Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My GCSEs

I joined Wimbledon High School in year 10 and I didn’t really know what a GCSE was, but I survived them. I am in no way qualified to give advice, but here you go: the ten things I wish I’d known before starting my GCSEs…

  1. It’s a marathon:

This is my number one piece of advice for GCSEs: this is a marathon, not a sprint. I went into year 10 thinking that GCSEs all came down to study leave in year 11. Study leave is not enough time to learn the entire syllabus of 9 to 11 subjects. What I wish I had done was to start revising for my GCSEs two years in advance, just by going over topics every now and again. However, make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself. Because GCSEs take two years, you cannot cheat yourself on sleep, social life, exercise, and all of the fun things in life for two whole years. It’s a long process, so make sure you don’t burn out. Stay active, see friends, and give yourself some time to do nothing, even if that’s just watching Miranda with a tub of ice cream.

  • You’ll make mistakes:

This one is cheesy but at a school like Wimbledon it’s important to remember that we all mess up. It’s OK to fall back on work, it’s OK to not feel great, it’s OK to struggle with a subject, it’s OK to get a bad mark. If something does go wrong, really analyse it. Pick apart what went wrong, and why it went wrong, but don’t beat yourself down. Try to find concrete changes you can make which will stop you from making the same mistakes again. Even if you do, that’s fine, just try something else.

  • You don’t have to sell your soul:

GCSEs are not Hunger Games. Nobody dies. You don’t have to spend every waking (and sleeping) hour on your studies, because there are so many other wonderful things in life. While I did revise quite hard, I didn’t skip out on an opportunity to watch a movie with my family. During exams I tried to stay active every day because that’s what made me happy. While it is important that you work hard, especially in year 11, don’t let GCSEs take you away from the things you love: friends, family, any sports you like, music, friendship-bracelet-making, baking or cooking, home décor, creative writing, puzzle-laying (my new passion), German car mechanics, and any of the other odd hobbies which make life quite pleasant.

  • Pay attention:

My younger brother has just started year 10. For all of his academic life, he has done the bare minimum. Yet somehow he manages to scrape pretty good grades at an academically selective school. His secret? He pays attention in lessons. He gets plenty of sleep which means that he comes into lessons attentive, curious, and ready to learn. You’d be surprised by how much goes into your brain just by listening carefully. You don’t have a choice about going to school, so you might as well smash through the homework in the lesson and have half an hour at home where you can really relax.

  • Quality not quantity:

This one applies to year 11 study leave most of all. It’s tempting to try to count up the hours you work each day to try to quantify your hard work. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. You can work for five hours a day and really get the information in your brain, or you could work for eight hours a day and end up having learnt nothing. It’s important to find study methods that work best for you, even if they aren’t the most fun. These study methods might vary from subject to subject. Reading your textbook might be easy, but it’s time-consuming and won’t help you learn. Try active-recall and constantly testing yourself.

  • Do past papers:

Just do past papers. Under timed conditions. If you don’t have time, bullet point answers or write essay plans (don’t do this in the real exam). Please, just do them.

  • Write raps:

Write raps/songs to remember things like: details of the Korean war, the chemistry solubility rules, and Hitler’s foreign policy. It’s a great way to memorise facts and you won’t forget them.

  • Use your lunchtimes wisely:

Some people devote all of their lunchtimes to clubs, and some people devote so much time after school that they don’t want to do anything at lunch, but either way, lunch is a valuable time. You have an hour and a half that you can spend in any way you chose. If you are going to work, then work. Don’t sit in the common room/locker room and half work, half chat. If you want to socialise, then socialise. If you want to do clubs, then commit to those clubs

  • Don’t compare yourself:

You are not your older brother, nor are you your best friend, or your parents, or UnjadedJade, or anybody else who walks this planet. Your situation is entirely unique to yourself. You have individual hardships and advantages, so it is impossible to try to compare yourself to somebody else. Anybody who knows anything about good experimental method knows that you can only change one variable at a time to reach a valid conclusion. This means that comparing your grade to your friend’s grade is just bad science, because there are a million variables involved in that experiment.

  1. Enjoy them:

Try to enjoy your GCSEs! It’s difficult at times, but the more you acknowledge the beauties of each subject, the more you feel motivated to do the work, and the better grades you get. Even with subjects that you find less appealing, search out good parts and try to focus on those feelings. If you can find positive elements in each subject, you’ll end up doing more without feeling like you’re sacrificing your time. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the joy in doing a timed drama essay…