study strategies

A-levels, study strategies

How To Study For Tests: Earn An A* On Your EOU Tests


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Learning how to study for tests is a key skill that all students need to know if they are going to be successful in their A-level courses. In A-levels, end of unit (EOU) tests are used by a teacher to assess how much the students know about a given topic in the course. They are administered and marked by the teacher every three to four weeks. If the student does well on the test they are praised for working hard and meeting or exceeding their predicted grade. If they don’t do so well on the test the teacher may suggest attending subject tutorial once a week or place them on an academic contract.

As a parent, how is your child doing on their EOU tests? Are they passing their EOU tests with their predicted grade or higher? Do they feel confident when studying for and taking their EOU tests? Or, are they failing their EOU tests? Do they feel as if studying for the tests is a waste of time because they don’t know what concepts will be on the tests?

If you are interested in helping your child earn their predicted grade or higher on their EOU tests then keep on reading!

Tip #1: Preparation: Notes And Homework Sets

how to study for tests

The first step your child needs to take when learning how to study for tests is to be prepared for their EOU tests. Being prepared for their EOU tests means that they are organised, have a master set of notes and understand the homework sets for the module.

They need to be organised which was a concept was discussed in detail in the blog post Six Form Essentials: How To Help Your Child Get Organised For Their A-Levels. In brief, they need to have an A4 lever arch folder, college ruled paper, plastic sheet protectors, tabbed dividers, coloured pens and pencils, a calculator and a school planner.

They need to have a master set of notes for the unit. Creating a master set of notes was a concept that was discussed in detail in the blog post How To Take Notes At A-Level To Earn An A*. In brief, they need to have a detailed set of notes based on the specification for the unit which allows them to complete homework sets and past paper questions to a high level of accuracy without referring to their textbook.

And they also need to understand their homework sets for the unit. Scheduling time to complete their homework set which was discussed in detail in the blog post A-Level Success Tips: How To Manage Your Workload. In brief, they need to understand their homework set for the unit. This means that they understand and explain the concept being tested in each question on the homework set.

If they aren’t prepared for their EOU test now is not the time for your child to start with day one of the course and try to get caught up with their organization, notes and homework sets. Rather, they should focus on completing a master set of notes and understand the homework set for the unit. If they don’t understand their homework set it is imperative that they see their subject tutor as quickly as possible to learn the concepts being tested on their homework set.

How To Study For Tests: Tip #2: Revise By Question Type

how to study for tests

The second step your child needs to take when learning how to study for tests involves having a strategy for completing past paper questions. Most students complete packs of past paper questions by answering the questions in sequential order. They then make a note of what questions they answered incorrectly when marking their work and repeat the process. The issue with this method is that they are not practising a template for a model answer and practising what they understand rather they are reinforcing the incorrect way of answering a question until they complete a pack of questions and mark their work.

A better approach is for your child to complete the questions strategically by answering the questions in order of decreasing point value. Your child answers all of the six-marker questions in the question pack and repeats the process for the five-marker questions and work their way through the pack answering sequentially lower point value questions until they had answered all of the questions in the pack.

If they run out of time they change pen colours and keep working until they have answered all of the questions in the pack. They then mark their work using the mark scheme and update their notes to include any keywords or definitions, concepts or strategies for answering questions.

The reason that this approach is so effective is that allows the student to model correct answers for each of the types of questions. It also allows the student to get into the habit of answering the large point questions first on the exam. And it allows them to become more relaxed on the exam by quickly earning their predicted grade on the exam.

Tip #3: Use The Mark Scheme To Guide Your Revision

The third step your child needs to take is to use the mark scheme to guide their revision for the EOU test. Too often, students complete packs of past paper questions with the mark scheme open which gives them a false sense of security about the content on the test. They believe that they know the course content when actually they don’t know the course content. Or they don’t understand how to use the mark schemes effectively in their revision.

The use of mark schemes in a student’s revision for the tests has been discussed in detail in the blog post A-Level Mark Schemes: 5 Ways They Can Be Used To Earn An A*.

When using a mark scheme to mark their work your child should complete the following three tasks:

  • Check the mark scheme for keywords or phrases which are printed in bold and are commonly known as Quality Of Language (QOL) and update their notes to include these terms.
  • Check the point value for question in the mark scheme and make sure that their answer contains enough concepts, i.e. one concept per point to earn all of the points that the question is worth.
  • Check that they have the concept in the answer in the mark scheme in their notes. This will allow them to maximise the value that they get from using mark schemes in their revision plan.

If they follow these steps your child will see a rapid increase in the grades that they earn on their EOU tests. This is because they will be engaging with the mark scheme in what is known as active learning rather than just reading the mark scheme in what is known as passive learning.

Tip #4: Think Like A Teacher

how to study for tests

The fourth step that your child needs to take when learning how to study for tests is to think like a teacher when they are studying for their EOU tests. Students often wonder what is on their EOU tests and how they should best revise for their tests. Sometimes they are surprised to see a concept on the test and wonder if they have been taught the concept in their lessons.

Thinking like a teacher allows a student to bridge the gap between the course specification, their notes, their homework set and their EOU test. Students need to keep in mind that the test is timed and so there can only be so many questions on the test. With this in mind, their teacher has to choose the questions carefully when making the test to make sure the test is levelled for the average student in the class and covers all of the major topics covered in the unit.

