I got straight 9s at GCSE - here's how I did it

One student whose GCSE results were among the best in the country shares some advice for those taking exams in 2020

Robbie Hicks

Grade 9 GCSEs

Are you aiming for a full set of GCSE grade 9s this summer? It's a tall order, but I was certainly hoping for it. 

The long interlude between the GCSE exams and results day meant an invitation for feelings of angst and self-doubt.

I was recounting my analyses of Macbeth quotes, reassuring myself by reworking exam problems and scrutinising every answer I could remember from the exam hall. 

The relief when I got 10 grade 9s at GCSE – placing me in the top 426 students of 850,000 nationally – was overwhelming.

Quick read: Here’s how your pupils are really revising for GCSEs

Quick listen: GCSEs: What has been the impact of the shift to linear exams?

Want to know more? How to put Oxbridge within your students’ grasp

Top tips for GCSE success

Here’s my advice to pass on to your students:

1. Make resources early 

For each topic covered in class, I made sure to have my notes and flashcards prepared, so that once it came to exam season, I could concentrate on memorisation.

Find out which exam board you follow, and then the complete exam information (the specification) can be found online.

2. Revise for end-of-topic tests

End-of-topic tests, spot tests and mini-quizzes can seem dull, but they are incredibly important.

Just 15 to 20 minutes of learning a few key points for each of these quizzes can really build up over a year, and make the learning much more manageable.

3. Approach mocks properly

Mock exams are the biggest opportunity you’ll get to test the waters before your real exams. Revising for these with a strict timetable (and sticking to it) will mean you’re well-rehearsed by May.

4. Experiment with revision techniques

Flashcards with questions on one side and answers on the other are the most effective form of revision for some people, but others prefer mind-mapping, whereby key concepts are linked together around a topic title.

Find out what works for you, and try short revision sessions of 25 minutes with a five-minute break to let more information sink in.

Tes has a handy guide for GCSE and A-Level revision techniques here

5. Plan your time

I spent two to three weeks revising for mock exams and six to seven weeks revising for real exams, and found that to be sufficient, doing about two hours of work each night.

Divide a subject into each of its topics and make sure that you cover each of them before the exam. And be sure to take into account your extracurricular commitments; you may need to start studying earlier if your calendar is busy. 

6. Explain the information

Talking about a topic to a family member or friend and being tested verbally can help with the recall of information and allow understanding of the links between topics.

7. Look at past papers

Around a month before the exams, begin to practice exam papers. Attempt them in exam-like conditions and correct them with a mark scheme. Then concentrate on your weakest areas.

This should be the final stage in the revision process, consolidating the information as you move into the last weeks before the exams.

What else do students need?

My GCSE preparation was a team sport – access to revision resources, having a quiet study space and good peer, school and home support all had a part to play.

I found that determined teachers were able to inspire me towards success, and supportive parents reinforced this work ethic (I recognise that I am privileged to attend an excellent school and receive academic support at home).

The message here is that students can only control some of these aspects, and therefore every improvement should be celebrated. 

Whether it be outperforming predicted grades, making revision more effective or finally passing maths or English, these successes are valid and the main goal should be to maximise your true potential.

Robbie Hicks is a student in England

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Robbie Hicks

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