The International GCSEs are the first major exam most students take. Understandably, many are nervous about sitting for them and scoring well. Crimson tutor Li Yen Thor, who herself scored eight A*s, gives you some tips to study for these exams.
How can the International GCSEs help you prepare for further studies?
While it may not help directly, taking the International GCSEs can definitely help set you up for success in the International A Levels, which can be quite hard. Especially if you are looking at going overseas for further studies, the International GCSEs can help prepare you much better than a local curriculum. Considering both the International GCSEs and IALs are completely exam-based, the lower levels prepare you for the question formats you will encounter later on. It definitely prepares you to be disciplined and have a study routine.
What was the toughest part of the International GCSEs for you?
Coming from a local curriculum, the format of the International GCSEs was very new to me. I was not familiar with a grading system that was based completely on external examinations. I also went to a primary school that was mainly Chinese, so English language was also a challenge for me. When I moved to the international curriculum, there was a lot more extracurriculars and socialization in the form of group projects.
Any advice for students who are in a similar position to yours?
I would say don’t be scared and open up more to your peers. While people may be different from you, getting that perspective is always helpful.
Tips for acing the International GCSE exams
1. Make your own notes
With so many resources and textbooks, there will be a lot of important information. It is best to compile all this information for ease of reference. I essentially created an International GCSE “Bible” for each of my subjects consisting of information from textbooks, revision guides, study guides and past papers. Writing helps you revise better and in a timely manner instead of cramming at the very end. It is also very easy to carry one book around instead of an entire stack.
I have realized that I learn best when I write my own notes instead of reading or watching YouTube videos. It helps me understand and remember the material more easily.
Make sure, however, to keep your notes clean and in a book. When I started, I would write on pieces of paper, but as the subject material got harder it became very disorganized. So, make sure to have a systematic approach to note-taking.
2. Maintain general consistency
Since the International GCSE grades are based completely on the exams, it is important to consistently prepare for them and not try and cram everything in at the last moment. It is good to revise each topic as it is taught and make the relevant notes, adding to those as you learned newer material.
Also figure out how you study best. Some people need a quiet environment, while some like some background music. Some people study better in small chunks, while others need longer hours to focus. Figure out what works for you so you can maintain a routine.
3. Plan your studies
A major part of studying is planning. There will be days when you might feel like taking a break and that is absolutely fine. But then you should have a plan to make up those hours. Writing down a study plan or a to-do list will also help you study better.
Planning will also help you focus on the areas where you might be weaker by dedicating more time to it.
4. Set learning goals
While this tip is not necessarily about studying, a senior once told me to write down my target grades for each subject and put it up on my desk. This is like a visualization technique where by the laws of attraction you end up getting what you see consistently. It definitely worked for me because I ended up getting eight A*s! This is not a replacement for hard work, but it is a good motivation technique. Writing your goals can also help you be more focused on them and looking at them everyday can help you believe in your own abilities. Initially, I didn’t aim for all these A*s, but looking at the written goal, made me believe that I could do it. It definitely builds confidence.
Set small goals to begin with and then work towards the bigger goal. So, you might set goals for each topic in a subject and then aim for a certain grade in each. Then you can move on to a cumulative grade.
However, one thing to remember is to be realistic and truthful to yourself. If you are lenient in self-study then the chances of getting an excellent grade might not be very high.
5. Work on past papers
This is a very important tip. If you are serious about getting good grades and have the time, I would suggest you do 10 years’ worth of past papers. Some of the older syllabi might be outdated, but its still very good practice. There is also a right way to do the past papers and that is to always think these are the actual exams. So, time yourself and make sure there are no distractions. Then make sure to mark the paper strictly and give yourself a grade. This will push you to self-study rather than waiting for teachers.
6. Look at grade thresholds
For each paper there is a Quizzing Paper (QP), Mark Scheme (MS) and a Grade Threshold (GT) table. These show what raw marks you need to get achieve a certain grade in that particular year. This way when you get back your marks, you can see what grade you would get. This helps you determine where you stand and how you can improve in a particular paper. Depending on the difficulty of a paper the raw marks can translate into a different letter grade each year. The GT helps determine what that is and as you do more past papers you will see a pattern. It is always best to aim for a certain raw mark, rather than a grade to ensure you are doing your best in each paper.
The other thing to look at is the ER paper – these are specific comments to each question in the paper. They basically explain what the answers for each question are.
7. Have confidence in yourself
Believe in yourself and the preparation you have done. You will always be the best judge of what works for you. This will definitely help you feel calmer and perform better in the exam. I wish I was more confident and had pushed myself more. I did very well in eight subjects, but some of my more confident classmates took nine or 10 subjects even.
Any tips for parents?
In my case, my parents always gave me the space to make my own decisions and make mistakes. I think that has helped me.
Another interesting activity parents could probably do is help a child build their vision board or words. You can identify three or four positive words like happy, healthy or hardworking. Then you can create something out of it and every time you do something you can ask if that particular activity makes you feel those things.
It is also important to ask kids why they are doing certain things. This will help them identify the goal and make it easier to work towards it. Also, its better to not force them to do something and let them make their own choices.
What about last-minute learners?
Although I think being consistent is the most important thing, take note of particular keywords in questions and read the mark scheme on how it is answered. You’ll find that there is a pattern to answering certain questions. Reading the questions and understanding the keywords will definitely help in the last minute.
And finally, what if you completely blank out in the exams?
You are bound to have some blank moments in such a high-stress environment. At those times it is important to take a minute and re-center yourself by focusing on something that will calm you down – like a pet or a place. Then focus on the question at hand and try again. If you get stuck on a question, always move on. You don’t want to be stuck in a panic and then continue attempting the same question and miss out on all the other questions. Come back later with a clear mind and then you can do that question again.
If you don’t know the answer, scan through the topic mentally and try to recall common topical answers you remember from past years. (As the answer will most likely be from the same topic of the question and similar to topical questions from past papers since there is a certain pattern for science and math papers). If you are more of a visual learner, you can also quickly make notes on the side of your paper while doing your exam to help you visualise and get to the answer easier. But remember to erase them once you’re done.
Due to Li Yen’s outstanding CIE IGSCE results of full 8A*s (average grade of 94%), she was awarded a 100% scholarship from Methodist College Kuala Lumpur. She managed to achieve 2A*s and 2As while being the President of the Environmental Club and the Health & Environment Chairperson of the Leo Club in college.
The balance between excellent academic achievement and being strongly involved in extra-curricular activities secured Li Yen with a full ASEAN Undergraduate Tuition Fees Scholarship to Victoria University of Wellington. While there, she got a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science and Physical Geography, on a Lee Foundation Scholarship.
Li Yen is now pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental/Atmospheric Science on a full-ride scholarship and working as a research assistant/climate modeller at NIWA.