Simon’s Six Snappy Steps to Success in Schools

  1. Use the Christmas vacation to get on top of any papers which may contain primary texts by reading and preparing primary texts, especially sections from which gobbets will be taken.
  2. Finals revision is a long-term game. At an early stage, work out for each of your papers which topics you definitely want to answer on, topics you definitely don’t want to answer, and topics you are willing to have in reserve.
    • As a rule of thumb, for papers which require e.g. 3 essay questions have 4 topics you know backwards, and two which you’d be able to answer well on.
    • Selecting these topics requires planning – try to ensure they are topics which are likely to come up by checking past papers on OXAM ( Avoid topics that come up very rarely; check for general patterns as to what is likely to come up (some papers e.g. GCS tend to ask almost the same questions every year, some vary considerably).
    • After that it is partly a matter of personal taste (its easier to revise stuff you’re genuinely interested in, and easier to write on the topic for an hour when it comes to the exam).
    • Once you’ve chosen your topics, don’t waste your time revising other topics in surface detail, you want to strike the right balance between breadth (the number of topics you’d be able to answer) and depth (your ability to utilise material in answering).
  3. Finals revision is a long-term game! Try to make a plan to make good use of your time from the end of Hilary until the exams, giving equal time to each paper (as Finals are assessed by an average mark). It’s important to revise mechanically – you’ll have good days and bad days, but they’ll average out. Factor in a day off a week, and the odd evening.
    • Divide the time period from the end of Hilary up to Finals into two halves – the first gathering new material for a topic, reading around topics and improving notes, reading new stuff (!!) and the second collating this material, although you should try to keep reading stuff that you find appropriate as and when you discover it. When it comes to the order of papers and topics to revise, it’s sensible to alternate between papers you dislike and papers you enjoy, to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
    • It’s important to stress that Finals revisions is a cumulative process. When you’re sitting in the hall the stuff that comes to you isn’t necessarily what you crammed the night before.
  4. Make use of Examiners’ reports (on Faculty websites). Show that you’ve read them and aren’t going to fall into the mistakes made by past finalists. These will also help you decide on a successful approach to the topics you’re taking.
  5. Plan using past questions. Send your plans off to tutors (plans are a much better use of time than practising essays). Make sure (and this is the best advice) that you answer the question. One tutor told me to: ‘Pick up the question and shake it’.
  6. The best advice is be bold! Being risky means be able to put forward an interesting and well-thought case that will make the examiners sit up and take notice.
© Simon Cuff 2009