EAsy revision: Past papers

Yes, I know you are probably reading this thinking that you have been told a million times that past papers are good for revision but that is for a good reason – they are! After all, what could be a better way to revise for an exam than by doing ‘pretend exams’ so that you get used to the types of questions you will be asked and how much time you can spend on each section? Past papers can generally be downloaded from the website for your exam board.

Why use past papers for revision?

Hopefully, the answer to this should be obvious – using past papers gives you practice at knowing what the exam will be like. This should make you feel more prepared and confident about the actual exam.

Marking your past papers using the mark scheme can also help you to understand the way in which you should answer the questions. For example, by looking at the mark scheme when preparing for my A Level biology exams I realised how important using key words was – it seemed that even if you described something perfectly you wouldn’t always get a mark for it if you didn’t use the specific key word.

Also, as mentioned above, doing past papers can help you to plan how long to spend on each part of the exam. For example, if you have lots of short answer questions and then an essay at the end of the paper, it is worth knowing in advance how long you will need for the essay so you don’t run out of time in the exam.

How to use past papers for revision

There are many different ways of using past papers for revision rather than just sitting down in silence for the amount of time your exam will take and doing a ‘pretend exam’.

You could get a few past papers (try to save some for ‘pretend exams’ nearer the time) and pick out certain styles of question or questions on topics you know that you find particularly hard. For example, if you find defining key words easy but find questions where you have to apply your knowledge to a new situation difficult then focus on those types of questions.

If you just want to see which areas you need to revise more then going through the paper and just bullet pointing what you would write for each question can be a good idea. You can then compare this to the mark scheme and see which areas need more revision. This is a good way to go through a whole paper to get an idea of the kinds of questions there will be without it taking too long…

You can also go through past papers with a friend who is doing the same exam and just discuss what you would write for each question. This is useful because not only is it more interesting than always revising on your own but it also allows you discuss any slightly harder questions together which might help you to work out what to write better than on your own.

Of course there is also the slightly less interesting but still very important method of doing a ‘pretend exam’ under exam conditions (no books/ notes/ distractions etc. and the right length of time). Even though this isn’t always the most interesting it is worth doing at least one or two papers like this for each exam, ideally once you have revised all the content. Marking your paper afterwards should allow you to get a rough idea of how well you might do in the exam and which areas you need to revise a bit more.


I hope you have found this useful – leave a comment to tell me how you like to use past papers for revision 🙂

Ellen Allsop

Hello! I'm Ellen Allsop, the creator of EAsy :)

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1 Response

  1. March 23, 2017

    […] exam style questions (although these aren’t specific to a particular exam board and so using past papers would be a good idea as well) with a rough marking guide as well as multiple choice questions […]

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