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Creating a study plan

I know that I’ve mentioned the syllabus and study plans already, but really they’re the key to focused revision. I spoke to a friend of mine – a high school computing teacher, who didn’t really see the value of this approach, until we took a close look at his syllabus. He’s since taught the idea to his students.

So take a look at the syllabus before you dismiss the idea, you might be missing an easy way to structure and direct your revision.

What makes a good study plan?

Your ideal study plan should be a complete list of everything that you need to learn to pass your exam, divided into manageable sections. It should detail the specific learning outcomes you need to achieve.

What is a ‘learning outcome’?

A learning outcome is the specific thing that you need to do in order to say that you have ‘learnt’ a particular topic. For example, you might have to learn how to calculate storage requirements, but the learning outcome may be – ‘be able to calculate the number of kilobytes needed to store an image from its size given in inches and dpi without looking at the equation’.

Exams work in terms of these learning outcomes and, once you’ve figured out what they are, you’ll have a clear indication of whether you’re ready for the exam.

Once you’ve created this plan, it becomes really easy to structure your revision – you can simply pick a section and check off the learning outcomes as you master each one.

What you need:

  • The syllabus for your exam
  • Marking schemes for past exams based on the same syllabus

What you’re trying to do is cross reference the syllabus with the past paper marking schemes to work out two things:

Can anything appear on the exam that isn’t on the syllabus?

How can you tell?
Look at each past paper marking scheme question by question, checking that each topic appears in the syllabus.

Why is this important?
Simply put, if the exam questions can only be on topics that are in the syllabus, it’s a waste of time revising any topics that aren’t.

As unlucky as this is, at least you know in advance. Your next step should be to double check that you have the right syllabus and amend your copy by adding in the missing topics.

Talk to your teachers or contact the exam board to find out why the topics don’t appear on the syllabus and if there is a comprehensive list of what could appear on the exam.

This is the ideal situation. You can limit your revision to only those topics that appear on the syllabus.

Can you use the syllabus to discover the specific learning outcomes for the exam?

How can you tell?
Look at each past paper marking scheme question by question. Find the related topic in the syllabus and check to see if the knowledge necessary to answer each question is specifically mentioned.

Why is this important?
If your study plan is a check-list of measurable learning objectives, you can track your progress (which is great for motivation) work out your weak topics and spend much less time revising. If the syllabus already contains all the learning objectives that you need, you won’t need to create them for yourself.

This might sound unlikely but I’ve seen a few of syllabuses where this is true. Use marking schemes to determine whether you could have passed the previous exams with just the knowledge from the learning outcomes. If you can, you have a ready made study plan. If not, you can use the marking schemes to expand the learning outcomes to include those that are missing.

Use the marking schemes to list the specific knowledge that you would need to have in order to answer all the questions. Interpret the answers to determine the depth of knowledge required by topic, break each topic down further if appropriate, then write your own learning objectives.



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