Revision: how to use past exam papers

Film with GCSE and Nationals revision tips and advice, from exam survivors The Mind Set

Checking on your progress isn't just about using past papers.

  • Check out command words carefully to understand what the question is asking of you!
  • Use past papers to make sure that you are managing your time well. Set yourself a time frame to complete each question
  • Go through past paper answers with a different colour pen to highlight any marks you lose or mistakes you make
  • Test yourself. Find out if your revision has been effective by using past papers or ask someone to test you
  • If your notes are all bullet points, past papers might be the first chance you have to write in clear and linked sentences!
  • Examiner reports can give you an idea of where students went wrong in previous exams
  • Repeat your testing – it is important you test yourself more than once. Try it ten minutes after revising a topic, one day after, then a week later.
Girl sat at a desk setting her stopwatch before she starts her past paper.

Command words and their definitions

  • Describe: say what you see - no need for reasons
  • Explain: give reasons
  • Outline: give a brief summary
  • Analyse: go into detail
  • Compare: what are the similarities and differences?
  • Contrast: what are the differences?
  • Calculate: use numbers given to work out the value of something
  • Define: give the meaning of something
  • Evaluate: consider both sides - pros and cons
  • Justify: give evidence to explain something
  • To what extent: Judge the importance or success of something - it has worked / it hasn't worked
  • Argue: present a case with evidence or reasons
  • Assess: Weigh up / give an informed judgement
  • Comment on: give your opinion on something
  • Debate: give different perspectives
A set of coloured pens.
Revision: How to stay motivated
For more tried and tested revision tips visit NCS
Find GCSE past and specimen papers at The Student Room