Tips for exam day – GCSE Sciences

Imagine it is the day of your first Physics GCSE exam. You sit in an exam hall and nervously look up at the clock, watching the seconds tick by. There is a nervous energy in the room, and it is a little bit too quiet considering how many people are crammed into such a small space.
Somebody at the front of the hall announces that it is time to begin, and you, along with thousands of students across the country, open your booklet and read the first question. Imagine feeling full of confidence that you know how to answer not only the first question, but all of the others too. With proper preparation, this thought can become a reality for you.

General Tips

As a Physics teacher and examiner for a national exam board, I have marked tens of thousands (possibly even hundreds of thousands – I’ve lost count!) of student papers across my career so far. There are some general tips that I give to all of my students before they sit their exams:

  • Make sure your handwriting is legible.
  • Make sure you answer every question.
  • Bring lots of ballpoint pens into the exam in case one stops working.

You’ve probably heard all of those before. But what about the subject specific tips that often get missed?

Five Top Tips

Reflecting upon the 2023 Physics GCSE exam series, here are my five top tips to help you maximise your marks when sitting the exam next year.

Tip 1: Look at the number of marks allocated for the question and budget your time appropriately

For your GCSE Physics, the exam is made up of lots of different questions which are worth small numbers of marks, usually ranging from one mark to six marks.

This is common across all three sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) and is in contrast to subjects such as English or History which typically have fewer questions which are worth a larger number of marks.

You’ll therefore need to be careful with your time to make sure you’re not spending too long on one question, which isn’t worth many marks.

Calculating Marks to Questions

To help you with this, I would suggest using bullet points to help in answering concisely.
For example, a one-mark question will very rarely need more than a one sentence answer. As a rough rule, you’re likely to need around one sentence per mark.
So, for a six-mark question you’re unlikely to need more than around six sentences.

For calculation questions, the number of marks available gives you a hint on how tricky the calculation will be. If a simple calculation is worth 4 marks in the exam, perhaps there is a unit conversion involved where you’ll need to convert, for example, between grams and kilograms to give yourself another mark.

Tip 2: Use as much scientific vocabulary as you can

When I am examining, I am continually referring to a mark scheme that I use to tell me how to allocate each mark in the exam.

Occasionally there will be a word underlined in the mark scheme and this means that the word must be included in the answer in order to gain the mark. Without the word, the mark cannot be awarded, even if the answer is credible.

It is therefore essential to use as much scientific vocabulary as possible to help your answer be as specific and descriptive as it can be.


When you’re talking about electricity – rather than saying ‘the electricity flowed through the wire’, which wouldn’t gain any marks, you may need to say ‘the current flowed’, as ‘current’ may be a word which the mark scheme requires for the mark to be awarded.

I recommend using glossaries when revising to ensure you have the correct vocabulary. These can generally be found at the back of the Physics textbook, online or you could even create your own as a revision exercise before the exam.

Tip 3: Brush up on your maths skills and show your working for mathematical questions

Mathematics skills are very important for your Physics GCSE.

Depending on the specific exam taken, the mathematics content in a Physics exam could be 20-30% or even higher. There are a huge number of marks to be gained through demonstrating mathematical ability.

Some examples of these skills include being asked to write your answer in:

  • Standard form
  • Converting units
  • Performing calculations
  • Drawing graphs
  • Interpreting tables or graphs
  • Drawing tangents

This list is not exhaustive and there are lots of other mathematical tasks you may need to perform so it is important you are confident with these skills.

Show the method

There are also marks available when you show your method so you must ensure that each step is clear for the examiner.

For example, if you are finding a gradient on a graph, you must draw a large triangle which takes up at least half of the graph paper.
It is also important that you pay attention to prefixes – these are the words that go in front of the unit such as ‘mega’, ‘milli’ or ‘micro’ and tell you the scale of the number. You’ll need to be able to write out these numbers correctly.

Tip 4: Don’t waste time by repeating the question in your answer

Imagine you’re given a question which says ‘Explain why the lamp lights up as the circuit is closed.’
Many students will tend to write ‘The lamp lights up as the circuit is closed because…’ but that’s repeating the question – it takes up space, time and doesn’t give you any marks in the exam. It is a pet peeve of mine as an examiner!

You need to demonstrate your knowledge and jump straight into the answer. A much better sentence starter would be ‘This is because…’ Pause before you start writing, plan an answer in your mind and then write it down. The best answers are often well thought out and contain fewer words.

Tip 5: Pay attention to the command word at the beginning of each question – these will give you a hint for what type of response is needed.

In your Physics GCSE (and in the other two sciences too), you will come across ‘command words’ which tell you what the examiner is looking for.

Some examples of command words include:

  • State
  • Describe
  • Explain
  • Compare

Make sure you pay attention to these. If you are asked to ‘State’, that generally means a short phrase or sentence is needed. If you’re asked to ‘Explain’, it is likely you’ll need the word ‘because’ in your answer. Decoding each question will give you a better chance of writing what the examiner is looking for.

Hopefully these five tips have been useful for you. As long as you are organised, and make sure you revise the content ahead of the exam, you’ll stand the best chance of meeting your goals and targets. Good luck!