How to Get an A* - What I Did (in Month 3)

So January kicked off the beginning of mock exams season at school, and I used the 5 minute studying challenge and other strategies to get SO MUCH DONE. I AM GENUINELY SHOCKED YOU GUYS.

In the past I've been known to, ehm, revise in the last few days before a major official exam *faints - SHOUTS - shows evils to myself in the mirror*.

So the fact that I'm now averaging 5 hours of extra, independent study per day IS BLOWING MY MIND (my all time high is 10 hours on a school night) *Carol Vorderman who?*.

I used to be so resistant and paralysed by the thought of doing such large amounts of work - I mean it's challenging to push yourself to keep going.

But I've been trying out new strategies to kick start some great 'work hard' habits, which have worked absolute wonders.

To summarize, here's what I did that made this month go SO well academically:

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Things that worked well this month:

1. I developed tiny habits, which led to BIG results (no, really!)

I'm surprised that I've always underestimated the power of creating small habits. 

After all, just doing a tiny bit of your workload, at a fixed time of the day, will really stop you from falling into the 'oh I'll just do it all later *which never happens*' trap.

If you're wondering how to make tiny habits work for you too, I really recommend watching this talk from Stanford professor BJ Fogg about it:

For me, my 3 goals per day using Fogg's ideas are:

[Trigger] After I go to the toilet, [new habit] I will recall 1 fact from my Psychology notes. (Hey, I didn't say you would look normal doing these).

[Trigger] After I have breakfast, [new habit] I will write down 1 question (about any subject I'm studying) that I really want to know the answer to.

For example, today's one was "How was Tony Blair able to get involved in the Iraq war?". By answering this, I'll be exploring the power of the Prime Minister and how he can override the Cabinet's power (which is part of my school course).

[Trigger] After I have lunch, [new habit] I will write down 1 fact from memory on my hand.

Other habits I'm creating involve staying at school until 6pm each night to work in a quiet computer room. Sure, it's drastic. But to get big results, you need to put in big amounts of effort (warning: my intense motivational guru has jumped out). 

Plus, it's been a major reason why I've gotten so much work done this month.

Studying at home on the other hand is tough, because there's just WAY too much distraction in the form of laptops, TV's and an annoying sibling. 

If I'm at school though, it's just me and the work. Nothing to pull my attention away.

2. I implemented the 5 minute studying challenge

You can join the challenge too over here

So about a month ago, you might remember me rambling on about this somewhat bizarre way to study hard and get fab grades - making a comittment to study for just - wait for it - FIVE minutes. 

That's it.

So everyday I made tiny, specific studying goals that would take less than 5 minutes to complete.

E.g. "write 1 line of notes on why Johnson failed in Vietnam".

Whereas if I'd written "do an hour of notes on why Johnson failed in Vietnam" it would just PARALYSE me. Because, it's so - long! 

And then I'd just think 'meh, I'll do it later' (you know, that 'later' that NEVER actually arrives?). And the work just doesn't get done = BAAAD. 

But once I've done that 5 minute mini goal, I'd think hey, why not do a few more. And then a few more.

And those 5 minute studying sessions easily turned into 30 minutes, or an hour anyway.

It's been such an effective way for me to remove my fear and resistance of studying. 

I've been doing this every day for the past month, and I massively recommend it if you struggle with similar procrastination issues.

3. I did past papers - and LOT'S of them.

For each subject I've done past papers, self-marked them (using marking schemes and the examiners reports), and got feedback on them from teachers too (in order to check my own self marking).

The reason why I self-mark is so that I can begin training myself to think like the examiner, who'll be marking my real exams. 

It's a great way to learn exactly what's expected from me, and how I can access the highest grades.

It's also an opportunity to learn where your weaknesses are, so that you can improve on them before your real exams.

So when you do your practise paper and mark it, go over the paper again and see where you're not picking up marks and re-do the question (until you hit full marks).

This is a really crucial practise to do if you want high grades.

Things that didn't work so well:

1. Physics *no surprise there*

Physics is still a major concern for me. 

