To be successful at your exam, you must:

  • prepare effectively beforehand (in other words, develop your study skills)
  • perform effectively during the exam (in other words, develop your exam technique). 
This section contains a variety of resources to help you with this.

Study Skills                                             Exam technique

Watch the following videos which outline the approach you should take for effective Independent Study and Revision.

1. An Introduction to Independent Study 

2. How to plan for effective AS resits in your Y14 year 

This link will give you a blank copy of the revision plan template shown in the video above.  

The five keys of effective learning:

Find out more about how to make your revision and learning more work better for you.

1. Active not passive
Have you ever sat reading a page of text, only to discover that, when you got to the bottom, you don't recall a single part of what you've just read?

Make notes when you revise. Try not to sit passively staring at pages. The more active you are, the more your brain is engaged, the more likely you are to remember the material you are studying.
2. Transforming, not transferring
Writing is good. However, not all writing kinds of writing are equally good. If you just copy out in more or less the same form from the notes you're studying, you are simply transferring information. This may help develop your knowledge, but it probably won't develop your understanding. You can copy out a learn something you don't understand.

And yet, your exams will test your understanding by asking you to apply what you know to unfamiliar contexts. So you must develop your understanding while revising.

Do this by transforming your notes. Change the format. If it's text, summarise into bullet points, or flow or spider diagrams. If it's a summary diagram, try putting it in to words. Whatever you do, make sure large elements of your revision and study involved transforming your notes.

Do this also by applying your understanding to new situations. Your notes have plenty of tasks and past paper questions included in them, some of which we do in class, but some of which are left for your own use when studying. Use them! Have a go and see how much you really understand the notes you've been learning.

Another good way of testing your understanding is by reading around a topic. Your notes are tailored exactly to the requirements of the CCEA spec and they give you all you need to know and understand in order to be successful. However, reading how other text books and sources word things can help you see if you really understand your notes, or just are familiar with the way they are worded. Use the CCEA text books in private study, and why not dip into other text books in the Geography classrooms. 
When you're studying human Geography, the internet is of course an excellent source of the most up to date information about the topics and issues we're exploring in class. Focused, intentional time spent on this kind of research (as opposed to aimless browsing, or opening up Facebook to see if anyone else has commented on your last fascinating status update) can be very useful in extending your understanding. Wikipedia and the BBC news sites are great places to start.
The final thing that can help understanding is applying it to past papers. You have a wide range of these available in your notes anyway, but others (along with Mark Schemes) are available at the CCEA Geography Microsite. Follow the tabs to the relevant Revised Level qualification.

3. Process AND outcome
"But writing takes me too long," is a complaint we often hear when we try to encourage pupils to use these strategies. The response: not if you do it right.

There are two types of writing you can do:
  • Outcome notes - these are the neat, carefully made out summary notes that you intend to keep and look over later. These play a very useful role in revision and learning. They tend to be the type of notes most pupils make - but they're not the only type...
  • Process notes - these are simply designed to keep you active when revising something. They are not meant to be kept and used again, so they can (and should) be quick, rough and messy. Use abbreviations. Be quick. And, keep being active! 
Both of these have their uses, but you've probably only used outcome notes before. Give the process notes a go. Use them often to help you stay focused and engaged when revising.

4. A testing experience
Now for a really obvious question: when would you like to know if you've really learnt something - before the exam, or during the exam?

The answer is clear. And yet, are you using strategies in your revision which will help you to discover just how much you're learning?

Testing yourself should be a regular part of your revision an study. And yet, it can be done quickly. How? Simply use your process notes technique to recap quickly over material you've already learnt. Here's a suggestion of how a 30 minute sessions might look; let's call it the 5-20-5 approach:
  • 5 mins - initial test. Use process notes to test yourself on material you've already studied. See how you got on. You've now revealed (i) what you do know, and you can feel good about that, and (ii) what you don't know. You can then target this specifically when revising, helping your revision to be more effective.
  • 20 mins - main revision session. Actively transform your notes, using a combination of process and outcome notes.
  • 5 mins - final recap test. Again use process notes to test yourself on what you've just done. Helps identify priorities for further study in the next session.
These timings are designed for Sixth Form pupils to do during private study and/or library. Outside of that context, you may feel that the timings don't work so well for you. That's okay - adapt them! It may be that 5-50-5 is a better proportion for you, or 5-20-5-30-5-15-2 or something like this is just what you need. In a sense, the timings aren't the important thing - it's realising that you must test your learning and understanding as you go along. That's the core principle here; 5-20-5 is just a suggestion of a way of using it.
Testing also involves repetition over earlier material. Repetition is a very effective way of getting material into your head. I said, repetition is a very effective way of getting material into your head. Repetition is a very effective way - oh I'm sure you get the message by now!

