Lesson 23: Practise Past Papers Like a Pro
The previous lesson taught you the importance of practice, especially Past Papers. This lesson will build upon that to tell you a bit more about them. Ideally, you should aim to do ALL past papers that you can find, for each subject. Why? Because no two past papers are the same, so, you always have something new to learn when doing them. I did all Accounting past papers from 2003 to 2016, including all variants. Where did this lead me? It led me to gaining the highest mark in the World in A-Level Accounting! Indeed, if you have a look at the FREE Tips from Laureates section, most of them tell you to practise Past Papers!
What are Variants?
As part of C.A.I.E’s commitment to maintaining best practices in assessment, they use variant papers. A variant is just a version of an exam paper, and all variants give an assessment of equal standard. Typically, there are 3 variants per paper. So, this means that for each year, you have 3x more past papers to practice. This is excellent news for you because assuming you understood the previous lesson,
The more past papers you do, the more success you’ll have.
Where can I get those past papers?
There are several websites on the internet which can be used to download them. Popular ones are:
These websites have a vast collection of Past Papers, Mark Schemes, Examiner Reports and Grade Thresholds. They also have a good selection of other resources.
Apart from these, I strongly recommend that you dig very deep into the C.A.I.E (previously C.I.E) website to gain as much information as possible. In particular, I recommend that you download a copy of the syllabus for each subject. You need to consult them regularly to ensure that you are on track. For example, if you feel that your teacher is too slow and is unlikely to finish the syllabus on time, you should take matters in your own hands and complete it on your own. Use all resources at your disposal, such as textbooks, YouTube, Khan Academy, and so on. Moreover, if you want to start doing past papers earlier, you can always use the syllabus to know which topics to self-study.
You should also use the C.A.I.E website to look at the list of “Endorsed by Cambridge” textbooks for each subject. I strongly advise that you have at least one “Endorsed by Cambridge” textbook per subject, if available.
What are Mark Schemes?
Each variant paper has its own mark scheme. It is a document that typically shows you how the marks were allocated for each question in the paper. Is this useful? Obviously! Remember, your aim is to obtain full marks in all your subjects, so you definitely need to know what you should do to get every single mark in every single variant paper in every subject, across as many years as possible. Therefore,
Mark Schemes are one of the most valuable resources you should use.
Even if you do not manage to complete all past papers, you should at least go through all the Mark Schemes and note down the useful bits.
What are Examiner Reports?
Those documents contain comments from examiners about each exam paper. These, too, are precious resources, and you should go through all of them and note down the useful comments.
For both Mark Schemes and Examiner Reports, it’s essential to keep a written record of the things you find helpful in them. It’s not enough to merely browse through them like you are browsing through a catalogue of products. Also, try to keep your notes concise and organised.
What are Grade Thresholds?
Grade thresholds show you the minimum raw marks you need to obtain each grade. I don’t recommend you go through those documents because your ultimate purpose is to score full marks in all your subjects. The information found in Grade Thresholds are therefore irrelevant to your goals, and you should not waste time or energy dwelling on them.
Now that you know about all this, here’s a step-by-step approach on how to tackle past papers like a pro:
Using one of the above websites, download ALL Past Papers and all variants for all subjects for all available years. Download ALL Mark Schemes and Examiner Reports as well. Organise them neatly into folders. For example, you could have 5 folders, one for each subject. In each subject folder, you could have a folder for each year. In each of the year folders, create a folder for each exam series (such as February/March, May/June, October/November). In each of those folders, create the variants folder, where applicable. If you don’t want to mix past papers and mark schemes, in each variant folder, create separate folders for past papers and mark schemes.
Variants were introduced around Oct/Nov 2009, so don’t worry if you can’t find them for previous years. Also, the February/March exam series started around 2016, so, again, don’t worry if you can’t find them for previous years. At the time of writing, it did not seem that there were variants for February/March, so don’t worry about them. Just download everything you can find.
When you download the papers, their file names will typically be in the following format:
Here are a few examples:
9709_m19_qp_12 refers to Mathematics (the syllabus code for Mathematics is 9709) Question Paper for Paper 1 Variant 2 for February/March 2019.
9709_m19_qp_22 refers to Mathematics Question Paper for Paper 2 Variant 2 for February/March 2019.
9709_m19_ms_21 refers to Mathematics Mark Scheme for Paper 2 Variant 1 for February/March 2019.
9709_s19_qp_13 refers to Mathematics Question Paper for Paper 1 Variant 3 for May/June 2019. Here, I presume the “s” stands for “summer”. In the northern hemisphere, it’s summer in May/June.
9706_w18_qp_12 refers to Accounting Question Paper for Paper 1 Variant 2 for October/November 2018. Here, I presume the “w” stands for “winter”. In the northern hemisphere, it’s winter in November.
9709_s19_er refers to the Examiner Report for Mathematics for May/June 2019.
If you are still confused, read this guide.
On paper (or on a computer, but I prefer paper!), write down a checklist of all past papers for each subject. Do this for all the exam papers! It might be tedious to make, but it’s definitely worth the time! Here’s a sample checklist for Mathematics Paper 1. Feel free to improve/modify it, if you want to!
In case you need it, here's the Excel File I used to produce it:
For each subject, devise a consistent plan to get through all of the papers before your exams. Whenever possible, use the Mark Schemes to mark yourself. However, don’t stress too much if you don’t have enough time to do all of them. You can skip the easy questions if you want to, and only focus on the more challenging ones. Still, you should aim to have at least one look (i.e. just reading the questions) at all past papers, AND properly analyse ALL the Mark Schemes and Examiner Reports.
From time to time, review your Mistakes, Doubts and Questions Sheets to recall the things you found challenging.
Sometimes, there are changes in a subject’s syllabus or exam structure over the years. So, use your best judgement to decide which questions to do and which ones to skip. If a question is entirely outside your current syllabus, you may safely skip it. However, if it is closely related/similar enough to questions you might encounter in the exam, try to do it.
The above strategies might not work exactly the same way for all subjects. So, use your best judgement to tailor and modify them according to your needs.
To sum up, regardless of which subjects you study, the Key Takeaway is:
Make full use of past papers.
Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!