When revising for their test, your child should keep the following three points in mind when reviewing questions.

First, they should check to see if the question is checking their understanding of a major topic that is listed in the course specification for the unit. If it is then it’s a type of question that is most likely going to be on the test. Also, if the question keeps appearing in the pack of past paper questions they are completing where maybe small changes have been made to the question then this is another strong indication that this type of question will be on the test.

Second, is the question a synoptic question? A synoptic question is a question which includes two concepts in the question and requires an understanding of each of the concepts and the relationship between the concepts in order to answer the question. It is a favourite type of question for teachers to use on exams because it allows them to test the student’s understanding of two related concepts without using too many points on the test.

Third, is the question a challenging question? When a teacher makes a test they have to be able to differentiate between the A* and the A students. To do this they normally include one question on the test that requires a higher level of mathematics ability or a deeper understanding of a complex concept. When revising for an EOU test look for questions that fit these criteria and make sure that you understand them as they will probably be on the test.

If your child follows these three simple rules when studying for their EOU test they will see a marked improvement in their test scores because they will be thinking like a teacher.

Tip #5: Complete Past Paper Questions Under Timed Conditions

The fifth step your child needs to take when learning how to study for tests is to complete past paper questions under timed conditions. A lot of students complete past paper questions under non-exam conditions when revising for their EOU tests. They complete past paper questions without keeping an eye on the time with the thought that they are better off learning the material and that they will complete some past paper questions under timed conditions at a future date. The issue with this idea is that most students don’t tend to complete past paper questions under timed conditions because they run out of time studying for their EOU tests.

A better idea is to always complete past paper questions under timed conditions. If your child runs out of time completing the pack of past paper questions they should change pen colours and keep on working until they have completed the pack of past paper questions. After they have marked them and updated their master set of notes they need to complete the next pack of past paper questions more quickly while maintaining a high level of accuracy.

The idea is to be able to complete a pack of past paper questions in 90% of the allotted time. So, if they have 60 minutes of past paper questions your child should be able to complete the pack of past paper questions in 54 minutes. If they practice answering past paper questions in 90% of the allotted time on the EOU test they will have a few minutes to spare at the end of the test to check their work. And they will not feel as if they are working under time pressure on the test.

How To Study For Tests: 5 Strategies To Earn An A*

In order to earn their predicted grades on higher on their EOU tests your child needs to complete the following:

  • Be organised and have a set of master notes for the module.
  • Study by question type.
  • Use the mark scheme to guide their revision.
  • Think like a teacher
  • Complete past papers under timed conditions.

If they complete these five steps discussed in this blog post your child will earn the highest grade that they can on their EOU tests.

study strategies

5 Revision Tips For A-Levels: How To Increase Your Course Grade


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Revision tips for A-levels is a subject that most parents are interested in learning about. They are watching their child transition from being a GCSE student to being an A-level student. Their children have managed to organise their day effectively and are using a note-taking system to capture the ideas that they are learning in class. And they are managing their workload so they don’t get burnt out with their studies.

The next step in their journey is to learn how to revise effectively so they can earn their predicted grade on their EOU tests. So, if you are interested in learning how your child can study effectively for their EOU tests and want to learn about the five revision tips for A-levels then keep on reading!

Why Earning Your Predicted Grade On EOU Tests Is Really Important

revision tips for a-levels

When talking to your child about how their A-levels are going they may mention that they have just received their test papers back from their teacher. They may have earned a good grade on their exam and be happy with their results or they may have earned a bad grade on their exam and be frustrated with the teacher and their progress in the course. In either situation, as a parent, it is important that you keep track of their grades in the course.

There are three reasons that this is an important task for you to complete as you help your child be successful with their A-levels. The first is that the teacher uses their course grade to monitor your child’s progress against the predicted grade they have been assigned in the course. The predicted grade is the grade that the college believes that they should be able to attain based on their GCSE grades. If their course grade is below their predicted grade then their teacher has to follow the college policy and place them on an academic contract. This may involve taking away their free periods so they can attend mandatory study sessions, require that they attend mandatory subject tutorials and be set improvement goals on their exam grades that they must attain otherwise further action will be taken.

The second is that the course grade is a good indication of how your child is learning and retaining the information in the course. If your child’s course grade is above or equal to their predicted grade then you have nothing to worry about. If it’s one letter grade below the predicted grade then its something to be concerned about. If its two or more letter grades below the predicted grade then its something that requires immediate action on your part. The reason for this is that the longer your child is not working at their predicted grade in the course the more difficult it is for them to get their grades back on track.

The third is that your child’s course grade is a strong indicator of what grade they will earn on their UCAS prediction exam. The UCAS prediction exam is the exam your child takes at the end of Year 12 which along with their course grades is used to predict the grades that they will earn at the end of the course. And this is used by universities to give unconditional and conditional offers to prospective students.

Help your child understand the importance of their course grades:

  • Talk to them about the grades they are earning on their EOU tests.
  • Help them understand the importance of keeping their course grades on track with their predicted grade.
  • Help them understand that their course grades and their UCAS grades are used to predict their final grades in the course.

Once your child understands the importance of earning their predicted grade on their EOU tests then they will understand the importance of the 5 revision tips for a-levels and how it can help them earn good grades in their courses.

