How to revise for History GCSE

How often has your History teacher set you a homework task to “revise”? For many GCSE History students, revision is often overwhelming. You may not know how to revise or where to start. Here are some revision techniques that may inspire you to try a different approach to your GCSE History revision. 

Zoe Wade



Read time

12 minutes

How does revision work?

To remember information, your goes through three processes:

Encoding: This is when new information enters your brain.​ In most History lessons, you will be encoding.

Consolidation: This process moves new information into your long-term memory.​ An example of this is when your teacher asks you a question based on what you studied last lesson.

Retrieval: This is the section students find the hardest! It is the ability to recall information from your long-term memory when you need it. This step is what your GCSE History exam requires you to do.

Effective revision for any subject will help you to consolidate and retrieve information.

Know your exam board

Whether your exam board is AQA, Edexcel or OCR, knowing which exam you will be taking is incredibly important. Before you start to revise, read your exam board’s specification for GCSE History. A specification is an important document which lists all of the available options in your History course. Find the options that you are studying. It will break down your options into key topics. This contains the historical information that you should know before the exam. From here, you can decide what option you should start to revise first.

Beware of revision notes

Every year, I teach a “How To Revise History” lesson with all of my GSCE History groups. I start the lesson by asking the class to suggest ways in which they can revise. Usually, the first revision method students suggest is “reading revision notes”. A lot of students use this method as it feels like revision. However, multiple academic studies show that re-reading, highlighting or summarising revision notes are the most ineffective revision techniques. Using what you have learnt about how your memory works, it is clear to see why. Re-reading, highlighting, and summarising are very passive techniques, and do not help you to consolidate your learning. 

So what methods are more effective when revising for GCSE History?


When I was Head of GCSE History, one of the biggest concerns that GCSE students had was getting dates wrong. In most GCSE History exams, an examiner would expect you to know only the key dates of the topic. For example, that the Battle of Hastings happened in 1066, or that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. 

In other exams, your knowledge of when things happened is critical. For example, the Edexcel GCSE History, the Superpower Relations exam (Paper 2, Period Study) has a narrative account, testing your chronological knowledge of the Cold War. 

How can timelines help to revise GCSE History?

Timelines organise key events in chronological order. This will help you to remember:

  • The sequence of events in a historical period

  • How one event caused another event to happen

  • Which events were the most important in your topic

How can I use timelines in my revision?

  • Test your chronological knowledge using timelines on Save My Exams’ Edexcel GCSE History revision notes. Give yourself one minute to study the timeline. After this time, you could try to draw the timeline without looking or cover a section of the timeline and recall the date and event.

  • Draw your own timeline. Take a History topic and create a timeline. You could even assign symbols to events based on the skill of your topic. For example, a timeline based on a topic like Medicine in Britain may need a code showing events that are changes and those that are continuities. 

  • Create a living timeline! Give your friends or your study group a key event in a History topic, for example, the Yalta Conference. Work together to arrange yourself in chronological order. It is a fun and useful revision activity.


An image showing an example of a living timeline


Flashcards can be a fantastic revision tool for GCSE History. There are some considerations when using this revision resource:

  • Flashcards can take a long time to create. To make this revision technique effective, create your flashcards for each History topic as you learn them. As you will be at the encoding stage of your revision, making flashcards at this stage will help to consolidate this information.

  • Many students produce wonderful flashcards but never use them! Flashcards are a fantastic resource when you are on the go. Take a topic’s worth of flashcards with you each day. Any time you have a spare 10 minutes, use your flashcards.

How can flashcards help to revise GCSE History?

Flashcards are cards that contain a small amount of information about a topic. This can help you to:

  • Split the GCSE History course into smaller, more manageable chunks of information

  • Identify which events were the most important in your topic

How can I use flashcards in my revision?

  • Write a key question on the front of the flashcard, for example: What was the theatre like in Elizabethan England? On the back of the card, write the answer. If it is a longer question (like this example) write some potential answers in bullet point format.

  • Get friends and family members to quiz you! This will help you to retrieve the information from your long-term memory and prevent you from looking at the answer on the back of the flashcard.

Retrieval practice

In every lesson at GCSE, I include retrieval questions. Students often avoid retrieval practice because:

  • They are scared of getting the question wrong

  • They feel bad if they do not know the answer

  • It is hard to do

As I stated at the start of this article, retrieval is the hardest yet most vital step in GCSE History revision. Your exam success relies on your ability to recall information from your long-term memory when you need it. Therefore, you need to train your brain to access information from your long-term memory. Retrieval practice is the best way to do this.

How can retrieval practice help to revise GCSE History?

Retrieval practice consists of answering five to ten short questions. This can help you to:

  • Identify areas that you need to revise further

  • Train your brain to retrieve information from your long-term memory

How can I use retrieval practice in my revision?

  • Choose questions from multiple topics. Students often avoid retrieval practice on content that they were taught a long time ago. However, this is where retrieval practice is the most valuable. Force your brain to try and retrieve knowledge from topics you learnt at the start of your GCSE History studies.

  • Organise your retrieval practice into the “Last Week, Last Month, Last Year” format. This is a revision technique called “interleaving”. You can answer these questions in the order that you feel most comfortable doing.

  • Make sure you take the time to mark and correct your answers. Retrieval practice is not only useful for showing what you know. It can also identify areas of misconception and parts of a History topic that you need to focus your revision on. 

  • Guess the answer rather than leaving it blank. Do not be scared to get a question wrong. A failure is a chance to learn!


