Revising for upcoming exams can seem daunting. However, it is very doable if you get organised, relax, and get the job done. We’ve put together a long list of tips for revising for exams, so that you can pick techniques that work for you, to achieve your best in the summer exams. Take it from someone who has done GCSEs, A-levels, and university in the last decade- they work! Why don’t you pick your favourite five and try using them this week.
- Flash cards and self testing
Buy a deck of plain flash cards, and write out key information that you need to know on them, and a key word on the other side, or a question on one side, and answer on the other. This is a great way to test yourself to see if you can remember information, or to test friends. It also brings all of your learning into one deck of cards- so if you can remember the deck- you’ll be set. Self testing is key- reading over and over something is a waste of time if it’s not going in. By seeing if you can remember information from memory, you truly find out if you could remember it without your notes in the exam.
- List of self test questions
Along the same lines- write yourself a list of ‘self test’ questions on everything you need to know for a topic. This can be like a ‘mini quiz’, and again forces you to learn things so you can write them out from memory. It also a great way of figuring out which areas you’re weakest on and need to work on.
- Write a song or poem or rhyme
I recorded my history notes to Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. Though I can’t hear it now without singing “What are the reasons for the start of the Cold War, nuclear arms they got you a bigger bang for your buck!”, it certainly helped me remember the key arguments for my History A level exam!
- Mind maps from memory
If mind maps work for you, then try and draw them out from memory with as much information as you can include. Then go through with a different coloured pen using your notes to add in the information you didn’t write out- so now you know that the stuff in that colour is the stuff you need to work on.
- Grids from memory
Mind maps aren’t for everyone- if they don’t work for you then try drawing out grids, or even typing into a blank grid on Word. You can print this off and use it for revision later too.
- Coloured pens and drawings
Stimulating the brain using lots of colours, and using drawings (for example drawing a volcano next to a case study on Mount Etna) brings together different parts of your brain, which makes you more likely to remember it.
- Repeat repeat repeat
Imagine walking down a thorny brambly path in an overgrown field- quite difficult right? Then imagine a 5 lane superhighway in the USA- cars speeding down at hundreds of miles an hour, smooth and efficient. Your brain works in the same way- the more you repeat something, the quicker and easier it gets. Create superhighways in your brain by doing the thing that is the most difficult to you again and again and again until it becomes easy and obvious.
- Past paper questions and check using mark scheme
This one really is key! The person marking your exam paper doesn’t know you at all, all they have in front of them is a huge stack of papers to mark, and the mark scheme. So your answer must hit all the marks on the mark scheme in a clear and obvious way in order for them to give you all the marks. There are always patterns in mark schemes which you can pick up on, and doing past papers helps you to know exactly what examiners want, and enable you to refine your technique. I used to write out answers or key words that kept coming up in the mark scheme and memorising them! For example, my GCSE biology I can still remember the definition for Osmosis that always came up → ‘the movement of water molecules from an area of high concentration to low concentration through a semipermeable membrane’!
- Draw out a timetable for the week
Instead of making it up as you go along and getting to the end of the week realising that you spent most of it making colourful posters for physics that you don’t actually understand, make a timetable. Break the day into hour long chunks to keep your brain fresh and active. Divide the subjects you need to revise amongst these, and create a colour coded calendar. Tick off what you have done each day to track your progress and give you a feeling of satisfaction.
There is a huge amount of research out there on the benefits of exercise for your brain functioning. There really is nothing better for mental health, wellbeing, and stress-busting. Even a half an hour walk outside, or quick swim at the local pool will release loads of health boosting endorphins and hormones. Your brain cannot continuously learn, and needs ‘downtime’ to process new information, and exercise perfectly provides both this downtime, and a health kick.
Get into a routine- it is proven to make you more efficient and productive, as you know exactly what you are doing, and don’t have to spend so much time figuring things out! It will also help your sleeping patterns, stress levels, and ability to plan the chunks of your day.
