How to revise with past papers

Learn from the Past — 5 Reasons to Use Past Papers for Revision

While the exact content of the exam papers changes each year, GCSE and A-Level students can still find much value in using papers from the past as part of their revision. ‘What’s the point?’ we hear you ask. ‘Those questions are not going to come up again any time soon!” While it’s true that those exact questions won’t emerge, and perhaps not even the topic (depending on the subject being examined), the past questions give valuable insight and experience in answering question forms. The fact is that while exact content changes, the basic form of the tests often stays the same or at least similar.

Let’s take English Literature as an example. If you’ve studied “The Merchant of Venice” in detail, then you won’t know if they’ll ask you about one particular theme, or how Shakespeare presents the relationship between two or more of the characters, but after practising old papers you will come to realise certain patterns. “To what extent do you agree…”, “How does xxx develop the theme of yyy?” Besides this, there are many other great advantages to using past papers as an integral part of your GCSE and A-Level preparation.

When past papers aren’t available or you’ve finished then I have predicted papers in my shop

Advantage #1 — They’re the real deal

Past papers are not just mocks made up by your teacher or head of year. These are real papers that real students like you have attempted in the past few years. The most effective form of assessment is one that is as realistic as possible; as close in content and feel to the real test as you can muster. Nothing can surpass past papers in this regard.

Advantage #2 — Realistic training of time management

As you practice past papers, you can become increasingly familiar with the time requirements for each question, and learn to control your time and maximise your efficiency. It’s one thing to have all the knowledge inside your head, but GCSE and A-Level exams follow patterns where some sections are worth more points than others. When you are familiar with the papers, you can practice finishing low-mark questions quickly so that you can spend more time on getting the big-mark questions done well. The odd mark here and there you can afford to lose, but not one of the major questions. That’s where final grades start to slip.

Advantage #3 — They clarify your strengths and weaknesses

Answering real questions on past papers will show you very clearly where your strengths and weaknesses are currently. It could be that you can easily answer the questions in the first part of the paper, but you always struggle with the same kinds of questions. You will also reveal the gaps in your knowledge. If you are asked, for example, to answer on reasons behind Louis XIV of France’s religious policy and its success or failure, then you know to go back and study that part in detail. Never forget that while the content may not appear in the same section in the same format, it might appear in another, so fill in those gaps as best you can as indicated by your past paper practice.

Advantage #4 — They cover a lot of ground

When you finish just a handful of past papers, you might cover half or even more of the topic areas that you’re supposed to cover in this subject. It’s an efficient way to broadly sweep across different topics, and that links up handily with Advantage #3. The more topic areas you can cover, the more likely you are to be able to discover the fatal flaws in your knowledge base.

Advantage #5 — You’ll be able to distinguish the different “command” words

All questions on all papers across all subjects will feature one or more “command” words which tell you how exactly you should approach your answer. It’s important that you have a strong understanding of the differences between, for example, “explain,” “describe,” and “evaluate.”

Explain — you need to give reasons and probably support with examples

Describe — you need to tell the examiner what it is like

Evaluate— you need to give good points, bad points, your opinion and a reason for that opinion

The more practice papers you do, the more of these command words you will come across and can hone your writing skills to make your answers fit the question perfectly.

In conclusion:

Of course, you can’t rely entirely on past papers to complete your revision, mixing them with using multiple-choice questions It’s probably best to save them until after you have done some revision on the key knowledge and concepts. After doing that, you can use past papers as an assessment of your progress. There’s no better barometer for how well you’re progressing in your GCSE or A-Level preparation. Best of luck with your revision! And remember to take regular breaks, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep each night.