GCSE maths can be challenging. You’re exposed to formulas, equations, and methods for various topics, such as statistics, algebra, geometry, and more. Add in the fact that it can sometimes be a bit dull, and you can easily find yourself overwhelmed.
But maths is a subject that both sixth-form colleges and employers highly desire, and you often need at least a passing grade. In many cases, you must have obtained at least a C on your exam.
This adds a lot of pressure, which can make revising a lot less enjoyable. But it doesn’t have to be the way. There are numerous ways to ensure the revision process is fun and efficient so that you’re not spending any more time on it than you have to.
This article will outline 11 revision tips to ensure you have all the revision tools necessary to get the best grade possible on your GCSE maths exam.
You should utilise specific revision methods such as spaced repetition and active recall, the Feynman Technique, and creating effective flashcards to ensure you’re efficient with your revision time. You should also prioritise sleep and incorporate naps throughout your day to help consolidate what you learn and the speed at which you can recall it on exam day.
These are just some of the tools detailed in this article. It’s worth noting that many of these tips have a compounding effect on each other, meaning that using as many of them as possible will ensure you get more bang for your buck when revising. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
1. Don’t leave it too late
Deep down, every student knows that starting early is one of the most impactful things you can do when it comes to revising, but it’s still something very few do. Most kids tend to leave it to the last minute, cramming as much information into their brains before their looming exam date. For some people, this is a strategy that works. However, they are few and far between. Most people will benefit from a longer approach, where they revise a little each day.
Countless studies show that studying over the course of a few months stores knowledge in the long-term memory, whereas cramming last minute stores knowledge in the short-term memory. So whilst your long days and late nights two weeks before your exam can help you pass, the things you’ve learnt won’t stick. Not too long after your exam, your brain will deem the information useless since you’re no longer using it and erase it from your memory entirely.
Take the slow and steady approach to maths revision to give yourself the best chance at remembering what you learn in a way that’s considerably less stressful.
2. Read your specification
Each exam board has their own specific specification. Whilst there is a great deal of overlap between them, there are subtle differences. Therefore, make sure you know exactly what you need to learn for your exam by reading your specification.
You’ll find detailed information on everything you need to learn and the extent to which you’ll be tested on it.
3. Create a cheat sheet with all your formulas and equations
A large part of GCSE maths exams is remembering the right formula to use in the right situation. Exam boards will provide you with a formula sheet, but they won’t tell you when to use it.
To help combat the confusion you can have on exam day, create a cheat sheet with all the formulas and when to use them. Stick it on your wall and read it every day in the morning or just before bed. Whilst this can seem tedious and boring, this consistent practice will ensure that you never forget what equation to use when coming across a tricky question.
4. Spaced repetition
As we’ve just mentioned, our brain stores the information in our short-term memory bank when we learn things. Over time our recollection of what we learn will fade unless we revisit that information again.
Revising that information over time causes the shift between storing information from our short-term to our long-term memory – think of it like periodically topping up your knowledge on a topic until you don’t need to anymore. This is called ‘spaced repetition’. Spaced repetition is a scientifically proven method to ensure we never forget what we learn and can be applied to anything.
5. Active recall
Spaced repetition really shines when you combine it with a second revision method called ‘active recall’. Active recall is retrieving information from your brain without any hints or assistance. It’s essentially what questions on an exam paper are.
Active recall is far more difficult than simply reading your notes since you have to delve into the depths of your knowledge bank in order to retrieve that information. However, this is what makes the information stick. Since your brain has to work harder, you’re more likely to remember it going forward, even if you don’t get it right the first few times.
Spaced repetition and active recall are methods that cause you to work harder but also reap higher rewards for the effort you put in, making them extremely time-efficient and effective revision methods.
6. Create flashcards
Flashcards are a great way to test your knowledge since they use the principle of active recall. The best way to use flashcards is always to write them in a question format and answer them in as much detail as possible.
For example, on one side, you could write ‘what is the quadratic equation?’ and on the back, you can write the equation. To really test your knowledge, you can take this a step further and include additional information, such as what the quadratic equation helps solve and how to use it to answer a question. Alternatively, you can ask these maths questions in a different flashcard if it’s too much to remember – especially at the beginning.
These days there are great free flashcard apps you can download on your phone and desktop. One of the most popular ones is Anki. Anki is a brilliant resource because it also utilises spaced repetition. You rate how easy it was to answer a flashcard. The app will show the questions you find hardest more often than the ones you find easiest. This ensures you are spending more time on improving your weak points. It’s not the only tool available, though. There are hundreds of options to choose from these days, so find the one you like best.
