pat on the back for locking yourself in your room and staring at a book all day, but remember you need to be productive too. If you’re no longer concentrating, give yourself a 10-20 minute break before heading back to the grind. Research suggests a rest of 17 minutes is optimal. 


Be strict with yourself about the length of your break (I recommend setting a timer) and make sure you completely relax in this time. Engaging on social media or replying to texts may not give your brain the space it needs to recharge. 


Figure out what works best for you so that you have something to look forward to. Physical activity can work well here - it reduces stress and can even boost memory. Personally, I went on YouTube and learnt the Single Ladies dance during my study breaks at uni. Silly, yes, but it worked!


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