The Science Department at The Bicester School regularly offers a range of sessions in addition to timetabled lessons to support our students as they move towards final examinations.

We believe that one of the key factors to success in exams is to start revising early. Revision sessions take place throughout the academic year for GCSE and A-Level students. These include early morning and after school sessions and regular lunchtime revision lectures. Students will be given timetables of the sessions that are relevant to them early in the year.

In addition to these, we operate an open door policy for students in the Science Department – all students are welcome and encouraged to seek help from any member of the department whenever they need it. All teaching staff are also contactable by email.

Revision tips for Science

Making sure you achieve the best grades you can in Science will take effort and motivation, but one of the most important things you can do is make your revision as effective as possible.

Fortunately, cognitive scientists and psychologists have been researching this for years and have identified some easy-to-use techniques that could help you achieve your target. They have also identified the revision techniques that are often used by students but don’t actually seem to work very well.

The good stuff

Practice testing

You are likely to see testing as an undesirable part of your education, but as well as assessing and evaluating your learning, testing improves learning.

Practice testing does not mean formal assessments taken under exam conditions, but could include practising recall of target information using flashcards, using past papers as part of your revision, using the practice questions in revision guides and workbooks or arranging a study group and testing each other.

Why does this work? There are several theories which try to explain this based on what we know about memory. When we use our memory by retrieving things, we change our access to that information. What we recall becomes easier to be recalled in the future. It may also be that the struggle and effort involved in recalling something helps to reinforce it in our brains. Research suggests that the harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. Psychologists sometimes call this ‘desirable difficulty’ – the more mental sweat it takes to dig information out of your memory, the more securely it will be anchored in the future.

Distributed practice

It is important to make sure you spread out your revision of different topics and alternate between them, rather than grouping all your revision for one topic together. In Science, this means you should spread out your revision for each unit between now and the exams. Don’t cram all your revision for B1 into one week in March, then ignore it until the exam – keep revisiting the same topics and mix between Biology, Chemistry and Physics topics.

Why does this work? Again, there are a few theories based on the way memory works and there are probably many reasons why distributed practice is effective. One theory is that processing information suffers when the second time it is studied is very close to the first time – you do not have to work very hard to revise something you have just completed. There is also a danger you may be misled by the ease of the second revision session and might think you know the topic better than you do (see learning v familiarity below).

Alternate environments

A lot of advice on study skills suggests that you find a specific place to revise, for example a certain room in your house or a particular corner of the library. However, a lot of research suggests the opposite may be a better idea. Your brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations at the time, regardless of whether you are conscious of those sensations. Forcing your brain to make multiple associations with the same material by varying the environment might create stronger memories and help to slow down forgetting.

What to avoid – the problem of learning v familiarity

Revision techniques that seem to be less effective include highlighting key information and reading the same material over and over again.

Unfortunately, these techniques are often the only ones used by students for revision. There are many possible reasons for this – these techniques are all easy to implement and take little time or effort; they can give the impression of having done a large amount of revision in a short time; and it often feels like they are working.

However, it is unlikely that much real learning is taking place with these revision techniques. It is more likely that the benefits you feel you are getting from these techniques are due to familiarity with the material rather than mastery of it – the more you read the same page of notes, the more familiar the words will become, and so the easier it can seem each time you re-read it.

How to make a revision plan

  1. Plan early

It should go without saying that planning your revision timetable must be done before anything else, to ensure there is enough time for you to cover all your subjects. You probably study between eight and twelve subjects. If you plan to spend a week revising each subject, then that will require two or three months of revision.

2. Order your subjects strategically

The best revision plans have an element of strategy – ordering your subjects in an effective manner can help to do this. For example, scheduling English revision to appear early in your revision plan may provide useful when revising essay-based subjects later on. You need to balance this with the demands of the exam timetable – for example, starting your revision with a subject that appears early on in the exam timetable.

3. Each subject is different

You should not feel as though you must devote an equal amount of time to each subject, since there may be a variety of reasons why certain subjects may require more revision.

4. Strict yet flexible

It is important to create a revision plan and stick to it to make sure that every topic area will be covered in the run-up to exams. However, you must also be flexible. If one subject, module or topic takes longer than expected, then you should not panic. You must also make allowances for your life outside of revision. Playing sport, meeting friends and going to concerts are all important outlets you should use to relax and maintain a healthy balance in your life.

In summary:

  • Test yourself regularly as part of your revision
  • Spread your revision out and start now. Don’t lump all your revision for one topic together at one time. Make sure you have a realistic revision schedule that takes into account all of your subjects and your social activities. There is no point making a revision schedule that you can’t stick to, so be honest about how much time you have available
  • Mix your revision up. Change the place you revise, change the time you revise, revise with friends and take turn whose house to revise at
  • Ask your teacher if you are unsure about anything! Remember we want you to succeed and are happy to help however we can.