Are You Overlooking Any of these 11 Effective Revision Tips?
We’ve all been there. The big countdown to exams has begun. But no matter how fiercely you concentrate, or how many hours you put in, nothing seems to be sticking.
And with competition for jobs more ferocious than ever, the prospect of missing out on that First or 2.1 really doesn’t bear thinking about.
Fortunately, there is a proven way to shoot for those top grades: effective revision.
So many students fail to revise effectively. And it’s little wonder. Schools, colleges and universities devote thousands of hours to delivering course material. But hardly any at all to explaining how you should go about remembering it.
As a result, students prepare for exams in ways that every memory expert knows to be wildly inefficient: pouring over copious written notes for hour after hour… working through the night sustained by ProPlus and energy drinks... stressing out as their brains turn to mush.
But there is a better way! Follow our 11 revision tips and put the time before your next important exam to more effective use. You might even have some fun along the way.
1. Use Your Time Wisely
The most important revision tip of all is to use your time efficiently.
So take a little time to map out your upcoming assignments and exams on a calendar. Using this, you can create a timetable plotting out your revision schedule.
While you’re planning, have a think about the strengths and weaknesses in your subject knowledge. Do you need to spend more time on some subjects than others?
You should also bear in mind the time of day when you study most effectively. Some of us are most alert in the morning, others more so in the evening.
Make sure to allow yourself some days off. By revising effectively and planning your time sensibly, you should find some free time to get away from the books. Plus, if you do find that revision isn’t going as well as you’d hoped, you will have some free days to catch up.
Another effective strategy is to revise in short bursts.
The author of ‘Remember’, Ed Cooke (see tip 4), recommends revising one topic intensively for ten minutes, then testing yourself an hour later. Rotate your area of study, learning small chunks at a time. Test this same material again the next day, in three days, in a week and then in two weeks.
You don’t have to wait until exam season to use this strategy...
When you finish a class, summarise the main points covered. Review these at the end of the day and again at the end of the week. Reviewing the same information at regular intervals will give your brain enough time to process the information, and will refresh your knowledge of it, so that it becomes ingrained in your memory.
2. Condense Your Notes
One of the most common revision fails is trying to revise from extensive written notes.
This is highly ineffective. You will just spend most of your time scanning over the words without taking in their meaning.
The solution is to condense the information down as far as possible, so that your notes work as triggers that spark off bigger associations in your head.
To do this, you should read through small sections of your written notes, highlight the essential information, then summarise it as briefly as possible, in your own words.
By writing these summaries in your own words, you are actively engaging with the material. This will deepen your understanding, making it more likely that you will remember the information.
Once you are done, your shortened notes will be far more accessible. You could even write them on flash cards, with questions on one side and the notes relating to them on the other.
TIP: Looking for a way to revise when you’re on the go? Why not record yourself reading your summaries (or turn your written summaries into a recording using text-to-speech software) and export these recordings as an MP4? You can then listen back on your music player when you are on the bus to and from university.
3. Mind Mapping
Mind maps are a brilliant revision aid.
Using them, you can brainstorm ideas, make connections, visualise concepts and apply critical thinking. What’s more, as with taking summaries when creating notes, getting hands-on with your study material will help you remember it.
All you need to create mind maps is a pen and some paper. Here’s how:
(i) Pick an area of study and write its name in a ‘bubble’ on the centre of your page.
(ii) Think about the type of questions you could be asked in an exam and write them down with lines stemming out from the central bubble.
(iii) Create brief notes under each of these headings.
(iv) This piece of paper is now a map of your thoughts about your topic that you can read anywhere. It can be used as a prompt for writing practice answers. Or you could ask a course mate to use it to test you on the notes you made under each heading.
(v) Introduce a colour key to highlight sub-sections within each cluster of information, relating this to important themes within the subject. Using images and colours immediately makes the page more engrossing. And the more engrossing you find it, the easier it will be to learn from it.
It’s a proven fact that our brains are great at remembering things that we find interesting. And far from great at remembering mundane information.
If we’re being honest, there are sure to be times when your course material falls into the second category.
This is why mems are such a useful revision tool.
Mems is a term used by Ed Cooke and his team at Memrise.
You can use mems to quickly remember anything from the notes of each open guitar string to the major figures of the French Revolution.
For example, the mem ‘My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos’ can help you remember the order of the planets orbiting the sun.
5. Practice Exam Questions
If revision is to be effective, it’s about more than just remembering things. You also need to think about how you might use that information in your exam.
Probably the best way to do this is to practice applying your knowledge to exam questions. So set yourself a time limit to revise a topic, then allow yourself a suitable amount of time to answer a question relating to it.