Revision Tips For A-Levels: Create A Master Set Of Notes Using The Course Specification

revision tips for a-levels

The first tip you can use to help your child is to help them create a master set of notes using the course specification as a guide. If you need help doing this then read the blog post “How To Take Notes At A-Level To Earn An A*“. It is crucial that your child has a master set of notes before they start revising for their EOU tests.

The idea is that your child takes notes during the lesson that captures the concepts being taught in the lesson using a note-taking system. Then they create a master set of notes from the notes that they took during the lesson, from reading the resources they were given in the lesson and from reading the textbook. As they create their master set of notes they are using the course specification as a guide making sure that they have notes on topic and subtopic listed in the course specification.

The indicator that your child has a thorough set of master notes is when they can follow the directions of each subtopic listed in the course specification for the topic. For example, they can state the definition if a key term. They can describe the trend seen in a set of data. Or they can compute for an unknown variable using the formula given in the textbook.

Help your child create a master set of notes for each of the units in their course:

  • Review with them how to create a master set of notes using the link above.
  • Help them create a master set of notes for each topic.
  • Use the course specification as a guide to quiz your child on the course material contained in their master set of notes.

Revision Tips For A-Levels: Make Sure They Understand Their Homework

The second tip you can use to help your child is to make sure they understand their homework sets. There is a distinct difference between completing a homework set and understanding a homework set. When your child is given a homework set there is a due date associated with the homework set. Your child completes their homework set by the due date and submits it to their teacher. When they get their graded homework set back from their teacher they make a note of the grade that they earned on the assignment and file it in their folder.

When a child understands a homework set they understand they take their learning one step further than other students. They make sure they understand the questions being asked on the homework set and seek clarification of any concepts they don’t understand before they complete the homework set and submit it. When they get the homework back from the teacher they review their homework set using a mark scheme, make a note of what questions they got correct, seek clarification on what questions they got wrong and update their master set of notes. They then file the homework set in the appropriate section of their lever arch folder.

If your child is are having issues completing their homework by the due date then make sure you read the blog post “A-Level Success Tips: How To Manage Your Workload” so that you can help them complete their homework in a timely manner.

It’s taking the time to review their graded homework set and fill in any gaps in their knowledge that is the important point. If your child does this as they complete their homework then they will keep up with the course work and their understanding of the course work.

Help your child understand their homework sets:

  • Review with them the blog post on how to manage their workload.
  • Make sure they are submitting completed homework sets by the due date.
  • Discuss with them the importance of understanding their homework sets rather than completing their homework sets.
  • Encourage them to see their tutor during subject tutorial and ask for clarification on any concept in the homework that they don’t understand.

Revision Tips For A-Levels: Use Past Papers Wisely

revision tips for a-levels

The third tip that you can use to help your child is to help them use past papers wisely in their revision for their EOU tests. When a student knows that they have an EOU test coming up the tendency is to print off packs of past paper questions on the unit that have been made available by the college or that they can download from the internet. They complete the past paper questions with the mark scheme open. They read the question, think about what they would write on the exam, check the mark scheme and write down the answer in the mark scheme. To the student, this makes perfect sense since they are saving time by not writing down the incorrect answer, having to mark their work and then correct their work.

The are several issues with this strategy. The student is lulled into a false sense of security. They will not have the mark scheme available to them on during their test so they will feel additional stress on exam day. They are not practising how to recall information from their short term and long-term memory so they will not be able to do this during their exam. They are not crystallising the thoughts in their head by writing down the answers on their practice papers. They are not learning how to answer exam questions in the style wanted by the examiner. They are not learning how to write answers worth the number of points for each question. And they are not learning how to answer each type of question that they will see on the exam.

A better way of studying for their end of unit tests is for your child to use the mark schemes in a more proactive manner in their revision. For a more detailed explanation of this approach read the blog post “A-Level Mark Schemes: 5 Ways They Can Be Used To Get An A*“. The idea is that your child prints off a pack of past paper questions and completes them under timed conditions with the mark scheme closed. Once they have completed as many questions as they can under the time given they mark their work against the mark scheme making a note of what questions they got incorrect and on what questions they lost points. If they don’t understand a concept they ask their teacher for clarification the next day they are in school. They then update their notes and add to their notes anything that is missing that prevented them from getting the question correct on the exam. After they have completed this cycle for one pack of past paper questions they complete the cycle on subsequent packs of past paper questions. Using this method builds your child’s confidence their exam-taking ability, allows them to practice the recall of information from their short term and long term memory, allows them to practice writing answers to exam questions in the way that the examiner is looking for and allows them to practice answering certain types of questions.

Help your child use mark schemes effectively in their revision:

  • Review with them the blog post that discusses how to use mark schemes in their revision for their EOU tests.
  • Help your child understand that using mark schemes incorrectly is not going to help them earn a good grade on the final exam.
  • Help your child understand that using mark schemes correctly allows them to develop their exam-taking skills and helps consolidate their knowledge in the course.

Revision Tips For A-Levels: Learn To Think Like A Teacher

The fourth tip you can use to help your child is to help them think like a teacher. When putting a test together the teacher can only include so many questions due to the time constraint of the test. Therefore teachers tend to create their tests using four criteria: Does the question test one of the main concepts from the course specification for a unit? Has the content of the question been included in the test in a different question? Does the question include a different question type that has not already been included in the test? Is the question one that is more challenging and can be used to differentiate between A* and A students?

