Last month I made some suggestions for a revision plan. Now, having decided you’re going to spend a 3 hour session revising Maths, how should you set about it?

Since the only thing you will be asked to do in the exam is answer Maths questions, then surely the best way to revise is … do lots of past paper questions! And you need to have the answers, or the mark scheme, to hand. But it’s what you learn from answering each question that’s important. So, what are the possibilities?

a) You can answer the question, and you get it all right. Great, that’s a bit of the syllabus you don’t have to work too hard on.

b) You think you can answer the question, but have forgotten some of the detail. So go back to your notes, your text book, your online resources; find similar worked examples; and then see if you can do the question. Hopefully you can – but the important thing here, and in each of the points which follows, is to take notes of what you have learnt. These notes will form the basis of your revision reading because they will remind you how to do things you couldn’t do before.

c) You answered the question, but got the wrong answer. There are a number of reasons why – and it’s important you find out which one:

  • You copied the question incorrectly – easily checked, easily put right
  • Your working/algebra/calculations were wrong – learn how to check everything you do. This is important because you are more likely to see mistakes when checking: it’s like marking someone else’s work. Don’t forget: just one wrong detail can affect the rest of the question.
  • You misunderstood the underlying Maths. Once again, back to your resources, especially similar worked questions. Then try again.
  • You may not be able to find out on your own what went wrong – in which case make a not of the question, and then get you teacher to show you how to do it (or a friend who’s better at Maths than you are)! Make a note of what you have learnt.

d) This was a bit of the syllabus you found difficult/never really understood. Take a deep breath, and then work hard to get to grips with it. Get help if you need to, get someone to explain it again – often things are much clearer second time through. Now try the question again – and others like it to help drive the understanding deep into your brain!

e) You do understand this part of the syllabus, but the question still stumps you – you just can’t see what to do. Some strategies:

  • If it’s a longer question, see if a later part helps you make sense of an earlier part.
  • See if key words in the question help you over the obstacle. For example, ‘minimum’ – could be something to do with differentiation; ‘two distinct roots’ – must be the discriminant of a quadratic; and so on.
  • Go on to other questions, then come back – you may find you mind has been working on it in the meantime.

If all that fails: get help again. But sometimes it’s just a quirky, one-off question which is probably not worth spending too much time on. Or it might be on a part of the syllabus which you find so difficult it may not be worth spending hours of revision time on it. You must learn to cut your losses and really go for the marks that you know you can get.

My next blog will be not long before your exams: I’ll be giving you some useful tips or how to exam technique – in other words, how to get as many marks as possible even if you can’t get to all the answers.