How To Revise for GCSE History
Learn our top tips for GCSE History revision.
Facts, dates, cause and effect, significant turning points and megalomaniac leaders.
It's all good fun, isn't it?
GCSE History is a jigsaw of wars, revolutions, civilisations that rise and fall, grand mistakes, crazed leaders, and master plans. It's Game of Thrones and Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty and Castle Wolfenstein: all rolled into a sequence of events that have shaped the world that we live in right now.
So, GCSE History is really exciting. It's the moments in time that changed the world.
But when it’s all facts, how to revise for GCSE History is one big challenge.
We're going to be exploring some of the most effective methods that help those facts, dates, and significant events sink in. And it's not all staring at books.
Welcome to our guide to how to revise for GCSE History.
Get to Grips With the GCSE History syllabus
Let's get started right at the beginning. Make a plan and identify which topics you’re most and least confident with. Perhaps it might look like this:
- Significant Leaders of the Cold War
- Norman Rule
- Germany in modern history
- The Cold War and Vietnam
- British Empire
- Elizabeth I
(Don’t panic if some of those aren’t on your list - each exam board is different).
Colour-code each topic in line with your confidence.
Green is for topics that you’re happy with, Amber for ones you’re OK with, and Red for the topics that you really need to focus on. Assign a date for each subject, with the most time dedicated to the reds.
So, your list might look like this:
So, you can instantly see which subjects require the most focus, and you have a date to concentrate on it. After your first week's revision, you might feel differently.
You might find that you're a little more confident with Norman Rule (so that can go down to Amber). But Germany in modern history had more to it than you thought (so it goes from Amber to Red). And, perhaps, British Empire is continuing to challenge you.
So, at the end of the first week, you could reassess it all, and give a new assignment of time for the following week based on your new priorities. Like this:
And then you follow the same process for the following week, with a reassessment of your comfort by the end of the week. It might look like this at the end of week 3:
The aim is to get all of the topics highlighted in green by the date of your first exam. Once you know what you know, and know what you don't know, you're much better equipped to tackle the big issues that are holding you back.
Practice Past Papers
The questions in a history GCSE exam aren’t always like questions in exams for other subjects. Instead of multiple choice questions and one-line equations, you’ll often be required to write short essays and explain your reasoning behind an answer.
Because of this, it can really help to get yourself familiar with the types of questions you might be asked.
Of course, you’ll never know the ACTUAL questions you’re going to be asked in the exam. If only.
Past papers are the best training for developing a confident exam technique. But, it's not just about looking at the questions themselves. It's about recognising how the marking scheme indicates the type of answer you should give.
This paper has some clear indicators about how to divide your time in the exam. It states that this section of the paper:
- Has 32 possible marks
- Should take 50 minutes
The three questions have different mark allocations; this reflects how much time you should spend on each question. Question 1 has a possible 4 marks, Question 2 is worth 12 marks. But, question 3 doesn't tell you how many marks you can get.
Types of questions
Have you spotted the other indicators?
Question 1 is “Describe”, Question 2 is “Explain”, and Question 3 is “Agree”.
- "Describe" is asking - more or less - for a list; with a little elaboration. It's asking for the facts. Remember it's only four marks, so it's not asking for tons.
- “Explain” is asking for the facts, but with some indication as to how those facts fit together.
- “Agree” is asking for an opinion.
"Opinion" is the gathering of multiple facts, assessing their relevance to the event in question.
You should incorporate some reasoning and challenge some of the assumptions by stating why you feel an act or event was significant. If there are 16 marks to be had, you pretty much need at least 16 points to make.
Ask your teacher to share some past papers with you or look online on your school’s exam board website to get your hands on more papers:
When you’re using past papers to revise, it helps to create an exam-like environment. That means no phones, no distractions, and a set time limit.
Make Your Notes Work For You
Your notes will form the basis of your history revision, so make sure you’re taking plenty during class and following up with them afterwards.
To get the most out of your notes, don’t just leave them to gather dust. Instead, turn them into a handy revision guide you can use during each revision session. At the end of each session, try and summarise your notes into one paragraph to see if you’ve understood the topic.
How to Revise GCSE History: Top Revision Tips
Flashcards are a bit of a life-line for GCSE history revision. Creating your own flashcards will help you learn all of the necessary details for each topic.
It's great to have everything you need to know in note-form right in front of you, so spend a little time making some flashcards - either physically or virtually.
