Striking The Balance: Past Papers VS Theory

I think that the reason why many students feel overwhelmed with revision is because they are constantly told differing versions on how to revise. However, it can all be cleared up if you see revision structurally, this will help give your revision time value and leave you feeling productive, with a clear direction in mind. So when someone breezily claims they studied for six hours each day in the holidays, you will not panic as your revision plan would be right on track.

Learning the theory


Notes have to actually be notes. Not merely copying out the entire textbook word for word. SUMMARISE.

This is the issue on which students get stuck on a lot. Often it is because their techniques are not working for them. The most common being reading through the textbook. This does not mean you shouldn’t read through it but whilst reading through it, make notes. This helps keep the information in your head. Then once you have read the textbook and made notes, do not just carry on doing the same thing over and over again! This will definitely not help and is most likely to be a waste of time. If you still feel you are slightly weak on knowledge, re-write your notes in a different form such as a mind map or large posters.  

However, once you have read up on the book and completed taking notes, I find it is best to move straight on to past papers. Many students wait until they are completely comfortable with everything on the syllabus which means by the time they are ready to do past papers, there is only a week left till the exam.


Past Papers


A necessary step to achieving that all important grade.


Why are past papers so important? Simply because they are exactly what you are being tested upon. In an exam, knowing the theory from top to bottom will not help unless you know how to put it into an answer, within the constraints that an exam places upon you. This is why doing past papers automatically means you must do them in timed conditions. My practice has been to start doing past papers as early as possible as well as not shying away from them when they are set in class. The collective groan that resonates around the class when the teacher sets an essay should not include you if you are serious about achieving a high grade. Instead see it as an opportunity to refine your exam techniques and put your knowledge into practice. As you complete past papers, you will realise that there are certain key things you need to remember, whether its dates or names, and then you can create posters containing these key pieces of information. I emphasise on the word ‘pieces’ as they should contain very few words which act as a trigger to your memory. So for example, the key themes of political ideologies.

The key benefits of completing past papers are:

  • Through them, you can see whether you have revised enough of the theory.
  • They highlight any areas of weakness. (So yesterday I realised that I really need to work on the names of key thinkers for my politics exams.)
  • They are an exact replication of what you will be doing in the exam
  • They provide you with the opportunity to experiment with different approaches to the exam.
  • They ensure you do not waste time revising aimlessly.
  • They allow you to receive feedback from your teachers. ( It is important that you get them marked by your teachers so that they can comment on them. Although if you are like me and do them on a mass scale, then you may not get all of them back which is okay.)
  • The act of doing past papers entrenches the knowledge that you have learnt in your mind.
  • Doing past papers on your own means when mock exams take place in school or college, they are no big deal!


Hopefully this has instilled in you the desire to complete more past papers which will most definitely help push your grade up. Please remember to do them in timed conditions otherwise they become useless. Of course, you can start off without timing yourself but try to move towards timed conditions as soon as possible. Doing past papers requires hard work and dedication but trust me, you will be rewarded when you receive your results in August.

If you have any further tips or questions, just comment below 🙂

A Worried Student

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