Hodder History Expert Blog

How to revise for AQA GCSE History: four practical tips
By Tim Jenner
13 Nov

1 – Start ‘big’

The sheer amount of ‘stuff’ to learn can be a real source of stress for anyone starting their revision in History. However, while having a wealth of evidence at your fingertips in the exam is important, you shouldn’t start by diving right into the finer details of a topic.

When you learn or revisit information, you will understand and remember it better if it is firmly linked to your previous understanding. The best way to do this in History is to make sure you are confident with the big ‘overview’ story before you begin revising individual topics.

Let’s say you want to revise Norman England, and you are particularly concerned about the Norman Church (as many students probably are!) Writing down all of the features of a Cluniac monastery might seem like a good place to start, but if you don’t understand the ‘big story’ this fits into, you will struggle to understand, let alone remember, this information. Instead, work out the big story, like the example below:

The ‘big story’ of Norman changes to the church
  • Before 1066, there were some problems in the English Church. William was very religious and one reason for his invasion was to reform the Church.
  • However, while William faced rebellions it was difficult to focus on changing the Church. The first major changes began to be made in 1070 once Archbishop Lanfranc had been appointed.
  • In 1077 the Normans turned their attention to monasteries.
  • At the end of his reign, William refused to submit to the Pope. When his son, William Rufus took over in 1087 the relationship between King and Pope got worse. There continued to be disagreements under King Henry I.
You should then spend some time really learning this overview. You could draw a storyboard to represent the story, come up with a mnemonic which helps you remember the stages or write each stage on a card and check that you can get them in the right order.

When you are confident you understand this ‘big story’ you can start to revise the topic in more detail.

2 – Elaborate

When History is just a list of facts, it is not only boring (ask your parents about their History lessons at school!) but hard to remember. Our understanding of events is supposed to help us explain the past.
When studying, always try to explain the causes and consequences of events you are studying.

The fancy term for this is elaboration and its been proven to have a big impact on how much you remember.

Let’s say you are trying to remember this list of events in Korean War:
  • The North invaded the South in June 1950.
  • UN forces were sent to defend the South, but they were pushed back to Pusan.
  • In September, the Inchon landings helped the UN to secure land near the 38th parallel.
  • The UN forces then pushed the North Korean forces back and invaded North Korea.
  • This led to Chinese intervention in the war, which pushed the UN back to the 38th parallel.
  • The US fought a limited war, because of fears of escalation. This led to a stalemate, but fierce fighting continued until 1953.
  • In 1953, an armistice was signed.
On their own, these events are hard to remember. But if they become part of an explanation then they will start to link together and make sense. If you have a question in mind as you revise (for example – ‘Why did the Korean War become a stalemate?’) you can explain these events to yourself as you revise.
You could also represent this visually, maybe by drawing a diagram like the one below:

Extra tip:
Don’t forget to use other techniques to make key terms memorable – how about a drawing which will help you remember the idea of stalemate?

3 – Give examples

Another really effective way to revise is almost the opposite of the approach above, but it helps you to remember in exactly the same way. Find a ‘big idea’ or theme in the topic you are studying, and then come up with as many specific examples of that as you can. This works really well for the AQA thematic units (Power, Health or Migration and Empire).

Think of a big theme like protest and find as many examples as you can of how protest changed the status of ordinary people across the Power and the People unit. Turn these into flashcards like this:


Lay these out on your desk/ floor/ bed and then give yourself a theme. Now pick up all of the cards which relate to that theme. So if you chose to focus on ‘religious protests’, you could pick up cards like the Pilgrimage of Grace and Anti-Slavery (you could also select others, like the Peasants’ Revolt, if you could justify this). You can then take it one step further by sorting these, perhaps into examples of successful or unsuccessful protests.

4 – Space it out

You will have heard this a hundred time already, but it really is the best way of making your revision easy and effective.

Don’t try to revise a whole topic in one go, instead revise in short bursts starting as early as possible (months rather than weeks before your exam). Research has even shown that you remember more if you switch topics during a revision session.

So a full revision session might be 10 minutes drawing out the ‘big story’ of the Norman Church, followed by 5 minutes using my flashcards on Power and the People. That’s it! 15 minutes a few days a week and you really could ace your GCSE History exam without the stress of cramming at the last minute.

Good luck!
Tim Jenner (@TIJenner) teaches AQA GCSE History in Cambridgeshire


My Revision Notes: AQA GCSE (9-1) History publishes on November 24th 2017. It is structured to help you make the most of these approaches to revision and guide you to writing really effective exam answers.

Order your copy here 

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