Exam Tips for Scientists

With exams on the horizon, most students are starting to establish a regular revision pattern. Science revision presents its own unique challenges, so we have put together some tried-and-tested tips to help you make the most of your precious study time:

  1. Don’t neglect the basics! You might be tempted to spend all your revision time on the most challenging topics but a thorough understanding of the basics is essential to success with more demanding problems. If you are struggling to make progress, there may be something simple but fundamental that you need to master before moving on. For example, understanding basic atomic structure is important for making progress with those dreaded Chemistry calculations.
  1. You need to memorise key formulas and scientific terms before your exams. Everyone is different and you must find memory techniques that work for you. Some students like making and pinning flashcards to their walls, or drawing up lists and practising writing them out from memory.  You can also use mnemonics or other sound-based memory techniques such as SOH, CAH TOA for trigonometry or OIL RIG for redox reactions in Chemistry. For the most difficult formulas and concepts, make a short list to bring with you on exam day so you can glance over it before going into the exam room. You can even jot down the hardest formula at the top of your paper as soon as the exam starts, so there is no risk of forgetting it later!
  1. Don’t be disheartened if you have to revise the most challenging concepts several times before they make sense to you. This is normal. Try consulting different textbooks and revision guides (e.g. BBC Bitesize) until you find a version that works for you. Keep going until you can write down a summary in your own words, without looking at your textbook or notes. Even better, explain or ‘teach’ it to someone else. Many people also find it useful to represent ideas visually using mind maps. 
  1. Repeatedly practise sketching and correctly labelling diagrams and graphs. Can you label all the parts of an animal cell? Can you draw displacement-time graphs for objects in motion? Drawings should be accurate and clear – show them to someone else to check. 
  1. Complete as many practice questions as you can for each topic. This is particularly important for mathematical calculations, which can be challenging but get easier with repeated practice. Exam technique is also important, so get started completing timed past papers as soon as possible. 
    1. Underline key points in the question: what are you actually being asked to calculate or explain?  What information are you given in the question that can help you?
    2. Write down what you know: formulas, definitions of key terms and any quantitative information provided in the question.
    3. If you can answer a part of the question, get started immediately with the bits you can do, even if you are not sure about the rest. You will hopefully pick up some marks and new ideas might come to you along the way!
    4. Time management is key. Be mindful of how much time you have and don’t get stuck for too long on one question. If you can’t do it, move on and come back to it later.

If you would like to arrange Science tuition or are interested to know how Biology, Chemistry and Physics progress beyond GCSE and A-level, we have a team of mentors and consultants who can help – please get in touch on 0207 223 2794.

Written by Laura, a Bonas MacFarlane Science tutor.