As we draw closer to the end of the second term, there is a new, and perhaps, more daunting task looms over the Year 11s: the IGCSE final exams. At the same time, Year 9 students will be selecting their optional courses for the following year. We decided to seek the advice of Year 12 students who have achieved excellent results in their exams to try and learn the different techniques and strategies that led to their success.
Aidan Curran, Abigail Ngan, Amanda Dee, and Gio Ty share their insight on what it’s like taking each of their optional courses, maintaining a balanced academic and social life, and navigating through the IGCSE final exams. Learn from the best, and you’ll ace the test.
- Do you have any advice on choosing subjects?
Aidan: Don’t be too concerned with selecting subjects that will be helpful for college; remember that you will still be taking the IB program, which will have a much greater impact on your future. Be aware that you will not be able to take every subject in IGCSE and study it at a higher level in IB, so you should just choose subjects that you enjoy and find interest in.
Gio: It’s a long way down the line, but if you know what you want to take in IB, then it will help in choosing your subjects for IGCSE. Some subjects will be very easy to pick: you will probably choose to study the language you are already taking. Most importantly though, you should take the subjects you are passionate about.
Abby: When you’re choosing subjects for IGCSE, you should to consider what you want to be in the future. It will be beneficial if you choose the same course for both IB and IGCSE since it can reinforce your knowledge on the subject as a whole.
Amanda: In IGCSE, you’re just starting your career, so choose the subjects that you enjoy because it’s just going to be stressful if you take a subject that you’re not very fond of. After that, you can decide what you want to take in IB – whether you want to pursue the subject in standard level, higher level, or just drop it as a whole.
- What was your revision strategy?
Aidan: I think the most important [thing] I did was go through the syllabus before I started revising. I identified exactly what I needed to study for, and how I would carry on doing this. Afterwards, I mostly used Quizlets, especially for subjects such as Computer Science which involve a lot of memorisation. However, for subjects like English, I just did a lot of practise papers.
Gio: I don’t really like reading textbooks, so I would just find YouTube videos to listen to while I ate or played games on my phone. For the topics that I really struggled with, I would grab a notebook and transcribe notes from the videos that I’d watch.
Abby: My revision strategy for the IGCSEs was retrieval practice, rather than just reading through my notes. I wrote down and tested myself on everything I knew to gauge how much information I remembered about a certain topic.
Amanda: Look at the syllabus, so that I knew which parts of my notes and resources were irrelevant and which parts I needed to focus on. The syllabus is a good guide because it’s specific – they can’t ask you anything not on the syllabus! Sometimes, it even gives you tips on exam technique. Also, look out for the tutoring program by the Heads of Academics! The tutors can give you tips, access to good resources and exam strategies.
- How did you balance your social life with your academic life?
Aidan: It starts with staying on top of your academic life. Manage your time wisely and plan ahead: set a day when you don’t have a lot of activities and complete your schoolwork then. Afterwards, you have the weekend to continue on with your social life, and so on.
Gio: You don’t get many deadlines for IGCSE compared to IB, so it’s a lot easier to balance your social and academic life. I usually went out around twice a month to watch a movie or eat dinner, and when I was at home, I also didn’t study all the time: I did my own stuff, watched some shows on TV or Netflix. When you’re preparing for the final exams, set aside an hour or two each day for a certain subject. Stick to a consistent study schedule and your exams shouldn’t be a problem.
Abby: I balanced my academic and social life by following a study schedule; after a certain amount of time studying, I’d give myself a few minutes of rest where I’d talk to my friends on social media.
Amanda: You need to know when your tests are and plan ahead. I don’t necessarily study a lot, but when I’m in the zone, I stick to my schedule, and spend several hours focusing on revision.
- How did you balance your ASAs with your studies?
Aidan: Luckily, a lot of my ASAs didn’t occur after school so I was able to select the times that suited me best. Of course, I still had several ASAs right after school, and for those, you have to make sure that you’re not doing too many because it’s an important time for revision. You also have to enjoy the ASAs that you participate in. You only have so many hours in a day and if it just seems like a chore to you, or does not benefit your studies, then it’s not really worth your time.
Gio: I didn’t have that many ASAs: all I had was basketball and Red Cross. We only had meetings once a week, and occasionally, games on Saturdays, so it wasn’t too stressful for me. Don’t overload yourself with too many ASAs: it’s very difficult to balance all of them at once.
Abby: I balanced my studies and my ASAs [by creating a] calendar and a schedule. Since my ASAs happened after school and would last until 3:40 pm, I had an idea of when I would be able to get home and study. If I suddenly had a meeting to attend, I would revise my schedule but for the most part, I relied on it to manage my time wisely.
Amanda: I have quite a lot of ASAs; I’m a member of the Red Cross Youth Council, the President of TEDx, and the Co-President of One Million Lights. It’s important to delegate the work properly to your committee heads and members so you have enough time to study.
- What’s your biggest don’t for the IGCSEs?
