A-level Revision: the ultimate guide
A-levels are arguably some of the most important exams that a student will take in their educational journey. Following on from GCSE, they represent the culmination of high school education in the UK, and an important stepping stone to the world of university or work.
A-level exams mark the end of two years of dedicated subject study, and test students on everything that they have learnt within their A-level course.
In this article, we examine some of the reasons why thorough and effective revision is so important for A-level students, and the best ways to achieve it.
Table of Contents
What is A-level revision and why is it important?
Following recent changes, A-levels are now primarily assessed by exams, which take place at the end of the second (final) year. Students still take exams at the end of the first year, but these no longer count towards the final A-level grades.
Some subjects are still assessed in part by coursework or practical assessments (Art and Design, and Chemistry/Physics, for example) but these non-exam assessments only ever account for 20% or less of the final grade.
A-level exams. and substantial revision for them, is therefore are vitally important.
A-level revision involves re-visiting all the content that you have covered for each A-level subject throughout the duration of course. Doing a thorough re-cap of the content from course books, reference materials, online resources, A-level revision resources and your own notes and projects will make sure that you are re-familiarised with all that you have learnt in time for the exam.
Below are some of the most important reasons why it’s essential to revise for your A-levels, and ultimately achieve the best possible scores.
Reason #1: To make sure the subject knowledge is at the forefront of your mind
Revising everything that you have covered on the course, from start to finish, within your lessons and tutorials will ensure that you have a good knowledge of all the subject material and are as prepared as you can be to answer questions relating to all topics in the exam.
Reason #2: To make sure you have correctly understood everything that was covered in classes
Sometimes, revisiting units and modules covered earlier in the course in more depth may make you realise that there are some things you didn't understand properly the first time round. Identifying any areas where more clarification, either from your teacher or resource material, is needed will mean that you can be confident that you have a good understanding of everything that is likely to be covered in the exam.
Reason #3: So that you can identify any gaps in your knowledge and address them in time
Going over the main course content and cross-checking your knowledge with sample questions, for example, can often highlight gaps in your learning and knowledge that you can ensure are rectified before you sit the exam.
Reason #4: To make sure you have honed your exam technique
Exam revision can be as much about familiarising yourself with technique as with content. Looking over past exam papers, and doing practice papers, can be excellent for refining exam technique, which will ensure you use your limited time during the exam as effectively as possible.
Reason #5: To make sure you feel as confident as possible going into the exam
Doing as much revision as possible will give you confidence in your level of knowledge, and will make you optimistic about your chances of success. This, in turn, will help settle any pre-exam nerves, meaning you are fully focused and ready to perform to your best on the day.
Top tips for A-level revision
Revision doesn’t necessarily mean sitting alone in your room reading endless books and study notes. Studying in shorter sessions with breaks, and revising different subjects in different ways, often works best for most; for example, what works best for Chemistry revision, may not be as suitable for Economics revision.
There is no one revision technique which works for all, but the following revision tips do give a general outline of the kind of things which help ensure a successful overall revision strategy.
Tip #1: Create a plan
A revision timetable helps you focus on what needs to be done and when, which is very useful as exams approach. Essentially, it will make you study more efficiently and therefore effectively. Having everything you need to cover written down in front of you will ensure nothing gets overlooked and give you a starting point to work from.
That said, revision should be a flexible and evolving process. The more revision you do, the more you’ll realise which subjects and topics you need to focus on more. If your plan needs to be adapted, do so.
Tip #2: Set manageable goals
If you set goals you want to achieve every time you sit down to study (and test yourself on them), you'll make sure you're getting something out of every study session and will get a sense of achievement throughout to keep you motivated.
Tip #3: Consider an additional course
Dedicated programmes such as the Kings Summer Academy can help provide tailor-made revision of core subjects to set you on the right path to effective revision, and ultimately exam success.
Tip #4: Read the examiners' reports
Each year, exam boards make public a document that is written by the people who will grade your papers. Annual examiners’ reports for each subject, which are published on exam boards’ websites, show how previous candidates perform overall and on each question. Some include candidates’ handwritten answers with a commentary on where they gained, or lost, marks.