- List of everything you need to know
I loved having a clear list for each topic of what I needed to know. I put it into a table, and ticked it for ‘revised once’, ‘can write out from memory’ and ‘can still write out from memory’ after time had passed. It can re-assure you that you’ve covered everything, and makes it really clear what you have left to do
- Target weakest areas first
Purposeful practise is key. You must locate your weakest areas, or the topics that scare you, and deliberately make an effort to sort these out first. You won’t get good at exams by continuing to do all of your favourite topics, or the ones you find easiest. You’ll get good by persevering until you can do the hard ones too. Once you’ve eliminated the hardest scariest parts of revision, the worst is over, and the rest will just fall into place.
- Ask teachers for help
Your teachers will have years of experience in guiding students through exams, and having marked your work all year, they’ll know what you need to work on. They will have revision resources and ideas, and are there to support you through exams.
- Stick up a calendar
This will give you a visual representation of your timeframe for revision, and helps you get your head around when the exams are going to be, and how much time you have for each one.
- Keep folders organised
Clean and clearly organised folders will make you feel relaxed, the information will be easy to find, and everything you need is in the same place. Sorting through them can be a useful way to start revision and look over all of your work too.
- Take a watch into the exam
Buy a cheap digital watch and get used to using the stopwatch on it. It can help you plan how much time you have to answer each question in exams, especially when the minutes on the clock are hard to read.
- Photo of exam hall
I stuck up a photo of my exam hall when I was revising. Place-based learning theories argue that you remember information best in the place where it was learned. I know that when I was in my English classroom I found it much easier to recall information about poems, than in the Maths room. Though I couldn’t revise in the gym, by feeling like I was there when I was revising, mentally it helped me recall information in the exam, and it also took away some of the fear of walking in there. Visualisation is a similar psychological technique used to improve performance, where you picture yourself succeeding or remembering information in the exam hall, before you do it, so when you get there you merely have to play out the successful scenario you have already created.
- Practise as if its the real thing
Doing past papers is all well and good, but there’s no point spending 5 hours on each one, when you only have 1 in the exam. Just like you wouldn’t train for a football match by playing chess, you can’t properly prepare for a 1 hour exam by spending 5 hours on past papers. The best training is as if it is the actual thing, then when you get to the exam you know how quickly you need to write, how to read questions quickly, and takes away the pressure as you will be well practised.
- Stick up posters
I stuck up posters of my revision around the house, so that I could just read them as I walked past, or could look up at them from my desk. It means you subconsciously absorb the information, and can help get family on board too.
- List of key words or facts
I like lists, and produced some crib sheets, or super documents to help me be really analytical and detailed in my answers. I made a list of literary devices to include when studying English texts, or a list of key facts about a case study for Geography to remember. These really show the examiner you know your stuff.
- List of question words
Interpreting the questions correctly is really important, you need to understand what the examiner is asking you. By writing out the key question words used in each of your subjects, and writing out both what they mean, and also an example answer, you’ll get to recognise what they are asking, so when you come to the exam you’ll find it easy to understand what is being asked of you.
- Get enough sleep
During sleep the brain has time to process all the new information it has learned in the day, and it is really essential to get a good night’s sleep each night to allow this to happen, and keep you healthy and relaxed during exam season. Cramming until 1am the night before will just make you tired and more likely to make costly mistakes.
- Eat well
Your brain also needs feeding, and eating chocolate and sweets all the time might seem like good motivation, but will leave you feeling sluggish after creating huge sugar spikes and dips in your bloodstream. Focus on having a healthy diet, and fill yourself up with good brain boosting foods.
- Socialise and surround yourself with supportive people
Don’t forget to spend time with friends and family- sometimes discussing questions or problems with them can help clarify them in your mind, and their support can make you feel a lot better during stressful times. Just don’t let anyone else worry you about ‘how much they’ve done’ or what topics they’ve done that you haven’t, everyone revises differently, and comparing yourself to others will not help.
Phew- there were my 25 top tips for revising for exams! At the end of the day, you can only do your best, and if you get into a good routine, stay healthy, and get QUALITY (not hours of stressed out cramming) revision done each day, in plenty of time for the exam, that is all you can do. Stay positive, believe that you can do it, and think of the long summer holidays in the sun that await after that final exam!