With this understanding of how their teacher constructs a test, your child can now approach their revision with a more critical eye. They can start to think like their teacher when they are completing past paper questions. When they are completing a question they can ask themselves questions such as:

  • What main concept listed in the course specification is this question testing?
  • Have I seen a different question that tests this concept? If so, is this a better question compared to the other one? Which one would I include on the exam?
  • What type of question is this (definition, concept, computational, mechanism, six-marker)?
  • Does this question contain parts that could be used to differentiate between A* and A students?

By pausing to reflect on each question type your child is analyzing the question from the holistic or big-picture perspective and cataloguing questions into different types. This allows them to analyse the question based on the concept being tested, the type of question, the point value of the question and difficulty of the question. This is a much more effective way of studying compared to completing stacks of past paper questions.

If you need help with helping your child study effectively for their exams then read the blog post “A-Level Chemistry Revision: 5 Study Skills Used By A* Students” for more information.

Help your child think like a teacher when revising for their tests:

  • Help them analyse the test questions using the four criteria listed in this section.
  • Help them catalogue questions into different question types.
  • Help them analyse each question and determine if it should be included in an EOU test.

Complete PPQ under exam conditions

The fifth tip that you can use to help your child is to help them complete past paper questions under timed conditions. A lot of students run out of time on their exams which causes them to earn a lower grade on the exam. This can be overcome by helping your child complete past paper questions under exam conditions as part of their revision cycle.

This step is the last part of their revision cycle and to be beneficial must be completed after they have completed their master set of notes, understood all of the concepts on their homework sets, have completed packs of past paper questions and analysed practice questions. Otherwise, it will have little benefit to your child.

To complete past paper questions under timed conditions your child completes as many of the past paper questions in the time allotted. For example, if the pack of past paper questions had a time limit of 60 minutes then they spend 60 minutes completing the papers with the mark scheme closed. If they run out of time they change the colour of the pen that they are using and complete the rest of the questions in the pack.

Next, they mark the papers using the mark scheme using the strategy outlined in this blog post. Then they determine why they ran out of time completing the pack of past paper questions. Was it because they didn’t know the concept? Was it because they could not recall the concept? Did they spend too much time determining what the question was asking them? Did they spend too long answering the question? Did they become mentally fatigued as they were completing the questions?

The answer to all of these questions indicates a specific weakness in your child’s study habits that can be fixed by adapting their study habits. After they have determined how they will strengthen the weaknesses in their study habits they consolidate their learning by re-reading and adding to their notes and seeking help from their teacher. Then they complete another set of past paper questions with the target goal of completing the questions 10% faster than they did previously while maintaining their predicted grade on the past paper questions.

The final goal with regards to completing past paper questions under timed conditions is to be able to complete the questions in 90% of the allotted time. This gives your child 10% of the allotted time on the exam to review their work for errors and check that they have answered all of the questions correctly before submitting the exam to their teacher.

Help your child complete past paper questions under timed conditions:

  • Have them complete as many of the past paper questions they can in the allotted time.
  • Have them complete any remaining questions using a different colour pen.
  • Have them determine why they didn’t complete all of the past paper questions in the allotted time.
  • Help them update their revision plan to strengthen any weaknesses in their plan.
  • Help them set a goal to complete the past paper questions in 90% of the time allotted while maintaining their predicted grade.

If you help your child use the five revision tips for a-levels mentioned in this blog post they will be well on their way to earning their predicted grade or higher on their EOU tests. This is because the five revision tips for a-levels discussed in this blog post help your child think about their course work holistically and begin to think like a teacher. This gives them a competitive edge that allows them to increase their grade in the course.

A-levels, study strategies

How To Take Notes At A-Level To Earn An A*


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Learning how to take notes is one of the sixth form essential skills that every A-level student needs to know so that they can earn a high grade in their A-level courses. However, learning how to take notes is a skill that a lot of A-level students don’t know because they were never taught it as part of their GCSE coursework. So they attend their A-level lessons and try to capture the ideas being taught in the lesson by rapidly scribbling down what is being written on the board by the teacher which has a negative impact on their course grade.

As a parent of a child who is starting their A-levels you can help them learn how to take notes in their A-level courses. You can help them fill the gap in their knowledge by teaching them how to take quality notes so that they capture the ideas being taught in the lessons. This is a skill set that they will use both in their A-level and in their university courses.

If you are interested in helping your child become more successful in their A-level studies then keep on reading this blog post.

How To Take Notes: Paper or Digital

When thinking about what note-taking strategy to use in their A-level courses your child needs to think about whether they want their system to be paper or digital.

A paper note-taking system involves college ruled paper, pens, coloured pencils and a ruler. It doesn’t involve them writing down notes in a spiral-bound notebook as this will not allow them to effectively organise their notes after their lesson has finished. At the end of each lesson, your child puts their notes into their day folder and takes them home with them. 

A digital note-taking system involves the use of a tablet such as an iPad and a note-taking app. Your child needs to check with their teacher to make sure that the use of a tablet is allowed by the teacher as some teachers allow and other teachers don’t allow the use of technology in the classroom. Typing their notes on a laptop using a word processor such as Microsoft Word or mind mapping software is not going to work because they will not be able to keep up with the lesson. What your child needs is a tablet so that they have the ability to write on the screen when they are taking notes. 

