The Scottish National 5 qualifications are broadly equivalent to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) used in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Whilst there are lots of similarities, National 5 is also a completely unique examination. It’s important that you plan your National 5 revision carefully. Let us talk you through the best strategies for how to revise for National 5.
What are National 5s?
First and foremost here at GoStudent we recognise that in Scotland and the ROI there are hugely different systems to England when it comes to exams. Despite the media’s best efforts, GCSEs aren’t everything! In this article, we want to talk about National 5 and how to revise for them.
But what are National 5s?
In Scotland National 5 has replaced the previously named Standard Grades.
National just refers to the fact that students take them all over the country, and the 5 represents the level. There are also National 1-4s. National 5 is the last set of national exams taken before the next step, Advanced Highers. They are usually taken at the age of 15 or 16, similar to GCSEs.
Students also usually take less National 5 exams, often about 8, unlike GCSEs where students can take a fair few more. This = less exams. But don’t let this fool you, the exams aren’t necessarily easier!
Are they harder than GCSEs?
We’ve done a full article on this important question, so remember to check it out here. You can also see how whether the same National 5 subjects match with the easiest GCSEs and how GCSE results work.
In essence whilst both sides will argue that their exams are harder, historically National 5 has been considered a little more challenging. It always varies depending on the National 5 subject you're comparing. So what about National 5 revision? How do you revise for them?
What is a National 5 revision timetable?
Remember the new National 5 qualifications this year are taking the place of Standard Grades as part of a wider shake up of the structure of qualifications.
Multiple choice elements have been reduced, and the new exams place a greater emphasis on deeper learning - giving you as a student the chance to show how much you understand a subject rather than simply just use facts, figures and formulae.
There is less emphasis on requiring you to commit facts or figures to memory and more on analysing and applying what you’ve learned on your course.
But at GoStudent we know that this is the hardest way to use knowledge. To be able to analyse and apply it, your knowledge needs to be deeply embedded into your long-term memory.
So let’s start with the first and most important tip of all for National 5 revision - learn it well the first time, and consistently and regularly recall the information into your working memory. Recall, recall, recall!
Where do you start with your timetable?
Firstly this means that you need to plan backwards, starting with deciding how many ‘blocks’ you can dedicate to revision (as well as full-time school and hobbies) and at what point in your course. Ready to start five months before exams? Three? One?
The further back you start revising in increments, the longer the knowledge will be embedded into your long-term memory, and the more readily and creatively you’ll be able to apply it.
Here’s an example of a way to design your National 5 revision over a week. Bear in mind on the weekend you’ll have other activities and commitments, and you should choose one full day to rest.
One block of National 5 revision in this plan = 30 minutes, but you could amend this to what works for you. You might also want to consider factoring in days you might have other activities like sports, or days you are usually more tired (like Fridays!).
You’ll also want to think about subjects that complement each other (for example English and History) that could be revised on the same day. But be mindful of subjects that are cognitively overloading (such as Chemistry), and consider reducing your blocks on those days to support yourself.
Keep these increments short and sharp, or your brain won’t be able to retain information for long.
Within each block you’ll then need to organise your topics and units.
So for example English on Monday might be revising your poetry techniques for the Critical Reading paper, and then on Thursday you can start with recalling some poetry techniques and move on to analysing an unseen extract for the Reading for Understanding, Analysis and Evaluation section.
Always factor in short recall (5-10 minutes) into the next block with that subject for National 5 revision, so that you have at least one session of recall within the same week. Then add in further opportunities for recall in the next week, and two weeks after that, gradually increasing the time between recall sessions.
What are National 5 revision tips?
It’s important to remember that exams don’t always show you how much you know, they show you how well you can take exams. This is a big reason why students often do so much better on resits so soon after their first sitting.
We know exams, and we know revision.
So once you know your exam dates and have mapped our a National 5 revision schedule, here are our final five top tips:
Once you’ve given yourself plenty of time to create and check your revision calendar works (use the first week to test out its feasibility), pop it up in a place where you can see it, and give a copy to someone who can be your accountability partner.
This means that not only you will be responsible for your progress. Someone who you can trust and rely on, like a friend, teacher or parent will nudge you when you don’t feel like carrying on.
Be prepared to chop and change your timetable to grow with you across the stressful National 5 preparation and exam period.
Print out multiple copies so that you can physically tick them off across the week and start again in the next. This will leave you feeling 100% satisfied and motivated.
Know the paper, and know the questions.
As well as deep, recalled and retained knowledge. Knowing the exact requirements of each question on each paper is imperative during your National 5 revision.
How many exam papers will there be for this subject? What is the format of the paper - essay questions, multiple choice, interpreting information, calculation? Which skills (analysis, evaluation, summarise) are being tested in which question, and how do you structure your response? Are there compulsory questions, or is it a free choice?
Get hold of exam papers from previous years on SQA. Working through past papers gives you an idea of the kinds of questions likely to be asked! Do you know the difference in the types of questions within Nature’s Chemistry and Chemistry in Society in the Chemistry exam?
Speak to your teacher, tutor or a friend who knows the paper if you have any concerns about knowing exactly what you need to do on each question.
Whilst we recommend that when you revise you always write things down, we also recommend varying the ways you learn, retain and trial using new knowledge so that you don’t get stagnant.
As well as making notes, you should try:
- Watching videos or lectures using programmes like Massolit
- Using the mark scheme to assess model answers yourself
- Online quizzes like those on Seneca
- Draw diagrams like flow-charts and knowledge organisers rather than just chunks of text
- Time yourself (to put yourself under a bit of pressure)
Practice writing exam-style responses after you are secure with information and knowledge and give these to your teacher or tutor as soon as possible to be marked (in addition to whatever you’re doing in lessons).
Make sure that you ask for specific targets. These need to be SMART which stands for targets or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Factor in re-writing National 5 exam-style answers using your feedback into your following revision block or week with an aim to improve. This will be far more productive than writing and reading revision cards over and over again.
Exams are difficult, demanding and daunting. Look after your mental and physical health every single day.
You’ll know what works best for you, but we recommend:
- Lots of consistent and proper sleep
- Eating a balanced and nutritious diet
- Regular activity like sports or walks
- Talking about exam-stress or worries with peers, teachers and family
- Doing things you love on your off-blocks or days like being with your loved ones, being creative, outside or in a space that makes you feel at home
As lots of exams have transferable revision strategies, our GCSE revision article has even more tips for you as well.
It’s hard to stay on top of everything. At GoStudent we know how to prepare you for exams. Our tutors are expertly trained to know your exams inside out, and to build in regular recall and knowledge-building when you aren’t feeling so motivated. Book a free trial lesson to get some support.