I'm consistently getting 50% (C grade-ish) in past papers, and this is what I did to try and tackle the problem:

1. Create a summary revision mindmap of ALL topics
2. Go over areas I'm consistently missing marks in (for me, it's the electricity and circuits stuff) with the teacher, or watch Youtube videos that explain it
3. Continue practising questions using the textbook and exam past papers

However I'm still not getting the A's I need. And yet I'm dedicating a huge chunk of time to this subject (about 10 hours a week), which doesn't seem to be getting me anywhere. 

It's because this subject is super maths-y, and well - I'm not. 

I understand the theories and concepts, but when it comes down to the maths (which makes up a HUGE part of the test), I'm definitely struggling. 

I haven't touched maths for YEARS (I did it at GCSE about 2 years ago, and got an A, but I've really forgotten so much of that).

I had to google how to do a simple multiplication of fractions recently guys - I SWEAR THIS IS STUFF EVERY 11 YEAR OLD KNOWS.

So I made the decision to drop this subject, because it's really not going anywhere. Plus, now I can spend more time on my other subjects, where I'm definitely on-track for A's.

Now I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below:

  • What subjects are you finding easy/tough?
  • And what ONE thing could you implement, from the ideas above, into your own studies?

A* Grade Challenge Series so far:
Month 1 
Month 2 
Month 3 - that's this post!

Ps. the image is courtesy of Collage Vintage

Want to Join 13,900 Students in Learning How to Crush Procrastination, the Fear of Failure and Fear of What Others Think? 

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  1. Hi, I enjoyed reading this I will definitely try out the tips because I procrastinate so much and got so little work done this month.
    I would like to know how you kept yourself motivated at home and during the half term where there is lots of distractions.
    Also don't you think its early to be really focusing on past papers especially when the content for the second units have not been fully taught? do explain you answer.

    1. Hi Sherifat,

      I really hope it works out well for you too :)

      And that's something I'm still working on to be honest. At the moment working late into the night is how I'm getting a lot of work done without distraction (because A) the wifi is turned off then and B) everyone at home is asleep). On top of that, I just do bits of work throughout the day, and take breaks. I can still manage 4+ hours this way, so it's not too shabby :)

      And honestly, doing past papers as soon as possible is such a good idea. You'll start learning how to create really good answers, and after all, practise makes perfect ;)

      In terms of unit 2, for some subjects I've just gone ahead and covered the work myself (so the lessons at school are more like revision sessions now). Of course for the other subjects where I haven't, I can't do past papers on their unit 2's yet.

      I hope that answers it fully :) x

  2. Wow, 5 hours a day! Where do you find the time? That's incredible! Oddly enough, the other thing I'm proud of you for is dropping physics. Instead of struggling through something that wasn't serving you, I love how you now have more time (and therefor energy) to dedicate towards the things that do.
    I've done some good work this week, but I've been fighting the procrastination monster on these 3 papers I have due next week (and only just started!) Commence the nail biting.

    1. Haha, I won't lie, those 5 hours does creep into my sleeping time at points. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do ;)

      And I'm glad I dropped it too. It was definitely the right decision. Although I do like Physics (the concepts and ideas are amazing - but - the maths. OH THE MATHS.)

      And well done :D Good luck on those 3 papers! If you do tiny bits of them at a time, rather than lumping them near the deadline, it's much easier :) x

  3. Hey Sanam! I'm currently doing my GCSEs and I'd really love to learn more about the 5 minute challenge. I've read the post about it, but it still doesn't make sense to me.
    Do you start something for 5 minutes, and then do the 5 minute chunks repeatedly to remove your resistance to revision??

    1. Hi Yasmine :)

      Thanks for the feedback. I'll definitely re-read the page when I can and try and make it simpler.

      But to summarize:

      1) choose a task that you need to do (eg. your English essay)
      2) Break that task down into something you can do in 5 minutes (eg. write the first line of your essay)
      3) Put a timer on for 5 minutes and complete your mini task
      4) Once your 5 minutes is up, you can stop. OR just continue your task for however long you like.

      It's all about removing your resistance to starting a task.

      I hope that cleared it up? :)

  4. This was a really good post, Sanam! Your strategies and dedication amaze me- if only I could be that dedicated (it's a miracle most of my classes are A's right now, but I think you have something to do with it)! And good job on dropping a subject you felt was too hard. Do you have to take another subject instead, or do you have less classes now?

