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- 1 Where can I find past exam papers?
- 2 The papers I want are locked on the exam board site!
- 3 I can't find many past papers for the new specification.
- 4 What's the best way to use past papers?
Where can I find past exam papers?
Sample or specimen papers can be accessed from the specification page on the Awarding Organisation (exam board) website. This is where you can usually find unlocked past papers too.
These links take you to the subject list on the exam board sites. Then select your subject/specification
Exam boards also have pages where you can search for past exam papers
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.
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?
0478 or 0984 - the exam code for the IGCSE Computer Science you can use either of these.
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.
0478 exam sat in winter 2017, the question paper for the paper 1 theory exam in area 3.
0984 (UK) sat in summer 2020, the mark scheme for paper 2, region 2.