7. Can you explain it to someone else?
When you revise maths, it can be easy to get caught up in memorising key facts, figures and crunching numbers all day. To spice up your revision process, try to explain concepts and methods to a friend. Not only is this a novel way to learn, but the explanation of your thought process behind an answer or a concept has huge benefits in developing a deep understanding of a topic.
This learning method was popularised by American physicist Richard Feynman and is often called the ‘Feynman Technique’. Richard Feynman assessed his knowledge of a subject by seeing if he could explain it to a 12-year-old. Why a 12-year-old, you ask? Well, to explain something complex to a child, you need to use basic language and to use basic language, you first need a thorough understanding of the topic to then distil it down to simpler terms.
Now, finding a child to explain your maths revision to may not be practical, but you can still reap the rewards of this technique by asking a friend or family member to help you out.
8. Past papers
Out of all the revision tips outlined in this article, this might be the most important one. No matter how much you learn from a textbook or your teacher, if you’re unable to translate that information into your exam answers, your revision efforts will have gone to waste.
Past exam papers give you insight into how your exam board and examiners think. They allow you to see the type of questions your exam board likes to ask, which topics are covered more than others, and how they phrase their questions. This helps you decipher what they’re asking, and it helps you see trends, such as subject areas they’re more likely to ask about.
Past papers also allow you to identify knowledge gaps. Suppose there’s a particular topic you’re struggling with. In that case, it’s a good indication that you should spend more time studying it than the others.
Additionally, all past papers come with mark schemes. Of course, a mark scheme outlines the correct answer. But, more importantly, it shows you how the examiner expects you to display it. If you’re unable to show your working out in the way they want, you may be docked points which will certainly add up.
Remember that while past papers are a good estimate for things you can expect to see on your exam, there is no guarantee for what they’ll ask. Your exam board could decide to switch it up. Therefore, don’t take any shortcuts with your revision. Ensure you’re well prepared for all topics.
9. Mimic exam conditions
When doing past papers, try to emulate your exam conditions – mainly time and silence.
All exams have a time limit. It’s a factor that many people overlook, which can have a huge impact on exam day. For instance, if your exam is 60 minutes long, give yourself 60 minutes to complete your past papers. Bear in mind that you also want to leave yourself some time at the end to check over your answers, so be sure to factor this in.
Many people revise maths whilst listening to binaural beats or music as this can help increase focus and concentration. However, this won’t be possible during your exam; you’ll be in an exam hall in silence. Therefore, do your past papers in silence as well. You should also extend this to some of your revision. Sure, not each and every revision session has to be done in complete quiet, but you should at least be comfortable with working in silence.
10. Prioritise sleep
Sleep is a miracle drug that we all have access to. We’ve all heard its benefits of reducing stress, improving mood, and lowering the risk of health problems, but it’s also shown to significantly increase declarative memory.
Declarative memory is part of your long-term memory. It helps to process what you’ve learnt throughout the day and recall facts, events, dates, etc. Maths has definite answers and solutions, therefore heavily utilising your declarative memory.
Sleep improves declarative memory by 20.6%, so if you want a natural boost in your ability to recall what you’ve revised, ensure you get a good rest every night – especially on the night before your exam.
11. Take naps
Building on the previous point, try to get a 90-minute nap in your day when revising. Recent studies have shown that daytime naps improve learning and declarative memory. This ability to remember more of what you’ve learnt and also recall that information faster will drastically improve your performance on your maths exam and could be the difference between failing or passing.
12. Test yourself with other exam boards
If you’ve followed the tips in this article and you’ve started early, used techniques such as spaced repetition and flashcards to test your knowledge, and incorporated exam papers into your preparation, you should be ready to pass your exam.
However, learning never stops, and if you want to take your revision a step further and ensure you’ve covered all areas of GCSE maths, try to answer past papers from other exam boards. Indeed, the style of questions and content will slightly differ. Still, by exposing yourself to them, you’ll be testing yourself in new, harder ways compared to your actual exam.
To use an analogy. Think of it like preparing for a marathon by running on sand. Your practice conditions on sand will be more challenging than running on tarmac. So when it comes time to run your marathon, it will be much easier for you. The same applies to practising papers from other exam boards.
This is an advanced technique and certainly isn’t recommended for everyone. But if you feel you’ve exhausted your study materials, feel free to try other exam boards.