To anyone who isn’t familiar with the IGCSE, or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, it is an English-language-based examination from the UK that encourages students to delve into all sorts of subjects in order to become well-rounded.
It’s been three months since I started my IGCSE exams, three weeks since I received my Edexcel results, and well, about time that I’ve posted my long-awaited list of tips, techniques and advice for achieving well.
Looking back, the whole process of IGCSE was, well, interesting. It was interesting to see how in the months leading up to exam season, my whole cohort just became a complete mess. Our lunch-time conversations turned from “Do you want to play Big Two?” to “Have you studied and memorised all your Circle Theorems yet?”. Everyone would walk around holding their CGP textbooks in their left hand and watch Science with Hazel or the squidward-looking host on Freesciencelessons on their phone in the right.
More interestingly though, was the fact that everyone became increasingly competitive with each other. Everyone was studying and learning at different paces, to the point where it almost felt like a race to the top. What struck me the most was when some felt as if they were trapped at the bottom because of their seemingly higher-achieving peers, when really, they had the potential to reach the same level.
Which leads me to my first point:
1. Study with a Growth Mindset, Not a Fixed One
Hello, Psychology students, you will understand what I mean.
This is so important yet overlooked and forgotten about. If you find yourself saying that you “can’t do this because you just aren’t able to” or that you simply “weren’t born with like that” in response to seeing your peers achieving ahead of you, then you most probably have a Fixed Mindset. You believe that the abilities and knowledge that you currently acquire can never be developed and is static; talent alone creates success.
On the other hand, a Growth Mindset is when the person has the faith that their skills can be improved on through hard-work and dedication. They embrace any feedback or constructive criticism, as well as the achievements of others, to motivate them to grow further.
This is the mindset that we all have to settle ourselves in. It’s the matter of reminding ourselves that those who seem advanced weren’t always like that – they had to work for it.
2. Find a Revision Method that Works for You Early On
This was something that I struggled with during my mock exams. I felt productive – I took notes on all of my subjects, organised my folders, and watched educational videos. But by the time I had finished all of that, it was already exam day and I found myself staring at the first question blankly.
Yes, I knew that Osmosis was the “net movement of particles from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration”, but did I know how to apply it to the questions? Well, I wasn’t sure about that. It was only then until I realised that flipping through my textbook and making my notes look aesthetic were not forms of revision. It was actually reading and absorbing what I wrote in my notes, and then using my knowledge in past paper questions that were effective.
Not everyone will find the same revision method effective, so you have got to find out early on what kind of learner are you (e.g. visual, kinaesthetic, auditory). Teaching another person is also a great way of testing your knowledge and memory. However, at the end of the day, there are two things that I really recommend you do: follow the syllabus, and do a bunch of past papers. This will prevent you from wasting your time on learning irrelevant information, and practicing outdated questions.
Here’s a link to my favourite source for IGCSE past papers (includes IB, A-Levels as well): https://www.exam-mate.com/home/
3. Make a Revision Calendar
Though I had my own physical school planner, I found that using spreadsheets or excel was a much easier way in keeping track of what I did.
I created a new page for each week from the start of my study leave (April 1st) to the end of my exams (June 20th).
I would then make a regular timetable with six rows, which meant that I aimed to achieve six things within a day – whether that be finishing a Math past paper, teaching my dad about the Schlieffen Plan or writing a timed English essay. As you can see from my timetable, I didn’t do six tasks every single day, but as long as you spend most of your week consistently trying to reach that goal, you will find yourself using your revision time wisely and with more purpose.
Colour coding also helps to see if you have balanced your time well. Here, I used colour coding to highlight my exam dates and any revision sessions with my friends. However, you can use colours in other ways, such as having a colour for each subject so you can ensure if you are covering each subject evenly.
4. Take a Break
This is self-explanatory. Don’t overwork yourself, and allocate some time to relax and reward yourself. Exercise, listen to music, or do something that you love – for me, that would be singing in the shower. I also found that creating my own, personal study playlist really helped me feel comfortable in my own workspace and stay motivated. Not only that, but as hard as this may seem (especially for me), avoid pulling all-nighters with the hopes that you’ll be able to cram everything in. Because you never will, if you choose that route.
This isn’t to say that you can spend all your time watching the latest season of Stranger Things on your bed. I really recommend you separate your study area from your leisure area. In other words, find a place that facilitates you to focus and work, without any distractions from your devices and other people. For me, this was at my desk and the nearby study area at my Clubhouse – but for others, it can the coffee shop or the public library.
If you still find yourself being distracted and procrastinating, I suggest you use the Pomodoro Technique – you work actively for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes, then repeat for an hour, two hours, or more.
Pomodoro Timer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2QmVQxMb0k
Study with Me – Pomodoro Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmDbesougG0 (Note: this one really helped me as I find it easier to concentrate when I feel like I’m being accompanied with another person that’s equally as focused)
5. Study, Cry and Laugh With Your Friends
Funnily enough, this was what helped me the most. It’s easy to be so consumed by your own stress and worries that you forget that all of your classmates are struggling as well. If you find yourself locked in your room all day, get out and study with your friends from time to time. Once you have the feeling of support from the others around you, it makes the whole IGCSE experience a lot more enjoyable and takes the stress off your shoulders.
I know that IGCSE feels so dreadfully long (c’mon, two, nearing three months of exams?) – but Year 11s, you’re almost there! The mock exams won’t be a reflection of what you will ultimately achieve – though it will definitely help you prepare, the fact that they’re squeezing all the subjects into one exam week is no where near the revision time you get prior to your finals.
Good luck for the following year and if you’re reading this at two in the morning – go to sleep!