Both paper or digital note-taking systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Paper note-taking systems are cheap to purchase, flexible and easy to set up and maintain. However, if they are not maintained properly they can quickly get out of control and just become a stack of papers. Digital note-taking systems are more expensive to set up, easier to maintain and easier to organise. However, they are not as flexible as paper note-taking systems and may not be ideal in all circumstances.

Help your child pick a note-taking system:

  • Help them decide whether they want to have a paper or digital note-taking system.
  • Help them set up their note-taking system.
  • Help them keep it organised on a consistent basis.

How To Take Notes: Capture The Ideas Being Taught In The Lesson

At GCSE level, your child’s lessons were content-driven. The teacher typically headlines the topic at the beginning of the lesson, completes a few sample questions on the whiteboard and checks for student understanding. The students copy down the notes on the whiteboard into their exercise books and then complete a worksheet that reinforces the concept being taught in the lesson. Homework is another worksheet or a few questions from the end of the chapter which consolidates what they have learned during the lesson. The lessons are extremely structured and the concepts are taught at a slower pace so enough time is allocated for each of the students to complete their assignments. The note-taking skills your child needs involves copying down what has been written on the whiteboard into their exercise books. 

At A-level, the lessons are idea-driven and it is assumed that your child will learn the content during their own time. The teacher headlines the sub-topic in the specification that will be taught in the lesson. They then discuss the associated concepts being taught in the lesson using PPT presentations as a teaching aid along with handouts which are handed to the student during the lesson. Any key points from the lesson are written on the whiteboard by the teacher as they are talking with the students. Towards the end of the lesson the students complete sample questions and check their answers against a mark scheme which is displayed on a SmartBoard.

What is important to understand is the different teaching style that is used to teach a GCSE course and an A-level course. A GCSE course is content-driven whereas an A-level course is idea-driven. Because each course has a different teaching style it requires a different note-taking system. The note-taking system used by your child in their GCSE course will not work in the A-level course.

What is needed is a mind shift in the way that your child approaches their note-taking in their A-level courses. They need to understand that the intention of their note-taking in A-level courses is to capture the idea or concepts being taught in the lesson whereas for their GCSE courses it was to capture the content of the lesson. Once they understand that there is a different teaching style used in A-level courses you can help them pick a note-taking system that works for them.

Help your child understand the different teaching approaches used in their GCSE and A-level courses and how this influences their choice of note-taking systems:

  • GCSE courses are content focused and A-level courses are concept focused.
  • The note-taking system they used in their GCSE courses is not going to work in their A-level courses.
  • They need to choose a note-taking system that allows them to quickly capture the ideas being taught in the lesson rather than trying to capture all of the content of the lesson.

What Type Of Note-Taking System Is Best For My Child?

There are many different types of note-taking systems that your child can use to take notes. Two popular systems include the Cornell Method and Mind Mapping. Both of these methods are favoured by A* students because they allow them to capture the ideas being taught in the lesson by the teacher quickly and easily. If you need more explanation of what is involved in using either of these note-taking systems then make sure you click on each of the links. 

It doesn’t matter which note-taking system your child uses to take notes in their lessons. It isn’t a case of one system is better than the other or that one system works for everyone. Rather, what is important is that your child tries different note-taking systems, finds one that works for them and their style of learning and then perseveres with it until taking notes becomes second nature to them.

Help your child pick a note-taking system that works for them:

  • Help them learn about the Cornell and Mind Mapping note-taking systems.
  • Help them try each note-taking system and decide which note-taking system works for them.

Master The Art Of Note-Taking

Once you have helped your child determine what note-taking system they want to use in their A-level courses you need to help them implement it. You need to be their accountability partner and encourage them to focus on creating a master set of notes! There is an art form to taking notes where the objective is to capture ideas taught in the lesson, ideas presented in a textbook and ideas presented in class handouts and create a master set of notes. It can be broken down into five separate steps. Read through these steps and make sure that you understand them before you teach them to your child:

1. Read the section of the textbook assigned by your teacher and take notes. This is best completed using the SQR3 method. First, survey the textbook looking at chapter headings, sub-headings, tables and figures. Write down any questions that you have about what you have read on Post-It notes and stick them into the margins next to the text. During lesson make sure that your questions are answered by your teacher. After the lesson, read the section of the textbook and note how many of your questions were answered by your teacher or you can answer after reading the text. 

2. Read through the resources you received in the lesson and write any questions that you may have on Post-it notes and place these in the margin. Make sure that you get these questions answered by your teacher at the start of your next lesson. Highlight any key terms and definitions and important ideas.

3. Read through the notes that you made during lesson. Ideally, this should be as soon as possible after your lesson has ended. If you can’t read your handwriting or if you are unclear about something in your notes then see your teacher for clarification before the end of the day.

4. Create a master set of notes using your note-taking system using the notes and questions from the textbook (step 1), the highlighted areas from the resources (step 2) and the notes you made during the lesson (step 3). Use the specification as a guide to help you do this. Each sub-heading in your notes (Cornell method) or strand (mind mapping method) should correlate to a sub-topic in the specification for your course. 

5. Test your notes! When completing your homework you should be able to complete your homework by only referring to your notes and not using the textbook or other resources. If you find that you can’t do this because some of the concepts or ideas are not present in your notes you need to add notes on these concepts or ideas to your master set of notes.

