9 ways to get a 9 in GCSE Computer Science

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November 14th, 2022Last updated: May 17th, 2024

In this article, experienced teacher and examiner, Mingyan, outlines her 9 top tips to making a grade 9 GCSE Computer Science, more likely. If you enjoyed this article, make sure you check out our other guides for other GCSE subjects. All of which have been written by experienced teachers who are available for one to one tuition.

Computer Science revision should focus on two parts: theory and programming. 

The first three tips are specifically for theory, the second three for programming, the last three are for general revision in this subject.

Revising the Theory in Computer Science

There are three types of questions in theory: structured questions(1-3 marks), short answer questions (3-5 marks) and scenario-based questions(6-8 marks). 

Tip 1: Know your Keywords 

It’s very easy for students to overlook the quality of the words they choose when answering questions, especially in short answer questions. Without the precise keywords it is very easy to lose 2 or 3 marks in a 4 mark question

This is how to overcome it:

Have a textbook. Read the textbook frequently. Highlight the keywords. Write the keywords down in a separate notebook, ideally with the definition or key information of the keywords. Over time, you are building up your own keyword dictionary. Read this notebook frequently so that these keywords are always in your mind. 

You may also find flashcards very useful in building up keywords vocabulary. You can buy flashcards for computer science in a box, use online flashcards, or even create your own flashcards.

Tip 2: Build a story for concepts

Theory topics such as network topology are fascinating, however, the amount of the content to absorb and revise can be overwhelming. Mind maps are useful to link related topics and concepts together. However, a fun and more logically way to consolidate and revise these topics is to design a story out of the concepts. 

For example, you can imagine yourself as the creator and architect of a network (remember The Architect in the Matrix movies? Imagine yourself as him). To be able to transfer a webpage through a network, you need to design layer by layer of the network. One layer breaks down the webpage into millions of packets, one layer guides the packets along the interconnected highway on the Internet, one layer is responsible for detecting errors, etc. In this way, you are constructing a logical structure to link the concepts together. This structure will reinforce your understanding and memory of this topic.

Tip 3: Check your understanding

The best way to check your understanding of a topic is to teach this topic. This is how to teach: give your textbook/flashcard/past paper + marking scheme to your parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, cat, dog, or fish, tell them which topic you are going to explain to them, you then explain the concept to them, next they give you feedback and let you know any keyword or step is missed. No matter what feedback your cat or dog or fish gives you, please give them some treats so that next time they will continue to help you. 

Revising Programming in Computer Science

Despite the fact that different exam boards assess programming through different approaches, the following tips can help you boost your revision. More specific suggestions on programming will be shared in another blog. 

Tip 4: Use trace table to visualise data structures and programming statements

Programming is an abstract practice.

It is not like carrying out physics or chemistry experiments where you can see all the devices and materials, nor like working out math equations where you can see all the numbers. Except the output, everything else that happens in the program is invisible, which could make programming a frustrating experience. To overcome this obstacle, visualising the data and instructions in a trace table is very helpful. Trace tables help you develop a clear idea of how the variables change their values, but also deepen your understanding of how programs work.

TIp 5: Solutions are from your mind, not your computer

Just because programs are stored and run in computers, it does not mean that you need to work on the computer ALL the time.

In fact, pen and paper are better than computers to start with. Write down what input you need, what output you expect, then how to process the input to get the output. Dry run the program on paper before typing it on the computer. 

Tip 6: Practice, practice, practice

Learning programming is like learning a new foreign language.

Practice, practice, practice is the only way to get fluent in a language as well as in programming.

When practicing, pay attention to the details such as lowercase or uppercase of the variable names, indentation, operators, keywords in statements. Debugging, i.e. fixing errors in the program, can be frustrating or even irritating. Keep trying, do not give up. Once you figure out the errors, most likely you will be surprised how obvious the errors are. Believe me, if you keep trying, you will make a very steep learning curve in programming. 

Overall revision tips for Computer Science

The last three revision tips are for both theory and programming. 

Tip 7: Frequent revision using small chunks of time

Scientific studies show that frequent and short revisions have better effects than spending hours on revision before the assessment. Frequent means a pattern such as: three or four times in the first week, twice in the second week, once in the third week, another touch in the fifth week, and so on. Small chunks of time means five to ten minutes each time. During that time, you can either use the above tips to focus on a few keywords or explain a story of a few concepts to your pet.

Tip 8: Exam style questions 

Give yourself sufficient opportunities to practice exam style questions, for two reasons.

First, to learn how to analyze the questions, i.e., how to link the knowledge you learn in lessons to the questions.

Secondly, to learn to manage time during the assessment. It is an important skill to manage time efficiently during the assessment. Exam style questions provide the structure to help you train yourself on timing.

Tip 9: Make good use of marking scheme 

As an examiner of GCSE CS on two exam boards, I can not emphasize enough how useful the marking scheme is for students. Read the marking scheme carefully, paying attention to not only the correct and acceptable answers, but more importantly, the unacceptable answers to remind yourself to avoid them. 

Find your exam board schemes below!




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