Knowledge Organisers — A Perfect GCSE/A-Level Foundation

When it comes to revision, finding the most suitable method that works for each of us is a significant challenge. One teacher recommends you use mind maps, another tells you to use bullet-point lists and flashcards. Which one is right? Perhaps both of them are! Today I’m going to be introducing a study method for GCSE and A-Level students which, in my opinion, offers an effective and lasting method of gaining a strong foundation of knowledge in a particular subject. We are talking about “Knowledge Organisers.”

What are “Knowledge Organisers”?

When you hear the name, you might be picturing a super-organised filing cabinet or index card box with colour-coded file tabs. In fact, a knowledge organiser is nothing as complex as that. Put quite simply, a knowledge organiser is a single piece of A4 paper onto which the student can arrange and display all the key knowledge on each subject area. A more detailed topic may use both sides of the paper. It will typically include the following things:

  • Visible, neatly arranged boxes/areas containing all the essential facts of the topic
  • Keywords and special vocabulary/terminology connected to the topic, and the definitions
  • Helpful images, maps, charts, diagrams and other visual aids
  • Relevant quotations (e.g. English literature) or authoritative testimony on a subject

The fact is that there is no standard specification for how your knowledge organiser should look, that much is up to you. What is true of all knowledge organisers, however, is that they only contain the most important facts, and information should be arranged into easily digestible pieces — so, no mini essays squeezed into each space.

How will Knowledge Organisers Benefit my Revision?

When you’re preparing for GCSEs and A-Levels, there’s a huge amount of information that you need to take in. It can seem totally overwhelming at first. A knowledge organiser is a great way to get started on each subject by boiling it down to individual topic areas and their key details. Let’s be clear here, knowledge organisers are not your be-all and end-all for revision. Think of them as laying a foundation at the beginning of your studying process; a roadmap of the various topic areas that you subsequently will revise in detail.

Here are the ways that this approach will benefit you in your GCSE and A-Level revision:

1. Learn as you write

As you layout the information into your chosen format, you can try to write the information down without referring back to your notes, thus creating your “first layer” of revision. As you build, so too do you start to become more familiar with the content.

2. Gives you the “big picture” overview, which is good for detail retention

It’s true that a knowledge organise has no room for all the detail, but there are benefits to first ascertaining and mastering the ‘big picture’ information before you move on. Creating the big picture helps you to think more strategically and better connect the details to a root topic. This in turn helps you build connections between information that makes you better able to both understand and recall detail for use in the exam.

3. Works together with other study methods

If you pair this method with other study strategies like retrieval practice, then you can further increase effectiveness and link your revision activities together in a meaningful way. For example, you might use retrieval practice to create your first rough version of the knowledge organiser, or you may use the finished organiser as a point of reference to ask/answer retrieval practice questions.

4. Great material to catch up if you’ve missed class

If you’ve missed any classes, then a knowledge organiser prepared by your teacher or a classmate can catch you up on the most important information that you missed. It’s not a substitute for attending classes, but can keep you on track when being absent is unavoidable.

5. Helps direct and focus your study

When you give yourself a clear set of foundational points, keywords and ideas, you also have a roadmap of how to move forward. Looking at each topic and piece of information, you can then build on that and develop a more complex, yet still fully ordered, revision model. Today, for instance, you’ll start with the keywords and definitions, and then work them into sentences. Tomorrow you’ll take the first key knowledge point and explore it in depth. And so on…

In conclusion:

The important thing to remember is not to expect miracles or make unreasonable demands of your knowledge organiser. Know that they are limited to a foundational knowledge; a summary of the salient facts that you need to remember before anything else. You should also be aware of how much time it takes you to create each one. It will benefit you to design a format, or find an existing one online and mimic it for your own topics. If you spend too much time designing and creating knowledge organisers, you might use up too much of the time you need to revise in detail.

Create the big picture, put all the details in one place. Your knowledge organiser is the perfect platform from which to build up your detailed revision.

For AQA GCSE Science you can find ready-made knowledge organisers in the new Oxford Revise series

Oxford Revise AQA GCSE Physics 

Oxford Revise AQA GCSE chemistry 

Oxford Revise AQA GCSE  biology 

Oxford Revise AQA GCSE combined science higher 

Oxford Revise AQA GCSE combined science foundation