5. Plan it
The most effective study is that which is most intentional i.e. you have a clear purpose and the bigger picture in mind. This can often be aided by making out a revision plan. You may be an extremely organised person who runs your life planned out to the nearest minute. If that's the case, then a detailed plan will no doubt work for you.
For the rest of us mere mortals, we probably have to be a bit more realistic which means being a bit more flexible. For mosy of us, sticking to a day by day revision plan is unrealistic. Life happens; things come our way that put us behind schedule, and before you know it your revision plan becomes something else to feel guilty and you end up avoiding even looking at it in case it depresses you too much. Revision plans should be a help, not another thing that outs you off revising. Perhaps the weekly approach will work better for you. If you'd like to give it a go, here are a few tips:
  • Think in terms of blocks of weeks rather than day by day. Work out how much you'd like to cover, how much time you'll need to do it, how much time you typically have in a week, and plan out what you can realistically cover in that time. Set his against the time you have until the next big learning deadline (e.g. a test, a mock exam, the external exams, a resit etc.) and make sure what you need to do fits in to what time you have available.
  • Keep track of your progress throughout each week. If you feel you're slipping behind schedule, set more time aside to get caught up again.
  • Build repetition of previously learnt material into your plan. This is key, and often neglected. Study and revision should not be seen as a linear process. You must recap - it is a more effective way of learning and of getting material into your long term memory, and it will keep previous material fresh in your head.
  • Monitor your progress as you go along. The pro forma available for download allows you to use the Traffic Light system to reflect on how well you feel you're getting on with your revision. It may well flag up some areas that require revisiting. Perhaps you should consider setting aside some buffer zones in your study planning, weeks where you place in less content up front, so that you have some flexibility to give extra time to parts of your notes that need it.
  • Strike a balance between the more and less intimidating material, especially in the early stages of study. Do enough of it early enough to allow yourself the time to get properly to grips with it. You may need more time than you think to understand it fully. You may also need to speak with your teacher to get more individual help. Give yourself this flexibility. On the other hand, build in a few easier topics earlier too. This will allow you to cross things off your list relatively easily, giving you the psychological boost you'll need to keep sticking at your studying in the long haul.
  • See studying, especially at AS and A2 level, as an ongoing process throughout your course, rather than something you do just before an exam. Little and often is the best approach (which more and even more often being the case closer to exams, of course!). This keeps things ticking over, deepening understanding, enhancing skills and giving yourself the best possible chance of reaching your potential.

Click here to download a template pro forma for you to use in making our your own revision plan.

Text copyright (c) 2011 A W Hamill. All rights reserved. If you wish to use this material, please contact Mr Hamill at Lurgan College.


The exam tips are built in to your notes as we go through the course. But if you want a set of handouts on all the advice, gathered together in one place, and with all the answers included (thought that might get your attention), then print out the following:

GCSE - understanding command phrases

GCSE - using resource material effectively

GCSE - using SCE effectively in your answers

GCSE - handling case study questions well

GCSE - here's a download of a ppt produced by CCEA on how to reach your potential in your GCSE exams.

GCSE - here are some model answers produced by pupils for actual GCSE exam papers. These are all worth full marks and come complete with comments by Mr Hamill helping you understand why the answers got full marks.

 A Level

A Level - Understanding command phrases

A Level - writing an essay

A Level - interacting with resource material

A level - levels of response: how to aim for the top

A Level - this is a CCEA publication entitled 'How to improve performance in our examinations'.

AS Level Examination Exemplification of Standards - this is a very useful CCEA publication which contains actual exam answers from previous candidates, their marks and comments on their performance by none other than the Chief Examiner. Well worth a close study if you want to learn about exam technique.

A2 Exemplification of Standards - Mr Hamill has a hard copy of this. Speak to him if you'd like to see it.

Visit the CCEA Geography website, where you'll find a range of additional support materials including:

  • full past papers
  • mark schemes
  • Chief Examiner's Reports, outlining some of the common mistakes that previous students have fallen into during examinations.
free templates
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