Aidan: Don’t stress about it too much – you have a lot of time, especially during the study leave. Study hard, and be disciplined with revision, but avoid getting too caught up in it. Spend some time doing things that make you happy, and the motivation that it brings will lead to the best results.
Gio: Don’t stay at home the whole time. You get around a month or two of study leave before your IGCSEs; go out, see your friends, watch a movie! Also, don’t bring your phone inside the exam room.
Abby: My biggest don’t is to think that the mock exams don’t matter. They are extremely helpful for gauging your own progress. If you don’t put effort into preparing for the mock exam, then you won’t know which topics to focus on when revising for the final exams.
Amanda: Don’t be late to an exam! Don’t stress about it too much, but don’t be too confident and arrogant at the same time: there has to be a balance.
- What’s your pre-exam ritual?
Aidan: Drink a lot of water, and don’t study on the day before the exam. Sleep well, eat a nice, healthy breakfast, and enter the exam hall relaxed. That way, you should be able to remember what you studied for.
Gio: Have an exam pen which you use for all your exams for good luck. Also, you should always bring a jacket into the exam room because it tends to get cold inside. Don’t revise before the test. Blast some rap music, find somewhere to sit, talk with your friends and eat.
Abby: On the day of an exam, I still wake up early as if it were a regular school day and revise to make sure I remember everything for the test that day. I come an hour or two before the exam to calm my nerves, drink some water, and eat.
Amanda: I scan through my notes because it gives me confidence, and I breeze through the syllabus again to make sure that I did not missed out on any details. Drink water before the exam, be calm, and just talk to your friends to relax.
If you could redo the IGCSEs what would you do differently?
Aidan: I got a little burned out towards the end of the IGCSEs, so for my last few exams I didn’t study very hard, and I wasn’t as rigorous as the earlier ones. You have more time towards the end than you do at the start so there really isn’t an excuse for slacking off. In summary, avoid the burnout and stay disciplined and consistent with revision.
Gio: I would probably leave the house more to do other things rather than just spend the whole day studying. The basketball court was right down the street, but I never really went there even if I had so much time. It was quite depressing: I would only see my friends twice a week when I came to school for exams.
Abby: If I could redo the IGCSE, I would have encouraged myself and my friends to focus more on revising and preparing for the final exam because we got distracted easily.
Amanda: I would spread out my revision more evenly, and make better use of the study leave by not cramming my work.
- What optional courses did you take for IGCSE?
Aidan & Gio: Economics, History, and Computer Science.
Abby: Psychology, Business, and Drama.
Amanda: Economics, Psychology, and Music.
- What was your exam technique for the different subjects?
Aidan: For Economics, History, and English, which require a lot of writing, you definitely have to plan ahead. Your teachers will teach you the technique over and over again, so there’s not much to worry about. For Computer Science, use Quizlets and past papers to learn the style and technique of answering questions. It doesn’t really differ with each subject, actually.
Gio: I kept on printing out past papers and answering them. As you complete more papers, you start to get an idea of how to earn marks. For example, in Science there are certain keywords that appear in every single test. So by the time I took the final exam, I encountered some questions that I have already answered several times in the past. You just have to familiarize with the exam, and after that, it should be manageable.
Abby: I would answer as many past papers as I can, and this applies to all subjects. Past papers allow you to become familiar with the general structure and the types of questions that appear in exams.
Amanda: For Economics, Mr. Jones gave us tips on how to answer Paper 2: breeze through the questions and take notes so you know which ones you will be able to answer sufficiently. Look at the marks available and see if your plan is worth it! For Psychology, be familiar with the key studies – if you forget some details, don’t spend too much time on it and move on because the other questions may help you remember bits of information.
- Would you recommend these subjects and why?
Aidan: I think these subjects work well together, especially Economics and History. Both subjects develop your essay writing and organizational skills; they teach you exactly how to use a basic framework or structure for each response, and how to score marks, which is a useful skill for IB. Both Economics and History are very useful in general because they have real-life applications and it allows you to hone your analytical skills. Computer Science requires a lot of memorisation for Paper 1, as I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, the programming skills require constant practice and supplementary work outside of class.
Gio: Definitely. I took Computer Science because I did not want to take PE or a VPA, and it paid off because I was in a really exciting class. I took Economics and History because a lot people took them and I found them interesting. All these subjects are quite content heavy. For History, you have to learn a lot of facts but I enjoyed going over the textbook and compiling a podcast of YouTube videos which I would listen to in the shower or before going to sleep. I found Economics very practical: we got to learn about how markets work which really captivated me because I plan to take up this career path in the future.
Abby: I’d recommend these subjects in general, but it really depends on what you wish to pursue in the future.
Amanda: Despite the stigma of how difficult Music is, I’d recommend taking it up for IGCSE. I play the piano and take music lessons outside of school. IGCSE Music pushed me to practice more, and I was able to learn some interesting theories. Economics and Psychology work well together because in Economics you learn about the market and Psychology can help you understand and predict market behavior.