Think about how you would do this under exam conditions, starting with how you would allocate your time to each part of your answer...
You don’t want to find that time is up when you’ve only written half of your conclusion. So map out your essay first with the key points you plan to cover. By doing this you’ll approach topics in a logical order, rather than forgetting something and trying to shoehorn it in later.
You can mark your answers yourself. But better still is to find a study buddy and critique each others’ papers. This will highlight any areas where your knowledge is shaky.
What’s more, getting lots of structured practice under your belt will give you added confidence that you will be able to perform on exam day.
6. Presentation Practice
While we were researching this article, we spoke to a lecturer who said that he used to revise for exams by pacing his room and speaking aloud, as if delivering a lecture to an audience.
Why not try this out with the involvement of some coursemates?
Here you will each select a topic to revise and then deliver a presentation on it. You can take notes during your coursemates’ presentations and use these to revise later.
Make sure to schedule a question-and-answer session after each presentation. This will really test the speaker’s knowledge!
After you’ve all delivered your presentations, attempt some exam-style questions on the topics covered to see how much information you’ve absorbed.
If you’ve stepped inside a school classroom recently, you will have noticed that teachers like to stick visual cues to learning on every inch of free wall space.
That’s because they know that pupils are far more likely to remember facts if they encounter them again and again throughout the day.
So why not take an hour to turn your room into a handy revision tool?
Place posters and post-its on the walls with keywords, dates, facts and pictures, relating to your big exam. You can group these randomly, by subject or in clusters of facts that you understand / don’t understand.
TIP: Write questions on post-its and stick them to your fridge or biscuit cupboard, challenging yourself to answer them before reaching for that treat!
8. Track Your Progress with Kahoot
Kahoot is a free site where you can create and take part in multiple-choice quizzes. There are thousands to choose from, covering a vast array of subjects. And many have been created by teachers for students to test themselves.
It’s a great idea. And one which you and a study group can apply to revising for an exam.
Here, each member of the group should design a quiz based on a certain topic to share with the others.
Once you’re done, you can use these quizzes to play Kahoot as a group.
This is a fun and competitive way to test how effective your revision has been. Set a time limit and award points based on how quickly each contestant answers questions correctly.
TIP: Make a note of any questions you get wrong or find particularly challenging and allocate extra revision time to these topics.
9. Healthy Study
Many students get so run down during exam season that it would be miraculous if they were still able to perform at 100%.
To keep your own self in working order, remember the simple things such as taking regular breaks to stretch your legs and get away from your books. Try to get into a good routine with your sleeping habits, eat well and be sure to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Our brains perform at their best when our bodies are nourished and alert.
The NHS recommends that students exercise for around two and a half hours a week. Not only will this aid with physical wellbeing, it is also proven to help you stay calm and focussed, making your time studying more efficient.
Finally, stay positive and be sure to reward yourself for all your hard work. Set targets and then treat yourself to something, perhaps a cinema trip or a picnic with friends. This incentivises your study and give you a chance to relax and de-stress.
10. Find a Study Partner
You will have noticed that several of these revision strategies involve collaboration with a study partner.
Teaming up with someone from your course when revising can be hugely beneficial. They will be a sympathetic ear to bounce your ideas off. You can ask them for help if you are struggling with a particular topic or are missing notes from certain lectures. You can appraise each other’s work and test each other’s subject knowledge. And you can keep each other motivated when the pressures of revision start to get too much.
It’s sensible to choose a study partner who excels in areas where you sometimes struggle. For instance, if you are a good conceptual thinker but sometimes struggle to organise your thoughts, you might want to team up with a coursemate who has a more systematic approach but sometimes misses the bigger picture.
When it comes to revision, two heads really are often better than one.
11. Create Great Notes
As we have talked about elsewhere, research show that students who take good notes are more likely to achieve higher grades.
Unfortunately, many students come to revise only to discover that their notes are missing important information, hard to read or barely comprehensible.
They then have to spend much of the time before their exams hunting down notes from coursemates and laboriously writing up notes from textbooks.
One way to avoid this is to record your your lectures and use these recordings to create great notes. This way, you can focus your attention on understanding what your lecturer is saying, without the distraction of scribbling down written notes. And you can be safe in the knowledge that no crucial nuggets of information are slipping through the net.
TIP: To make sure that your lecture recordings are clear and distinct, follow our 6 Tips for Getting Better Sound Quality.
How do You Revise for Exams?
Have we missed any sure-fire revision strategies in this article?
We would love to hear your revision tips: send us your best over on Twitter
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