How To Revise Effectively: The Ultimate Guide

To help you hone your own revision approach, we’ve created this ultimate guide offering the very best tips to revise effectively for your exams.

Last Updated: 1st April 2021

Author: Adi Sen

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The run-up to an exam period is a stressful time, especially when you need certain grades for university. So how do you utilise your time to revise effectively?

While it’s rarely fun, revision is the only way to get the marks you deserve. However, the process isn’t always straightforward.

Every person has their own way of learning and this needs to align with their revision techniques. So, to help you hone your own revision approach, we’ve created this ultimate guide offering the very best tips to revise effectively for your exams.

When Is The Best Time To Start Revising?

Start revising as soon as you can to ensure you revise effectively. The earlier you begin, the more time you have to practise revision techniques and spot gaps in your knowledge. You’ll be less likely to cram everything in at the last minute.

If you have December exams, begin revising by around October, as this gives you enough time to start the school year and know what you need to learn. While for summer testing, Easter break is a great time to get your head down.

Tips For Exam Revision Preparation

How Much Revision Should You Do A Day?

This depends on the amount of time you have. However, for your revision to be effective, it needs to be done consistently, rather than an hour here and there. Aim for around 15-20 hours a week, but make sure that’s achievable! Use your holiday time and weekends to try and squeeze in a few more hours.

Note Your Exams Dates And Topics

Organisation is key to effective revision. Note your exam dates and figure out how long you have to revise for each. Then write a detailed list of all the topics you need to cover for every test, colour-coding each. For example, red means you don’t understand the topic at all, orange means you need to learn more, and green means you’re confident about the subject. Start with the trickiest topics first.

Create A Distraction-Free Revision Space

Once your timetable is ready, create a suitable distraction-free space for revision. Go back to the dark ages and leave your smartphone in another room so you don’t waste time scrolling through social media or texting your friends. Ideally, you want somewhere quiet with enough space for your textbooks, notes, and pen and paper. A change of scenery works wonders sometimes.

Make A Revision Timetable

You can find plenty of free revision templates online. List all the days you’ll have time to revise — remembering to give yourself breaks and days off — and split these into hourly slots. Add your subjects to the timetable, and if possible, divide topics into subtopics to make revision more manageable. For example, chemistry could be separated into organic, physical, and inorganic chemistry, and so on. You will also want to space subjects out to avoid revising the same content every day. This will add some variety and keep you engaged.

It’s also crucial to tailor your timetable to when you’re most productive, whether that’s morning, afternoon or evening. Remember to be realistic too. For example, planning to spend 8-10 hours a day at the weekend studying isn’t going to make you feel good.

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The Best Techniques To Revise Effectively

Everyone learns in different ways so one revision technique might work perfectly for your friend but not for you. We recommend trying out multiple methods to help you find the best one. 

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Here are some of the best ways to revise:

1. Create Flashcards

Flashcards are easy to read and can be kept with you at all times, making for super convenient revision when travelling. They help test your memory and force you to condense information into digestible bite-size chunks. A great way to help you memorise the information on them is to stick the flashcards in places you regularly look, like the fridge, kitchen cupboards, and computer screens.

2. Revise Multiple Topics A Day

The longer you spend on one topic, the more likely you are to feel bored and disengaged, so it’s best to break your day up with different subjects. This enables you to better balance your workload and keep you on track with your schedule. In fact, spreading out your learning gives your mind the time to process information properly.

3. Test Yourself

Nothing beats replicating the exam in terms of preparing for the real thing. Past papers can test your knowledge under timed conditions and get you set for the types of questions that may come up in the exam. It also helps improve memory and retention as having to retrieve information from your brain leads to better long-term recall than simply studying. Testing yourself allows you to identify what you do and don’t know too.

Organise a few past papers into topics, then after revising each subject, use them to test yourself. This is an effective revision technique as you test your knowledge, explain it in your own words and then review what you have written in reference to the mark scheme.

4. Practice With Educational Videos

You may find video content more engaging and digestible than reading, so seek out any videos on your exam topics and actively take notes. Studies have found that short video clips allow for more efficient processing and memory recall due to the visual and auditory nature of the content. Videos can be incredibly beneficial for complex topics which include step-by-step procedures, problem-solving, or science and math formulae. 

5. Draw Tables And Diagrams

You could do this for a variety of subjects, such as mathematics and science. This might be an easy way for visual learners in particular to retain information. For example, drawing a mind map or a graph can help identify connections between ideas, acting as a visual picture of your revision notes. In fact, your brain can more quickly process information in these types of formats than linear notes.

A-level Revision and Exams Tips Guides

How To Prepare For Essay-Based Questions

Writing essays is an important exam skill for many subjects, and the last thing you want is to enter an exam hall without knowing how to answer the questions properly. Begin preparing by finding out what kinds of questions have appeared in past papers and identifying common themes and ideas. Make sure you know your topic inside out so you’ll be ready no matter what question hits you. Testing yourself frequently will help you discover blind spots in your knowledge.

You also need to practise writing essays within a specific time frame so you’re able to use your time effectively when the real thing comes around. The last thing you want is for the exam to end before you’ve finished your answer. It’s best to write essays in both timed and untimed conditions though. An untimed practice can help you get the content down and structured, while a timed one can help refine your essay-writing process.

Remember to respond to the question specifically and avoid going off-topic. You can do this by highlighting keywords and sections to break down the question and identify how these relate to what is being asked. This will help you write an answer that actually answers the question. You need to make a strong logical argument and back it up with evidence using your knowledge.

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How To Keep Yourself Motivated While Revising

What do you do when you’ve got no motivation to revise? We’ve all been there, especially if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of content you need to cover. The hardest part of revising is actually starting though. Once you sit down with your textbooks, you’ve already jumped the first hurdle.

Here are a few excellent ways to stay motivated:

1. Follow A Routine

A consistent routine will make revising feel more natural as you’ll start to establish good habits that you’ll likely want to maintain — especially when you know how beneficial revision can be in the long run. 

2. Revise In A Nice Environment

Ensure your desk is tidy and comfortable to work at. Any space that is cluttered will impact your brain’s ability to focus. Something as simple as using your favourite stationery can be a mood-booster too.

3. Reward Yourself

Rewards are a great incentive. For example, if you do X amount of hours of revision a week, your reward could be a takeaway at the weekend or a coffee from your favourite coffee shop. 

4. Mix Up Your Revision

Experiment with different revision techniques to ensure every revision day is a little bit different. Variety will keep you motivated. You’ll get bored quite quickly if all you do is use flashcards. You don’t always have to be sitting at your desk to absorb information.

5. Stay Healthy

To get the most out of revision, it’s vital you stay healthy, which involves getting enough sleep for starters. Staying hydrated and fueling yourself with energy-boosting snacks are also important measures, but avoid sugary food that might make you sluggish. Exercise is important to keeping your brain fresh and functioning too.

6. Take A Break

Make sure revision doesn’t take over your life. Failing to relax risks jeopardising your mental and physical health, so we strongly advise not revising flat-out. The Pomodoro Technique can be effective here — a 25 minute study session then a five minute break, and repeat. After four cycles, take a longer break of an hour and do something a little more fun.

After reading this guide, we hope you feel better prepared to revise and have discovered some useful techniques. Remember that there isn’t a set way of revising, so find the one that suits you best and get stuck in. And don’t forget to organise something fun for when your exams are over — you will have earnt it, after all!

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