    1. Thanks Isabel :D

      And hey, if you're on A's, it sounds like you're doing a brilliant job :)

      I'm taking a few self-studied subjects, so my grand total is now 6 AS-levels this year (Government and politics, Religious studies and Classical civilisations are the 'extras') - I really wanted to choose ones that I love doing and knew quite a bit about anyway :)

  5. It was the same situation with me and Economics last year. Although I understood the concepts etc, I just didn't know how to write it in the exam. Because of this, I started to rapidly lose interest in the subject, and then I dropped it. But the great thing is, you have a lot more time to focus on your other subjects so it's all for the good! :) I actually took up History straight afterwards and I ended up enjoying it!

    One thing I have to say is that your posts really do motivate me to do some work. I've been going through A LOT of difficulties and personal issues over the past 4/5 months and my work ethic and motivation has suffered immensely from it. Then I realised that if I didn't start doing some work then I'd fail - which is something I really really don't want. So yeah, I think that thinking about consequences can really make you do some work! Currently, English is my Everest, but to conquer that, I do an essay a week and a lot of independent work.

    Keep up the great work, you're doing amazingly well! :D

    Rahma xx

    1. Hey Rahma,

      Yep, me and Economics had that same issue too last year ;)

      And I'm so glad to hear that! ;)

      Good luck getting yourself back up after those tough months. It's great that you're motivated again, and before it's too late. x

  6. l absolutely fell in love with your blog, following you!<3
    Make sure you also check out my blog and follow me as well.

    Love John Setrodipo

  7. Hi Sanam,

    I sent you an email, just wondering if you got it and if you are still doing the email correspondence thing? (Perhaps you're too busy? I completely get it, if that's the case!)

    Anyway, love your blog, keep up the good work. You rock!!


    1. Hey Amelia,

      I'm really sorry if I'm being a slow-poke about emails. I'm definitely still doing it - it's just that I've been concentrating on exams for the last few weeks, so haven't had the time to respond to many emails. I'll definitely try and get back to you as soon as I can though.

      And thank you! :D x

    2. Aha, that's okay, no rush! :) Good luck with your exams! :D


  8. Hi Sanam!

    I have the same issue with you in regards to Physics (and Maths), and Chemistry. I simply can't remember formulas (physical, mathematical or chemical) and so I opted to do History, Literature and Biology instead. Those are subjects that rely on sequential events, and my memory performs better that way (can't believe it took me so long to realise that).

    Thank you so much for your post on 5 minute challenges, because I've been told (repeatedly by different teachers) that I'll have to study as much as 4-8 hours (to start with) per subject, per week (not including class time), and to make a study schedule that has 4 hours of study (per week day) and 12 hours (weekends and holidays). As you can imagine, even for a seasoned hand at A Levels, the thought is intimidating!

    I'm going to try to instill that 5 minute challenge right now ( by trying one or two questions of my Maths). ;)

    Thanks again,

    1. Hey Catherine,

      I hope the 5min challenge works well for you! It definitely beats setting a goal of hours and hours everyday.

      And it's a better idea to stick with what you're good at and enjoy, I agree. We're just not Physics people, it seems ;)

  9. Great blog Sanam, I haven't actually ever come across a blog that caters to students the way this blog does. Totally epic! I found you over at the SITS girls and dropped by here cuz' I don't really find a lot of fellow Muslim bloggers who blog with such enthusiasm. Keep up the geat job. xo
    I'm 19 btw. <3
    -Nashwa Khan @

    1. Hey Nashwa,
      Glad to see another SITS girl ;)
      And I'm so glad to hear that, thanks a ton! I'm glad you like what I'm doing here :D x

  10. Replies
    1. Hey Betty :)
      It's all good. I'm in revision 24/7 mode at the moment haha, just 3 weeks left now until all my exams.

      How about you? :) x

  11. Hi, quick question about the past paper - when is the best time to start doing papers - I don't want to start too early (when I barely know any of the topics) and risk also running out of ones to do closer to the exams - is it best to leave them till after Christmas?

    Thank you

    1. Hey anon,
      I really recommend doing it constantly throughout the year. So as soon as you finish a topic, perhaps try finding some past paper questions (or make some up in an exam-style format) about that topic to complete whilst the info is fresh in your mind. :)


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