The idea is that your child creates a master set of notes as the course progresses throughout the term. After they have completed their set of notes they complete one of the following two tasks. If they are using a paper note system they scan their notes in case something happens to the originals. Then they place their notes in plastic sheet protectors and file them in the appropriate section of their lever arch folder. Or if they are using a digital note system they back up their notes on a cloud drive just in case they lose their tablet.

Help your child master the art of note-taking:

  • Be an accountability partner for them and encourage them to maintain their note-taking system.
  • Help them create a master set of notes using the five steps to create a master set of notes.
  • Help them organise and back up their notes.

Practice The Lost Art Of Note-Taking

Effective note-taking is a skill that can be can be learned and is one that can be improved through practice. Ask your child to practice taking notes in various situations where their grade is not going to be impacted. For example, have them take notes when listening to a podcast, watching a documentary or when being a guest in a different class at school. 

Although setting up and maintaining a proper note-taking system is a time-intensive effort for your child it saves them time in the long run. When they are studying for their EOU, UCAS or final exams they will have a comprehensive set of notes they can use as a reference. They will not have to re-read the textbook, re-read handouts and other resources they obtained from their teacher and wonder why they highlighted certain sentences. They will not have to look at scribbled notes in a spiral-bound notebook and wonder what they meant months after they were written in the lesson. 

By taking the time to create a master set of notes your child will notice that they will be able to recall ideas and topics more easily because they wrote a master set of notes. This is because creating a set of notes helps consolidate what was learned in their lessons and commit it to short term memory.

Help your child practice the art of note-taking:

  • Ask them to practice taking notes in a situation where their grade is not going to be impacted.
  • Discuss with them that although it takes longer to create a master set of notes they are saving time in the future because they will not have to re-read their textbook and other resources they were given in the lesson.
  • Effective note-taking is a skill that they can use in university.

In order to see how effective note-taking strategies are linked to revision plans used by A* students read the blog post A-Level Chemsitry Revision: 5 Study Skills Used By A* Students.

study strategies

A-Level Mark Schemes: 5 Ways They Can Be Used To Get An A*


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As your child enters the final revision stage for their A-level chemistry course you may hear them talk about using mark schemes as part of their revision strategy with fellow students. They may tell you that they understood the question on their end of unit exam but that they didn’t put down what was in the mark scheme so the teacher marked it wrong. Or that they don’t get the concept so they will “just memorise the mark scheme” for the upcoming exam and hope that a similar question comes up on the exam.

As a parent, are you concerned about how your child is using mark schemes as part of their revision strategy? Are you concerned that they seem to be completing a seemingly endless amount of past paper questions and not improving their grade in the course? Are you confused as to what value mark schemes have in your child’s revision for their upcoming exams?

Effective Study Techniques Used By A* Students

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A* students regardless of the subject that they are studying have a strategy when it comes to studying for an end of unit test or their final exams in the course. Although they may not know it their study strategies are based on principles of neuroscience. And they have been proven to be effective by countless numbers of students before them and will be used by countless numbers of students after them. While this blog post is not a complete discussion of the study cycle used by A* students, it highlights three key areas of the study cycle: note taking, homework completion and revision. Read the blog post “Revision Plan: How A* Students Plan To Effectively Revise For A-Level Chemistry”,  to learn how A* students plan their revision time.

The first part of the study cycle is to have a good set of colour coded notes. While there are many note taking systems that can be used, A* students use a note taking system such as Cornell Notes or mind mapping, or a combination of both systems. They use colour because they know that using a system of different colours helps them recall information more easily on their exams. Before completing their homework set, A* students generate a quality set of notes on the topic that they are studying so which summarises the content of the lessons and their weekly reading assignments.

The second part of the study cycle is to complete the homework set by the teacher. At this point, A* students differentiate themselves from other students because they complete their homework sets for understanding rather than for completion. They are organised enough to be able to meet homework due dates and are working a couple of days ahead of schedule. So rather than just completing the homework so that it isn’t marked late or putting something down on the paper so that they can show their teacher that they have attempted the question, they have time to understand the concept being tested in the question.

The third part of the study cycle is to revise for the upcoming end of unit exams, UCAS prediction exams or end of course exams. Armed with the course specification, a well organised set of handouts and other resources given to them by their teacher, marked homework sets and sample past paper questions, A* students are ready to effectively revise for their upcoming exams. The difference between A* students and other students in that A* students know how to effectively use A-level mark schemes in their revision.

A-Level Chemistry Mark Schemes: How To Use Them Effectively

A-Level Mark Schemes

The use of mark schemes can increase your child’s grade on their end of unit exams, UCAS prediction exams and final exams in the course if used properly in your child’s revision cycle. This is because if used effectively they provide insight into three key areas: quality of language, point distribution and synoptic links. To be used effectively, mark schemes must be referred to after your child has completed a set of questions because this allows them to know which questions that they got correct on the practice papers. If they got the question incorrect, they can update their notes on the topic after completing more revision on the topic. about a topic. This is preferred over your child referring to them as they complete a set of questions and lulling themselves into a false sense of security because “this is what they intended to write down” when answering the question. If they do the latter rather than the former, when your child takes an exam they may find that they don’t have the recall of the information that they need to answer the question and gain all of the points for the question.