Use your flashcards to test yourself and test your classmates. Lydia talks about how to make flashcards for GCSE History.
Flashcards help you to pack the necessary facts for each topic onto a single card, written in concise bullet points, that you can come back to whenever you have a quick moment to test yourself.
But if you don't want to carry your flashcards around with you all day every day, you can use Quizlet to create your own flashcard sets which you can access from your mobile phone, tablet or laptop wherever you are - or tap into the sets that have already been made.
Here's a selection of flashcard sets created by Verified Educators on Quizlet.
2. Mind Maps
When you’re dealing with lots of facts, dates and various history topics, it’s useful to present all of your information visually.
A flashcard, you could say, is an excellent visual aid, and when you combine it with some fun, interactive content as we do at Quizlet, it can really help you to embed your knowledge.
Mind mapping, on the other hand, is a comprehensive way of exploring what you know. Simply start with your subtopic and spider out with different, relevant elements, like dates, names, and key events.
For the visual learners among us, mind maps are a really strong way of helping to memorise your facts relating to various subtopics.
Similarly to mind maps, timelines help you visualise key historical dates, facts, and names.
Plotting an historic event on a timeline will help you contextualise what happened and enable you to recall key pieces of information when sitting in your exam.
Creating a timeline is easy, too. Start by writing down the major dates and events for the topic you’re revising - for example, you might plot out the dates of the Cold War, including the start date, any notable events that happened during it, and add in prominent characters. Here is an example timeline that covers Russia and the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1941.
You can colour code your timeline, add drawings to help memorise certain elements, and try and recreate it from memory to see if you can remember the dates.
4. Gamify History
Games make revision fun - we all love a game, right? Turning your history revision into a game makes memorisation actually enjoyable.
Here are some ideas for making history revision fun:
- Play mastermind with your classmates, where you write questions and quiz each other on a specific topic
- Turn Connect 4 into a revision quiz by requiring each player to get a question right before they can place a piece in the grid
- Play Pictionary with relevant historical names and events
- Turn charades into a revision session by only allowing players to act out words and phrases related to a specific history topic
- Play online history games like the ones on School History
5. YouTube Videos
Textbooks can make the retelling of incredible historic events really, really dull. Unfortunately, this will do nothing for your motivation levels. Instead, tap into exciting recounts of major events on YouTube.
There are plenty of dedicated GCSE history channels that lay out the curriculum in a fun and visual way through animations, deep storytelling, and visuals like timelines and mind maps.
Here are some good channels to get you started:
- A long, long time ago… (check out this animated video about crime and punishment)
- History Matters (check out this video about the post war occupation of Austria)
- Simple History (check out this playlist about medieval history)
6. Study Groups
Getting together with fellow history students will break up the monotony of revising alone. Team up with two or three classmates and set a time to meet each week. During this time, you can test each other, share ideas, and discuss all things history.
To mix things up a bit you can try:
- Playing history games with each other
- Doing a pop quiz on each subtopic
- Going through your flashcards together
- Debating key events in history and sharing ideas
- Each taking turns to teach the others about an historic event
- Creating joint visuals together, like mind maps and timelines
If you can’t meet your study group in person, there are plenty of ways you can virtually meet up and revise. Try having a video call on Microsoft Teams or Skype, create a private Facebook group or Slack channel where you can ask and answer each other’s questions, or hold a simple group WhatsApp call.
If you can’t find any classmates to regularly team up with, you can find a virtual study group on forums at The Student Room.
7. Make Use of Apps and Tools
Technology today means there are so many ways you can revise for your history GCSE. Instead of just going over and over your notes, mix it up with apps to test your knowledge and tools like podcasts that you can listen to on-the-go.
To find relevant apps, simply search “history GCSE” in your chosen app store:
It’s the same with podcasts: simply search “GCSE history” into the search bar of the podcast player you use and browse the results to find the best option for you.
Podcasts are perfect for auditory learners (a.k.a. students that learn best by listening to information), but visual learners can also benefit from them if they create notes while listening or simply doodle or draw things that come to mind while plugged in.
Let the History GCSE Battle Begin!
GCSE History is a fascinating subject that helps us to make sense of the world as it is now. Someone who has an understanding of history can help the planet become a better place, so by studying world history, you might find your own place in it.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes made in the past. You’re on a real adventure. Make it count. Good luck!