Make the Most of Your Specification – Top Revision Tips
It is good practice for teachers to share the content of the examination course with their students. Each year the exam boards print the content of the exams you are taking. This content specifies precisely what you are expected to learn, hence they are called the specification. Here in the UK the main exam boards are AQA, OCR and Edexcel.
If you aren’t sure which exam board your exams are with the first thing to do is ask your teacher. The exam boards also publish textbooks and revision guides to help you with learning and revising the course content.
Getting Hold of Your Specification
If by some oversight your teacher hasn’t given you a photocopy of your specification, don’t worry! They are all freely available on the internet for anyone to look at. Past papers, markschemes and examiners’ reports are also available.
Here are links to the major exam boards’ different GCSE and A Level physics specifications.
GCSE Combined Science and Physics – use the tabs to find the single GCSE physics specification
- 21st Century Science Combined B
- 21st Century Science Physics B
- Gateway Combined Science A
- Gateway Physics A
The specifications are large PDF documents over 100 pages long. Most of it is irrelevant to you. Tedious details of how each exam paper is arranged and assessed fill many, many pages. Go to the index and find “subject content”, this is the bit you want. In a combined science GCSE there will be separate biology, chemistry and physics sections. Most specifications have useful internal links which allow you to jump straight to the physics content from the index.
Be careful, the page number in the index rarely (if ever) coincides with the page numbers on the PDF reader you use to look at it. The document may say physics is between pages 59-74, but if you type those pages into the printer dialogue box and hit print the wrong pages will print out. Select the correct pages from the sidebar thumbnails and print the selected pages. I print the pages back to back and two per sheet to save paper. It’ll look something like this:
Understanding Your Specification
Let’s assume you have printed your own copy or been given a copy of your course content. You will find it is conveniently divided into sections by topic. AQA Trilogy which is the example given above, has all the physics content in chapter 6 of the specification and individual topics are numbered 6.1, 6.2, and so on.
Generally speaking, these topics aren’t taught in the exact order that they appear in the specification. This is not a teaching plan. Your teacher can divide up this course content however they like. So don’t be surprised if you were taught topic 6.4 before 6.1.
Your exam questions can be on anything in the first column. The second column lists key experiments, science skills or maths and ICT skills. It gives details about how to use equations and the sorts of data/graphs and typical experiments. Ignore the codes like WS 1.2, 4.3 etc.
At the end of the physics chapter is a short summary of the key ideas that cover the whole subject. This is surprisingly helpful and condenses the content down to overarching principles which you should always have in mind when tackling questions.
Using Your Specification
There are so many ways you can use a specification! I could spend a whole morning showing what you can do with this document. Here are my 5 top revision tips for making the most of a specification.
1 – Definitions and Equations
Go through section by section and write out the definitions the examiner provides you with. For example “A system is an object or group of objects”. There will be definitions for all major physical quantities like current, pressure, momentum etc and for qualities such as insulator, conductor, solid, liquid, gas etc.
Examiners often set one mark questions which ask “What is the definition of X?” and you need to be able to correctly write a short sentence which answers that. Writing out definitions is a good way to get used to concisely answering these questions.
Quantities are often stated as relationships between other quantities, e.g. current is the rate at which charge flows past a point in a circuit and is measured in Amps. These relationships lead naturally to equations; current = charge/time or I = Q/t. The specification includes all of these.
At GCSE all the formula are given in a data sheet which you can refer to in the exam. However they DO NOT give you the units that these quantities are measured in. You have to remember that current is Amps (A), charge is Coulombs (C) and time is seconds (s). The specification lists all the quantities, their units and symbols. Grab a highlighter pen and highlight every equation in your chosen colour. Then you can make a quick and easy list to test yourself make sure you have learnt all the units correctly.
2 – Examples and Scenarios
The specification gives the examples that are asked about on the exam paper. In the pages shown above the section on energy starts with a bullet point list. These are the common situations where a student should be able to describe energy changes.
When revising the topic you can use these examples to check that you can indeed describe the energy changes in an object moving upwards or a vehicle slowing down.
Here it is useful to use the specification to test yourself. Get some paper or a notebook and write out the answer to each example as if it were a question.
3 – Key Facts to Learn
Each section includes the key facts that students need to use to solve problems and answer questions.
There are three parts to this subsection, the last two clearly relate to possible exam questions. Show the directions of the force, current and magnetic field using Fleming’s left-hand rule. List that factors that affect the size of the force. Can you do this? Anything that starts “students should be able to…” is obviously something you can be asked.
Note how they don’t actually give you those factors that affect the force or describe Fleming’s left-hand rule. This isn’t a textbook, it’s a what you should know guide. You’ll need to look these things up in your notes, a textbook or on a reliable science website.
So what do we do with the first paragraph? These parts of the specification are key key pieces of understanding which you should be able to reproduce in answers asking for an explanation. For example “Explain what happens to a current carrying wire in a magnetic field – 3 marks” could be answered by the first paragraph. You should be able to write these ideas in your own words.
4 – Ticking Off Your Revision as You Go
I encourage students to systematically read through their specification and tick off every sentence, equation and definition that they are sure of. Then go back and put a star or double line next to the bits they need to go over because they don’t remember it or aren’t sure. Using a pencil is helpful because you can rub out stars and tick off bits as you work through each section.
Ticking off the content as you go allows you to be systematic and cover every section completely. The specification is better than your notes from class as notes often have missing bits. You can’t always rely upon class notes to have covered every single point. Many times teachers demonstrate or talk through something but don’t have time to write up formal notes on all of it. It would take far too long and writing notes isn’t the point of a lesson anyway. That’s not taking into account the times you were absent, day dreaming or mucking about! The specification is the bible of your course and is the go-to document for checking your have covered everything.
5 – Understanding is the Key to Remembering
There is no point remembering incorrect facts and your brain won’t retain information that you can’t make sense of. Use your specification to find the gaps in your understanding then spend your time targeting those gaps. Everything else will fall into place around them. There is no point revising things you understand and remember already. You must find and work on the gaps.
Then use your class notes, reliable webpages and textbooks to study and understand the sections you have identified that need work. Create your own notes, labelled diagrams or mind maps of topics you have identified as weaker. Just reading a page of text will not miraculously make you understand and recall it. You have to do something with the material to make it stick.
Take a list of bits you just don’t understand yet to your teacher or tutor and see if they can break down the topic and explain it. Sometimes all you need is to hear the explanation put in a slightly different way for it to click.
Go and Do This Now!
How incredibly helpful is this document? It lists everything you need to know in concise and manageable chunks which let you learn key facts and check off every single item as you go. You can find which bits you don’t understand and there are all kinds of ways you can colour, highlight and annotate the sections to flag up bits you need to work on or remember.
Coloured pens, stickers, highlighters and post-its are your friends when it comes to revision. That’s why I chose the picture at the top of the page. Make good use of your specification and you will feel so much more confident and prepared. I remember getting hold of my A Level chemistry specification a month before the exam (the teacher was reluctant to hand it over) and it made such a difference. Go and use it now.