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26 April 2019, 20:15
Our exam experts from The Student Room gave us a run-down of what really works when it comes to revision (and what definitely doesn’t).
Classic FM's Revision Hour aims to tackle revision chaos and stress, with the help of expert tips from The Student Room. In episode one, singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi explores revision secrets and dispels those pesky revision myths.
So, what are the most commonly used revision techniques, and how successful are they in reality?
There’s no escaping the fact that you do have to revise for exams. You’ve probably heard stories of students doing zero revision and still getting top marks. The truth is these people don’t exist.
Yes, some exams need more preparation time than others, but anyone taking an exam should take the time to look through some past papers, and get their head around how the exam paper is organised.
So, the revision needs to be done – but how do you do it?
Building a study plan will help you focus on what’s important. Wade into your revision without making a plan first, and you risk running out of time or spending too much of your time on one subject.
How you make your plan is up to you. Some students love an elaborate timetable with every hour of every day colour coded, while others might prefer a simpler version with topics allocated to a particular week.
Make sure your plan builds in other time commitments you have and gives you regular breaks from your study. The Student Room has a smart revision planner that automatically schedules your revision and builds in breaks.
Aiming for epic all-day revision sessions might feel smart, but it’s difficult for anyone to maintain focus for this length of time.
Try breaking your revision up into short bursts (maybe 20-25 minutes) and give yourself regular little breaks of five to 10 minutes where you check your phone, have a cup of tea or a quick chat.
You’ll have stacks of different topics to learn for your exams, but rather than taking one and ploughing through it for hours, learn it in short bursts. Even leaving gaps of days between sessions is fine.
This way, your brain has to work to recall what you're learning in every session and the information is more likely to get stored in your long-term memory. In other words, you'll be more likely to remember it in the exam.
It’s far more useful to build your revision time around the methods that you find most helpful, rather than getting hung up on the ways other people are doing it.
Think of something in the past that you learnt successfully. What techniques did you use? Did you watch instructional videos, make notes or cards or even mind maps? Focusing on how you learn most effectively will really help your revision.
Sometimes you’ll need to match your revision to the exam. For example, it might be more helpful to do practice papers in maths and to make flashcards for history.
Test yourself regularly and do it often. More than anything else, this will expose the things you still need to learn.
Be ruthless with yourself; find the gaps in your knowledge and fill them, using flashcards, multiple choice, short answers – the choice is yours.
Why does testing work? Because it demands that you retrieve information from long-term memory. Pathways in the brain are created that link information and make it easier the next time you need the information.
Testing also teaches you what you know and what you don't. That means you can restudy the material you were weaker on – plugging the holes in your learning.
Exam questions rarely ask you to simply state what you know – and the few questions that do are never worth many marks. The most marks are given for skills like analysis and application – working out how information links together and applying it to particular questions.
So how do you go further than just memorising?
Try working through past papers and past exam questions. The mark schemes are usually available on the exam board websites so you can check how you did and how you need to improve. You can then try again, armed with that extra knowledge. Watch your marks go up and your confidence build.
Some revision methods are less demanding than others. Highlighting is probably the comfort zone of revision. Buying nice pens and sitting yourself down to cover your notes in fluorescent pink and yellow feels reassuring and not too demanding. But how effective is it? Well, not very – according to research. That isn’t to say that highlighting has no role to play. Use it to identify key terms, names, theories, criticisms and so on and then maybe turn them into flashcards you can test yourself on.
There is also a temptation to keep revising topics you already know. Yes, you do need to check these are still in your mind, but the truth is that you need to spend more time on topics that are more of a struggle.
If revision feels too easy it’s usually because it’s not working.
Yes, revision will take up quite a lot of time in the weeks leading up to exams. But it should never take up all your time. You need to find a balance between studying and normal life. Keep going with sport, family events and fun social occasions. Have a lie in when you need to.
Talk to family and friends about your revision and exams so they understand the challenges you face and can support you by encouraging you to study when needed, but also to take regular breaks.
Getting this balance right is a massive step towards exam success.
Classic FM's Revision Hour aims to help students of all ages to focus and stay calm during the busy revision and exam period.
On Saturday 27 April, guest presenter Lewis Capaldi will explore revision secrets and dispel revision myths in episode one of Classic FM's Revision Hour. Join him for an hour of music and tips on Classic FM from 9pm.
Got a question about revision? Ask The Student Room