In terms of exam technique, this is definitely one the most useful and important resources at your disposal.
It's also worth noting that every A-level subject has a specification which breaks down everything you need to know, including how the exams are split and the weighting for each paper. The major UK exam boards all have their subject specifications openly available for download. Simply go to their website, find your chosen subject and download its specification.
Tip #5: Experiment with revision methods
There is no one revision method which suits everyone and ensures knowledge is retained successfully.
One of the most common revision techniques students use is reading notes. Whilst it may be a logical place to start, this is a passive technique and isn't always an effective way to memorise information. 'Active' revision can be a much more efficient form of studying, and can include things such as writing summaries of a topic through revision notes, creating flash cards or revision cards to distil information and then test your memory, and drawing mind maps to organise information visually.
Tip #6: Review past papers
Practice is key, so looking at past paper exam questions and answers is very important. This is a great way to familiarise yourself with the type of questions you'll encounter in A-level exams, as well as the language the questions are formatted in – something which might unsettle you on exam day if you're encountering it for the first time.
You can then apply what you've memorised through revision by doing exams from previous years. It's also worth doing some past papers under exam conditions, to give you a better sense of how to pace yourself on exam day.
Tip #7: Make sure you have a suitable place for study
Make sure you wherever you revise most has sufficient light, a suitable chair, and enough space for all your books, notes and equipment. It can be effective to use alternative study spots from time to time too, just to get a little more stimulation and get away from any persistent distractions! This could be an area in school, in a local library or even nearby cafes.
Tip #8: Choose your study companions carefully!
Whilst you might love spending time with your best friends, not all will be good 'study buddies'! It's best to limit time with anyone who is likely to distract you to after-study hangouts.
This doesn't mean you can't make any time for your friends, in fact meeting up with friends after study is a great way to decompress and relax.
Tip #9: Remove tempting distractions
On the same note, it's a good idea to remove as many of the endless distractions that could derail your revision efforts as possible! Whether it's de-activating social media apps, or even turning off your phone, it's best to remove all possible temptations when it comes to focusing on your study.
Tip #10: Factor in time to relax
Whilst it's important to put in the study, it's just as important to take time out to relax your brain in between revision sessions, otherwise you'll most likely find it hard to concentrate and really absorb information.
Whether it's going for a walk, watching a film, or catching up with friends, make sure you schedule time to relax every day.
Popular A-level subjects
There are a wide range of subjects available for study at A-level, which are designed to provide great depth of study in a few specialist subjects. Students generally choose 3 - 4 A levels to study for a two-year course, although completing them in one year is an option for those who are particularly high achieving.
After two years, you will have gained subject knowledge that is often only acquired during the first year at university in many other countries.
Whilst subject syllabuses tend to cover similar topics and content, they are exam board specific and each does offer a different syllabus . Secondary schools and sixth forms can choose which exam board’s specification to adopt each year. The main UK exam boards are Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), Edexcel, Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) and Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA).
Below is a summary of the learning outcomes that students can expect from the most popular subjects for A-level study.
Subject #1: A-level Maths
A-level Maths develops an understanding of mathematics and mathematical processes and students' ability to reason logically and to recognise incorrect reasoning.
Students construct mathematical proofs and extend their range of mathematical skills and techniques for use in more difficult unstructured problems. They also develop an understanding of coherence and progression in mathematics and of how different areas of mathematics can be connected.
Subject #2: A-level Biology
Biology is often considered the most accessible content of the three sciences, as it can be related naturally to all aspects of life.
Students will learn, in detail, how life in the world works: how our bodies work; how diseases stop them working; how plants grow; how life may be threatened by poisonous substances; how ecosystems work; where energy comes from and how organisms use it; how genes and evolution affect us all.
Subject #3: A-level Chemistry
Students learn to understand the things that make up the world; food, fuels and fabrics, building materials and manufactured goods, the air they breathe, the tools they use.
They study atoms and reactions, bonding and structure, hydrocarbons, polymers and alcohols, energetics and transition elements, and use Mathematics to describe and understand chemical ideas and will devise and carry out practical experiments to test the principles they are learning.
