7 Tips for Revision Success
One: Plan how to approach your revision
Print out a copy of your timetable and identify some ‘dead times’, then fill these with revision slots that you will spend in the library. Dead times are times that you waste by not really doing anything. An hour or two when you might otherwise have popped back home, gone to the common room, got a coffee in Nero. Take control of this time to do your work. Revision slots need to be achievable: first thing Monday and last thing Friday might be available but will you study then? No. Think about when you are at your most productive and try to allocate your slots to match that. You could of course also extend your timetable to start late and extend past the end of the college day if the evening suits you best.
Before you reach for the colour-coding gel pens, that’s not really what I mean. If making it look pretty means you are more likely to enjoy it and stick to it then by all means do so but do not confuse “spending two hours creating a beautiful revision timetable” with “spending two hours doing revision” – you are procrastinating and you know it. Likewise revising in bed by the way. It doesn’t work.
Two: Revise the way that works best for you
Some students find writing revision cue cards very helpful, others find collaborating with classmates a productive way to learn. You want the hour you have allocated to revision to be as productive as possible so get the most out of it by doing the things you think your brain responds to the best. Remember that Study Skills surgeries are running right up to the exams. If you are not sure how best to revise, drop in for some help. Timetables are up all around college and no pre-booking is necessary.
Tip: If you simply copy your notes verbatim, you will switch off and not ‘take in’ what you are writing. Instead, read through the notes, make sure that you understand them and then, without looking back at them, rephrase them in your own words. You’ll quickly learn what you have and haven’t remembered, and rephrasing is also a test of how well you understood them.
Three: Vary the way you revise
Repeating the same revision technique over and over again is likely to bore you very quickly. Try instead to vary what you are doing. For example, in the morning you could try reading through your notes to re-familiarise yourself with work you did right at the start of the year. In the afternoon, instead of reading again, why not attempt some past paper questions and put your knowledge into action.
Four: Minimise distractions
The best place to work is somewhere like a library. If you are not keen on working in the library then make sure that your alternative is appropriate. You need space to spread out your notes and to write, so a desk or table is best. You also need a quiet room, where you will not be disturbed. Revising in the corner of a living room while your sister is watching the Big Bang Theory will not work (even if you put in your headphones to drown it out).
Make sure that your mobile phone is not distracting you. Picture the scene: you are sitting quietly at your desk in your bedroom reaching for your Biology textbook. As soon as you pick it up, you get a whatsapp from your friend showing you her new haircut. You think that with her new look she reminds you of Anna who you used to go to school with, so you open up Facebook to find a picture to show her. When you get to Anna’s page you see a lot of posts from a boy whose name you don’t recognise – does Anna have a new boyfriend? You click on his profile and are surprised to learn that you have a mutual friend in common, so you message the friend to find out what the deal is. After 10 minutes of stalking, you guiltily realise that it is now 2:10pm and, as you need to leave in 20 minutes to make your 3pm lesson, you have just wasted a third of your allocated revision time. Does this sound familiar? Your phone needs to be on silent and out of reach for the time that you are revising.
Tip: if you really can’t be trusted then check out this website recommending software to help you focus by blocking your access to distracting websites for a pre-set period of time.
Five: Take a break
Revising productively is exhausting. If you are doing it right, you will need regular breaks to be able to take everything in. A good way of approaching this is to timetable them into your plan. For example, if you are revising for an hour you might include a 10-minute break halfway through. Allow yourself some flexibility to adjust to how you are working that day though – there is nothing wrong with working through the break if you are really getting into a topic and then finishing your revision session early.
Tip: When you have a break, do something completely different. Get out of the room where you are working – have a walk, make a drink or something else to refresh yourself a bit. One of my teachers used to swear by brushing her teeth. You can Facebook Anna’s boyfriend at this point, if you like.
Six: Make a note of anything you don't understand
If you are reading through your History notes and realise that you are unclear on what exactly the Marshall Plan was, do not worry. Make a brief note of it and then carry on with your revision as usual without letting it distract you. You did, after all, designate this period of your timetable to revising, not for research or learning.
At the end your revision session, go through your Course Notes or textbook to see if you can find anything that might jog your memory, or ask someone in your class. At your next lesson, ask your teacher. You will have learnt all about the Truman Doctrine and the Berlin Blockade as part of your initial revision session and you just need to slot in the Marshall Plan once you have found out more about it. Do not worry about not knowing everything while you are revising. It is normal to not remember every item on the syllabus, especially as you first learnt about some of them months ago. The main thing is to make sure that you do remember them by exam time. Funnily enough, you will probably find that the Marshall Plan is the thing that you remember the best in the end because you have spent that extra time looking at it.
Seven: Don’t forget to practise your exam technique as well as revising the material
Knowing your stuff is only half of the battle: the second half is applying that in a convincing manner for the examiners. Make sure that you look at past papers (you can access these on the relevant exam board’s website) and see what kinds of questions you will be asked. Also have a look at how many marks are allocated for each question to give an idea of how long your answers should be. Your teachers will be able to advise you on this too. The more you look at papers and familiarise yourself with their structure and approach the more comfortable you will be with the format by the time the exams come around.
Once you have revised a topic, attempt an exam-style question on it, ideally under exam conditions so you get the practice. Teachers will be happy to mark any additional work you have done and you can also refer to the mark scheme for answers.
Tip: if you don’t want to write out a full essay answer every time, just note down the salient points of your answer, in bullets if you like. Then refer back to the mark scheme to see whether you have included everything that the examiner would have been looking for.
If you find that you are struggling to express yourself, or you do not feel like you are getting grades that reflect the work you are putting in, talk to your teacher or Director of Studies. They will be able to advise you on where you are going wrong and help you correct it.
If you follow these seven tips you will be well on your way to examination success. For more help and advice, speak to your teachers, your Director of Studies or the academic support staff at a Study Skills surgery.