How to Revise for Exams

What is revision and how do we do it?

There are lots of ways to revise and not all of them suit everybody. It is important to try a range of activities and find those that suit you. My favourite educational researcher, Barak Rosenshine describes the relationship between our working memory and our long-term memory. If things in our long term memory are not retrieved into our working memory and put back, they will simply be forgotten. We need to be doing this "revision" of past learning continuously. With this in mind, revision starts the day after your first lesson and cannot be left until the night before an exam. Remind yourself of what you have learned as often as you can, this will ensure that the knowledge is ready when you need it most.
One last thing, the only revision activity that will not help doing nothing!

1: Plan your revision

Make sure that you carefully plan your revision. Make a simple timetable that you can stick to, it is important that you have time to see family and friends, and important that you have relaxation time in there too. Split up your time to cover all subjects and focus on your areas of weakness - not the areas that you like. I don't think that planning your schedule for 3 months is practical as things change. You need to keep updating your schedule as, hopefully, areas of weakness will soon become areas of strength!

2: Create a workspace

Getting the motivation to revise is probably one of the biggest hurdles to get over. Sitting on the floor of your bedroom surrounded by mouldy cups and dirty socks is not very appealing. I am not suggesting that you have to redecorate or insist that parents build an extension on the house for your new study area, simply create a clean, tidy area that has all of the stationary, books etc that you need.
As well as this, think about making the area more conducive to work by turning your phone off for the hour and avoiding any other potential distractions.

3: Summarise

This is as simple as it sounds, go through your notes, your revision guide and watch/listen to revision media. Rather than copying out this, you need to summarise it. Every time that you shrink or condense this information in your own words, you have to really think about it and it requires so much more understanding than simply copying out. When you have summarised your work, these condensed notes are more useful and you can condense/summarise your condensed notes again.

4: Create flashcards

Using the condensed notes above, get them written onto small cards. These can be purchased fairly cheaply but not as cheap as cutting squares out of old cornflake boxes. Add your summary for an entire topic or sub-topic onto one card and not only is the creation of the cars a great revision process, it is these cards that you can carry with you to flick through at the bus stop, during the adverts of your favourite TV show or even while you are sat on the loo avoiding an annoying relative.

5: Mind maps

Before you start, don't forget that there are loads of great starting points out there for free. Have a look at these. There is a great opportunity here to identify bits of topics that you may have missed but more importantly, to link learning throughout a subject and to interleave (fancy way of saying link) between subjects. These links help to cement your long-term memory about these topics.

6: Past paper questions

These may seem boring, but they are crucial on so many levels. I advise you to have the question paper and mark scheme open on your screen at the same time (unless they have been set for homework). Hide the mark scheme and try to answer the question. When it has been done on some scrap paper, check the answer. If you are right, then you can add that to your "strength" pile and it is a low priority for your revision. If you got it wrong, go back to your revision plan and ensure that is on there to visit soon.
The other thing to look at with these is the language that the exam papers use. So many of the exam papers that I mark for the UK's largest exam board show that students simply didn't understand what the examiner was asking. Please do these as you will get used to the language that they use and what they expect to see for full marks.

7: Teach a friend

The best way to really understand something is to teach it to somebody else. Believe me, I thought that I knew my subject after finishing my degree, but I understand it so much more now that I have been teaching it. Give it a try, even if you and your friend think that you know about a topic, explain it to them and they can explain a different one to you. Different people will always explain concepts slightly differently, I have never met two teachers who teach a concept identically to each other. This way, your friend may get through to you and them to you in a way a teacher hasn't. Always worth a go.

8: Podcasts & YouTube videos

Where were these when I was at school? This is an amazing resource that you should take full advantage of, it links to the one above in that different people explain in different ways. It gives you the opportunity to hear a different perspective from the comfort of your own home! Likewise, many can be downloaded, and you can listen to them when walking to and from school, while waiting for the bus or watch some whilst in the back of the car on the way to a family holiday. (If listening while walking etc, make sure that you can hear traffic)

9: Test yourself (or each other in a group)

This is a wonderful activity that that fits into lots of the other suggestions above. By testing yourself, you will:
• Identify and update your strengths and weaknesses,
• Use this to update your revision plan,
• Get more practice with exam style questions, their use of language and what examiners want to see,
• Use your flash cards as inspiration for the questions your ask.

10: Take care of yourself

So simple, yet so often overlooked. You will not be able to revise as well as you can if you have not slept properly, if you have not eaten healthily, if you have not enjoyed social interaction or had fun, if you have not seen the sun for days on end. Basically, do your revision and be the best you can be but you must see friends, do the things that you enjoy and look after your physical well-being. It is all about balance.
I will take this as my opportunity (providing that you have managed to read this far) to wish you the best of luck!

This page was updated on: 4th March 2023