Now you understand how your child can use mark schemes properly in their revision it is time to discuss three key areas where mark schemes can be used to help your child earn an A* in A-level chemistry: quality of language, point distribution and synoptic links.

Quality of Language

Quality of language is a hot topic issues in any A-level course. And its what your child is referring to when they tell you that they “got the concept correct but they didn’t say it like the mark scheme said it.” A-level examiners require that the answer to a question be answered using certain keywords. For example, in A-level chemistry a dative covalent bond is the donation of “a pair of electrons” rather than “electrons.” So, if your child writes that a dative bond is the donation of “electrons” rather than “a pair of electrons”, although the concept is generally correct, their teacher will mark their answer as wrong and write QOL (Quality Of Language) in the margin.

How your child overcomes this issue is to make a note of any keywords or phrases that are underlined in the answer to the question in the mark scheme. A* students then write down the keywords or phrases on a piece of paper in a separate section of their folder under a topic subheading. This degree of organisation allows them to build a glossary containing keywords and phrases to be used when answering specific questions on their exams. As part of their revision strategy they review this glossary daily so that when they see the question on the exam they know what keywords to use when answering the question.

Point Distribution

Point distribution is another hot topic issue in an A-level chemistry course. Has your child ever told you that they “answered the question correctly on the exam but the mark scheme wanted something extra?” If this sounds familiar to you its because your child answered the question correctly but didn’t go into enough depth in their answer to the question. When your child gets their marked exam back from their teacher they may notice that their teacher has circled the number of points that the question is worth or written “and ….” in the margin.

How your child overcomes this issue involves two steps which are the same steps followed by A* students to overcome the quality of language issue when answering questions. The first step is to make a note of the number of marks each question is worth when they are answering the question and understand that the number of marks each question is worth indicates the number of points or steps that they should include in their answer. For example, if a question about a definition is worth three marks then their answer should contain three distinct points. A* students tend to circle the number of marks in larger mark value questions to make sure that they have included all of the points needed to gain all of the marks in the question. The second step is to check their answer to the question against the answer given in the mark scheme. If they lost marks on the question then A* students determine why they lost the points. Was it because their definition did not contain enough detail? Did they lose marks because they didn’t show working out? Or was it because they didn’t write their answer to the correct number of significant figures or include units?

Synoptic Links

Synoptic links is a term used by educators which means to tie two or more concepts together in a question on the exam. A* students understand about synoptic links and are extremely aware of them because they know that if they understand the concept of synoptic links then they will revise in a certain way that will allow them get all of the marks on the question that contains synoptic links. This will allow them to earn an A* on the exam. Although your child may not use the phrase “synoptic links” while having a conversation with you, if they tell you that “they did OK on the exam but there was one question about a previous topic that they didn’t know they had to revise for on the exam”, then they are talking about synoptic links.

Although a detailed explanation about how to revise for synoptic link questions is outside of the scope of this post, A* students know how to use A-level mark schemes to effectively revise for these type of questions.  They use a similar strategy to the one used  previously when revising for quality of point distribution on the exam. The first step is to make a note of when synoptic link questions arise on the exam. This is an example of “signposting”, which means that you are looking for a signpost that guides you down a certain path. For example, if they are revising the topic on thermodynamics and notice that the topic on energetics is also included in the question, then they make a note of this and search out and complete more questions that contain the topic of thermodynamics and energetics in the same question. They do this because they know the signpost is indicating that there is a synoptic link between thermodynamics and energetics and that it will probably come up in a future exam. The second step is to review the answer in the mark scheme and to analyse how the question was answered in terms of keywords and phrases, how the points were distributed in terms of points for working out, units and significant figures. And most importantly, how the two concepts were linked together in the question. For example, was the equilibria of weak acids and bases linked to the use of PH indicators? A* students tend to spend time mapping out the question and recording their findings in a section in their folder so that they start to think like an examiner which guides their revision strategy. When they see this type of question on the exam again they have a strategy in place that allows them to answer the question in such a way that they earn as many marks as possible for the question.

A-Level Chemistry Mark Schemes: How Not To Use Them Effectively

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You may have noticed that A* students don’t have mark schemes open when they are completing past paper questions and they don’t memorise mark schemes. Rather they complete past paper questions on a topic under timed exam conditions, and then mark their work using mark schemes. This is because they understand that completing past paper questions with the mark schemes open gives them a false sense of security because they will think that they know the material when they don’t know the material. And this technique will not help them recall the information on the exam. And they know that memorising mark schemes is a waste of time because the chance of them seeing the same question on the exam and recalling the exact answer to the question under the pressure of exam conditions is remote.

How Mark Schemes Are Used By A* Students

A-Level Mark Schemes

Mark schemes are used by A* students in the following way:

  1. They use them as part of a well structured revision cycle.
  2. They refer to them after they have completed past paper questions under exam conditions.
  3. They use them to help them understand quality of language, point distribution and synoptic links in questions.
  4. After they have marked their work they update their glossary for quality of language issues.
  5. They use mark schemes to map out how to answer synoptic link questions.

If your child follows the steps in this blog post on how to effectively use mark schemes they will be well on their way to earning an A* in A-level chemistry.

