HE Exams Wiki


Where can I find past exam papers?

Go to the exam board page for each qualification, and you will usually see past papers, mark schemes and examiner reports available for free download.  The most recent past papers are shared on the HE Exams Facebook group - see next section for details.  

You can also find some sets of past papers for specific subjects on this wiki - go to the subject page you're interested in and see if there is a link. 

The papers I want are locked on the exam board site!

The most recent set of papers and marks for each qualification will generally be locked by the exam board and only available for secure download by exam centres.  This is so schools can use the most recent set of exam papers for mock exams and not worry that anyone has seen them beforehand.  Sometimes this is important;  if a candidate is unable to complete their exams due to illness or other circumstances, the school might use their mock exam result as evidence to support final grade allocation. 

There isn't any reason why home educators can't get hold of the most recent paper though  - we are 'allowed' to see them, it's just that the exam boards are only set up to distribute them either through their secure downloads for exam centres. Often you can obtain them by asking on the HE-Exams group or searching free download sites.

Although these papers are copyrighted, we know the exam boards do not have objections to home educators using them for preparation in the same way as schools do. We also know the exam boards will make them freely available to all online as soon as the next lot of exams are out so most of us don't have any concerns about sharing them amongst known home educators. However, they shouldn't be released to the wider public whilst still locked.

Should I ask the exam board to unlock them for me?

No; they know it's a nuisance for us, but they won't unlock them. Many people have tried, and failed, to persuade the exam boards to give home-ed parents access to secure downloads, and the issue was raised with senior exam board representatives at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education and it was explained that their systems are only able to allow downloads through an exam centre. They cannot create another access system just for home educators, but they had no objection to us using secure materials, and advised that we should just ask our exam centres to download secure materials and give them to us direct. However, it's often quicker and easier to find them via the home-ed networks as other home educators will probably have them to share.

If you can't find the most recent papers online, please ask on the HE-Exams Yahoogroup or Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives facebook group first.

If you still can't locate them, you can ask your exam centre to download them and email them to you. 

I can't find many past papers for the new specification.

When a specification is fairly new, you may only have the exam board's sample assessment materials (often referred to as SAMs on exam board sites) plus one or two past papers. In this situation, you can still find extra practice materials. The past papers / SAMs from the specification you are using are your most valuable practice papers, so you may wish to save these for mocks near to exam time and do them under strict exam conditions, to give a realistic run-through.

Buying extra practice questions

Alternative practice questions are available from some publishers and websites.

CGP do some very nice exam practice workbooks with questions they've made up to be similar to the new exam questions, specifically for each syllabus. They have sets of practice questions by topic, and extra whole practice papers.

SaveMyExams is a subscription website which does the same sort of thing with printable online exam papers and collections of questions by topic, along with model answers. It has some free resources - collections of past papers and mark schemes.

Adapting other syllabus papers

For many exams, you can adapt papers from other syllabuses. These could be from another exam board, or the old syllabus from the same exam board. The easiest way is just to strike out any questions on topics which aren't on your current syllabus, then adjust the time for the paper. This requires some investment of time working out what has changed between the syllabuses, but sometimes you'll find a helpful explanation from the exam board. For example, Edexcel usually provide under 'teaching and learning materials' on their subject pages a 'Mapping document' which shows how the new syllabus compares to old, and/or a Teacher's Guide which may have similar material. Adapting papers is easier for some subjects than others - maths is very similar across all boards and Edexcel and CAIE IGCSE sciences mostly overlap with the odd topic difference.

Exam timing is important, so to use adapted papers from other syllabuses effectively you'll need to tweak the overall time allowed. Work out the number of marks per minute (or minutes per mark) and adjust the total time allowed for the paper accordingly. 

What's the best way to use past papers?

  • Pay attention to timing; during practice exams, divide the total number of marks by the minutes available so you have a 'marks per minute' number.  Then, when you look at the number of marks available for a question, you know roughly how long to allow for it.
  • The marks available tell you also how many points you need to make in an answer.  If there are 3 marks available, generally you need to make at least 3 points - even if this involves spelling out something you think is obvious.
  • Do as many past papers as possible under exam conditions - in a quiet room, with strict exam timings - to help you pace yourself. Nearly everybody gets anxious under exam conditions, so desensitise yourself by practising as much as possible. Some exam centres will let you do a mock there. Otherwise, try doing some in a library or other 'formal' environment.
  • If you have some revision time available, but don't have time or stamina to work through a full past paper, you don't need to do one all in one go.  Look at the marks per minute, as noted above, and give yourself questions to suit the available time.
  • When doing practice papers, students usually find it helpful to mark it themselves and become familiar with the mark scheme so they know what markers are looking for.  
  • The Examiner's Report (Principal Examiner Feedback) is a document available with the mark schemes and it contains comments from the examiners about what they were looking for and how good, or bad, answers were for particular topics. It's good for students to read this too - reading about other people's mistakes may save you from making some yourself!

See Study Skills for more tips on exam preparation, evidence-based revision techniques, and advice on self-study.

How do I know which paper is which?

Past Papers - telling them apart!
Here's an example of an Edexcel past paper filename, with explanations.

Other boards are fairly similar.

Cambridge CAIE Past Exam Paper names explained:

I thought it might be helpful to post an explanation of what the CAIE exam paper file names mean for those who are studying IGCSE or IA Levels with CAIE. They are confusing until you know !

The examples I use are for Computer Science which has 2 papers and two different exam codes. You just substitute the number of papers and exam codes to the subject you are studying.

What the past paper file names mean?




Part 1)

0478 or 0984 - the exam code for the IGCSE Computer Science you can use either of these.

Part 2)

w, s or m. This is the exam sitting.

w = winter s = summer, m = march. March is an exam sitting in India only.

Part 3) 17, 19, 20 etc, this is the year.

17 = 2017, 18 = 2018, 19 = 2019, 20=2020 etc.

Part 4) qp, ms, pm. This is the exam paper description. qp = question paper, ms = mark scheme (the answers), pm = pre-release, gt = grade thresholds (how they graded the students, this changes every sitting depending on how hard/easy the exam was), er = examiners report.

*Edited to say, pm- pre-release material is specific to Computer Science.

Part 5) 11, 12, 21 etc.

These number represent area codes for the exam sitting and the exam paper number.

The first number is the exam paper number: 1 = paper 1 (Theory), 2 = paper 2 (Programming and Problem Solving)

The second number is the worldwide area code/region. 1, 2, 3. As far as past papers are concerned it doesn’t matter which you do, they are all helpful as exam practice.

So: 0478_w17_qp_13

0478 exam sat in winter 2017, the question paper for the paper 1 theory exam in area 3.

So: 0984_s20_ms_22

0984 (UK) sat in summer 2020, the mark scheme for paper 2, region 2.

Download sites for past exam papers

Older exam papers from superseded qualifications can often be downloaded from free exam paper download sites. You can sometimes also find the most recent exam papers on these sites - the ones which the exam boards have not released to the public yet.

Ensure you have antivirus/internet security in place before using download sites, and note that you may need to allow popups to download.  If you have trouble making the download work, each site will usually have a help page to explain what settings you need. 




Download sites may provide files in compressed format such as .zip or .rar .  If so, when you have downloaded the file, right-click and see if your computer offers you the option to 'extract files'.  If not then you can download a free extraction utility which will do this - 7-zip is very popular.

Shawon Notes has IGCSE papers for a few subjects, mostly Edexcel specification, going back to around 2005.

Bilal Ahmed's Blog for Edexcel papers