Subject #4: A-level History
A-level History develops students' use and understanding of historical terms, concepts and skills.
The periods studied enhances their interest in, and understanding of, important developments allowing them to understand the wider perspective of change over time.
Subject #5: A-level Physics
A-level Physics develops students' essential knowledge and understanding in physics and the applications of physics in new and changing situations.
They will develop an understanding of the link between theory and experiment, and will appreciate how physics is used in present day society.
Subject #6: A-level Economics
Students taking A-level Economics will develop an understanding of economic concepts and theories through critical consideration of current economic issues, problems and institutions that affect everyday life.
They will apply economic concepts and theories in a range of contexts and learn to appreciate their value and limitations in explaining real-world phenomena.
Subject #7: A-level Computer Science
An increasingly popular subject, this A-level will develop students’ problem-solving skills and introduce them to foundational programming and theoretical skills that prepares them well for a degree in Computer Science.
They will study a range of aspects of Computer Science including fundamentals of programming, analysis, computer systems, organisation and architecture, communication and networking, data bases, functional programming, algorithms and big data.
Subject #8: A-level Geography
A-level Geography enables students to acquire and apply knowledge and understanding of physical and human processes, their interactions and outcomes over space and time, through the study of places and environments.
They will acquire and apply skills necessary for the pursuit of the discipline, and will develop an understanding of the opportunities, challenges and constraints that face people in different places and environments.
Subject #9: A- level Government and Politics
Studying Government and Politics at A-level develops students' critical awareness of the nature of politics and the relationship between political ideas, institutions and processes.
They will acquire knowledge and understanding of the structures of authority and power within the political system of the UK and of other countries, as well as the characteristics of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, of the rights and responsibilities of the individual, and of ideologies, theories and traditions.
Subject #10: A- level Business Studies
A-level Business studies provides an holistic understanding of business in a range of contexts, a critical understanding of organisational behaviour, approaches to opportunities, issues and ethics.
Students will develop their critical analysis, decision-making and problem-solving skills, all of which are transferable to a wide range of contexts.
Other subjects available but not covered here include A-level Psychology, A-level English Literature, A-level Media Studies, and A-level Sociology.
As highlighted above, it is essential for anyone taking A-level exams to prepare as thoroughly as possible through a variety of revision methods. Taking a revision course that can be tailor-made to your needs can be fundamental to your overall success, particularly if it is specifically designed to help subject matter come to life.
The Kings Summer Academy offers an ideal way to fill in any knowledge gaps and work on exam techniques, whilst at the same time having fun and engaging with the beautiful facilities and locations in and around Oxford.
If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our A-level and A-level revision programmes, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about A-level revision, and their answers.
Q1. How many hours a day should you revise for A levels?
There is no set amount of hours that is advised — it is different for every student, and will most likely increase in the run-up to the exam period.
Q2. When should you start revising for A levels?
This will depend on how many exams you have, when they are and how prepared you are already. Most students will begin a few months before.
Mock exams offer the perfect chance to kick off your revision, meaning you can start preparing your notes and establishing which techniques work best for you.
Bear in mind that your teachers are ideally placed to give you advice on when to begin and what to do, as they will know you and your aptitudes best.
Q3. What are the benefits of revising for A levels?
Primarily, revising thoroughly for A-level exams means that you are familiar with, and have an understanding of, all of the content that you will be tested on in the exams, and also confident in your abilities to do well. This will save last minute nerves that can affect your performance on the day.
Q4. What is the difference between revision and exam preparation?
Revision refers primarily to re-learning subject-specific knowledge that you'll be tested on within an exam, whereas exam preparation also includes working on exam techniques and familiarising yourself with exam formats and structures so you fully understand what is expected of you, and how you can best achieve it.
Q5. Where can I study for A-levels?
It is possible to study for A-levels at all of Kings' UK schools — Brighton, Bournemouth, London and Oxford.
You can also enter the second year (A2) of a two-year A-level programme if you have completed Year 12 (Year 1 of A-levels) elsewhere.
By transferring to Kings, you benefit from intensive and tailored support, offering greater scope to perform better and achieve more.