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Revision Plan: How A* Students Plan To Revise For A-Level Chemistry


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A-level students nationwide are beginning to wrap up their coursework and leave school for study leave in order to revise for their upcoming exams. Some students are prepared – they have a comprehensive revision plan, several years of mock exams to complete,  a thorough set of notes and a firm understanding of the course content. Other students may not be so well prepared – they have something that resembles a revision plan, a few mock exams that they have downloaded from the internet, a binder full of handouts, scribbled notes and marked exams and a weak understanding of the course material.

When the results are published over the summertime, the results at an initial glance seem to follow a predictable trend. Those students that were well prepared earned or exceeded their predicted grade. And those students that weren’t well prepared earned less than their predicted grade and have placed their entry into the university of their choice in jeopardy. And yet there are those few students that either seemed on track to earn their predicted grade on the exam and didn’t and those students that were predicted to earn a low grade on the exam that performed exceedingly well on the exam and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

As a parent, are you concerned about how your son or daughter will do on their A-level chemistry exams? Are you concerned that they may not be studying effectively for their exams? And are you curious about how some students earn top grades on their exam even though they seem to be woefully underprepared?

This two-part blog post will discuss the revision plan used by A* students when studying for their A-level exams in order for them to achieve an A* on their exams. It will also discuss the reasons why some students although woefully underprepared manage to earn a grade higher than their predicted grades on their A-level exams.

Revision Plan: Start With The End In Mind

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Stephen Covey has an excellent quote “Begin with the end in mind”, that is one of the habits that he discusses in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” Before revising for their exams A* students know what grade they want on their final exam. They create a study plan that maps out the topics that they will be revising during the weeks leading up to the exam.

However, they don’t just start with the first topic in the course specification and then move onto the second topic and work their way through each topic in the syllabus in sequential order. Rather they see the synoptic links between the topics taught in the first year and the topics taught in the second year of the course. For example, they study the topic of energetics with thermodynamics and the topics of kinetics with rate equations. This is because energetics and kinetics are taught in the first year of the course and thermodynamics and rate equations are taught in the second year of the course.

Excellent revision plans all start with the end in mind – the grade that the student wants to earn on the final exam. And a well laid out plan so that they know what topics they are studying each week. However, A* students also know the value of the content and the context of the course material.

Build A Firm Foundation With Content

Revision plan

A* students have a system of strategies in place in order to build a firm foundation in the content of the course. A* students have a preferred note taking system that they use in all of their A-level courses. Some students use the Cornell note taking method, others use the mind mapping method or a combination of both of these methods. It doesn’t matter what note taking method they use as long as the system that they use produces a set of notes that they can refer to while they study for the exam. They also have organised sets of folders that contains all of their classwork, homework sets and past papers.

A* students know that they need to study using active learning rather than passive learning techniques. Rather than copy over their notes and make a fresh set of notes on the topic, A* students spend a short time making  a colour coded mind map of the topic that summarises the main points of the topic. They know that their time is better spent completing past paper questions and updating their mind map after they complete each set of past paper questions rather than spending their time copying over their notes.

If your son or daughter doesn’t have a good set of notes or has disorganised folders there is still hope that they can earn a respectable grade on the final exam for the course. They are better off creating a colour coded mind map of the subtopics covered in the topic using the specification as a guide rather than creating a master set of notes in the weeks leading up to their final exams. Although it may seem counter intuitive, using active learning strategies such as completing past paper questions and updating their mind maps along the way as they revise for a topic is a better strategy than the passive learning strategy of creating a fresh master set of notes for each topic.

Read the blog post “A-Level Chemistry Revision: 5 Study Skills Used By A* Students”, for study skills your child can incorporate into their revision plan.

Putting A Plan Together Using The Context Of The Course

Revision plan

As mentioned earlier, A* students tend to have the ability to see the synoptic links between the topics covered in the first and second year of the course. However, they also revise for each topic by question type rather than just completing packs of past paper questions. This strategy allows them to model how to answer each question correctly and then reinforce the correct way of answering the question by answering several questions in a revision session.

For example, A* students may decide to revise 6-mark questions as part of their revision plan. Rather than complete all of the 6-mark questions in a session they spend some time reviewing how to answer the 6-mark question in terms of indicative chemistry content and the three levels of explanation. They then complete a 6-mark question, mark it using the mark scheme, update their mind map for the topic and reflect on how they can improve their score on the next 6-mark question.

Once they have completed their revision for the 6-mark question they use a similar strategy when revising for a 5-mark mechanism question, a 4-mark calculation question, a 3-mark concept question, a 2-mark definition question or a 1-mark multiple choice question. When creating their revision plan for the topic, A* students schedule their time by types of question that they will revise rather than revising the content of the topic. They know that this type of active learning will help earn them a good grade on their final exams because when they see the question on the exam they will recall the model answer for the question type, the steps required to to answer the question and earn the most points possible as well as the content required to answer the question.

5 Strategies For Creating An Effective Revision Plan To Earn An A* in A-Level Chemistry

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When creating an effective revision plan, A* students use the following strategies listed below. They are more focused on deciding what they are going to do each week rather than focusing on using each minute of each hour of the day.

  1. Start with the end in mind – what grade do you want to earn on the final exam in the course?
  2. Pair up topics that fit together – for example kinetics and rate equations.
  3. Consolidate content – spend a small amount of time creating a colour coded mind map for each topic using the specification as a guide.
  4. Study by question type for each topic – for example 6-mark questions and then update the mind map for the topic.
  5. Complete whole past paper questions under timed conditions.