An image showing some example retrieval practice questions

Transform it!

As a History teacher, one of my favourite revision techniques is transforming one piece of information into a different format. This process makes your brain work hard and gives you a revision resource for the future.

How can transformation help to revise GCSE History?

Transformation involves taking written information and displaying it visually. This can help you to:

  • Create important links between topics to identify causes and consequences

  • Show how much change or continuity happened in a time period

  • “See” the narrative in one of your History topics

How can I use transformation in my revision?

  • Create a Venn diagram of changes and continuity in a thematic study, for example, Health and the People or Crime and Punishment.

  • Create a flow diagram to show events for a History topic that requires a narrative understanding. For example, US Government Policies in the American West. Unsure what it should look like? Use my example on Edwin & Morcar’s Revolt for Anglo-Saxons and Norman England to help you.

  • Create a mind map at the end of a key topic, for example, Life in Nazi Germany, 1933–39. As you create the concept map, try to connect events together. 

Dual coding

When I was Head of GCSE History, students often found remembering the amount of information from different time periods overwhelming. Dual coding is a technique that can help to connect images and colours with knowledge, making the information less scary.

How can dual coding help to revise GCSE History?

Dual coding is adding pictures, colours or symbols to key pieces of information. This can help you to:

  • Understand the narrative of a time period by creating a story

  • Identify causes and consequences of key events

How can I use dual coding in my revision?

  • Use colour coding to link knowledge together in key themes e.g. red for changes, green for continuities.

  • Creating a storyboard is a great way to visualise a key event in a History topic. For example, you could draw a storyboard about how Hitler became the Führer of Nazi Germany.

  • Create your own revision guide for a key topic using symbols instead of words. For example, a British flag could represent Britain, or a crown could represent a king.


An image showing an example of dual coding

Gamify History

Do you like gaming? Games can make GCSE History revision an enjoyable experience.

How can games help to revise GCSE History?

Gaming can involve anything from a quiz to a board game. Depending on the type of game, it can help you to:

  • Understand the narrative of a time period by creating a story

  • Develop a better understanding of challenging concepts, such as hyperinflation

  • Identify causes and consequences of key events

  • Bring a competitive and fun element to your revision to keep you motivated

How can I use games in my revision?

  • Create a “Guess Who?” for key historical figures in your History topic. An example of this could be Cold War leaders.

  • Use apps such as Kahoot! or Blooket to consolidate and retrieve knowledge.

  • Create your own board game. An example below is a board game that I created. It is called Hyperinflation Monopoly and helped students understand the hyperinflation crisis in the Weimar Republic in 1923. Students enjoyed the experience of gaining a billion marks and finding out that it was worthless!


An image of Hyperinflation Monopoly

Past papers

When you are confident about the knowledge of GCSE History, past papers are a great revision technique to prepare for the GCSE exams.

How can past papers help to revise GCSE History?

Answering exam questions is vital to gaining a Grade 9. It can help you to:

  • Become familiar with the wording of questions and how to approach your answers

  • Practise how to structure your answer in the way the examiner is looking for

  • Train your brain to retrieve information under a time pressure

How can I use past papers in my revision?

  • Use Save My Exams to find a variety of exam questions from all GCSE exam boards:

  • Choose an exam question that you are unsure of. Do not fully answer the question. Instead, allow yourself five minutes to write down how you would approach the question and the key knowledge you would include. Show your teacher and get their input into your approach.

  • Answer an exam question under timed conditions. For example, only give yourself five minutes for a 4-mark question or 25 minutes for a 16-mark question. This will help you get used to the timings that you will have in an exam.

  • Try different ways to plan a longer, essay-style answer. When you are in your GCSE History exam, you must have a developed way of planning your answer to optimise your time.

  • Write an exam answer with your friends. Pick a longer, essay-style exam question and plan your answer together. Allocate who will write the introduction, the main paragraphs and the conclusion. Make sure that everyone has five minutes on their section. Tape your pieces of the answer together and see the results! Work together to give feedback and to make improvements.


What is the best way to revise for GCSE History?

There is no “best” way to revise for GCSE History. This article has given you some different revision techniques - try them! You may have to try multiple different techniques to find the best way to revise for you.

How can I get full marks in GCSE History?

Achieving full marks, or a Grade 9, at GCSE History requires you to master the four assessment objectives (AOs), which are:

  • Knowledge of the time period

  • Explaining and analysing historical events

  • Analysing and evaluating historical sources

  • Analysing and making judgements of historians’ interpretations of the past

As a result, it is not enough to know every date and event in a History topic. You must be able to explain it and have the skills to use primary and secondary sources effectively. Therefore, your revision should focus on both improving your knowledge and your exam skills.

How do I memorise GCSE History content?

Repetition, repetition, repetition! Effective revision for GCSE History requires a “little but often” approach. Try to revise for ten to 15 minutes every one to two days, rather than cramming hours of revision in every few months. This is a technique known as “spacing” and it is scientifically proven to help the consolidation process of your long-term memory.

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Written by Zoe Wade

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Zoe has worked in education for 10 years as a teaching assistant and a teacher. This has given her an in-depth perspective on how to support all learners to achieve to the best of their ability. She has been the Lead of Key Stage 4 History, showing her expertise in the Edexcel GCSE syllabus and how best to revise. Ever since she was a child, Zoe has been passionate about history. She believes now, more than ever, the study of history is vital to explaining the ever-changing world around us. Zoe’s focus is to create accessible content that breaks down key historical concepts and themes to achieve GCSE success.

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