Revision and exam preparation are important for everyone in order to ensure you do well in your exams. However, what works for one person might not be good for another. We all need to try out different methods and find what works well for both us, and the subjects we study (you may, for instance, need different methods for physics than for French). Below we look at a few different techniques - so bear in mind that not all techniques mentioned will be suitable for all subjects. Please feel free to add in your own favoured revision methods.
Read through what you have done during the day (at school) that evening and/or before you go to your next lesson. Not many students do this, but research shows that it really helps you to remember better, and helps you to come to lessons more prepared and more able to link the new material to the old.
Make revision material (throughout the year) - but just in small chunks. For example, take one AS/A2 topic and put a question on one side and the answer on the other - such as, "Give 3 advantages of cotton over wool", or "Give brief details of 2 key inventions in spinning or weaving", or "Give 3 reasons why cotton was (or was not) a lead industry". These cards take very little time to do, help you to interact with the material and can form the basis of your final revision, thus saving you time in the future.
Try allocating one free period a week to do revision - you'll be surprised how much you can do.
Timelines can be helpful - especially for History. They are invaluable for making sense of a series of events, because you can trace improvements, factors etc. Pin them up in your room or on the loo wall!
Alternatively, for example, in English Literature you could pick a key character and do a series of cards with evidence of their characters action or a useful quotation. Put these chronologically so you can trace development.
Draw key theme cards, style cards etc. You could draw a timeline for each book or play that you're studying and superimpose a tension graph where lines rise for more dramatic events.
For poems, you can blow up the poem (photocopy and stick them on large paper) and annotate it in different colours for content, and various stylistic ideas. For books and plays, chapter or scene synopses can be useful (4 points will do).
This can also be useful if you own your textbooks - you can highlight key points and ignore the waffle if you're struggling and write down helpful notes on how to remember things.
Note/cue cards are always handy for when you're out and about. List definitions and rules you need to know. Or write key words from which you can fill in the gaps to tell the whole story.
These are also (very!) handy for learning language vocabulary. You can buy index cards in any good newsagent that will be a convenient size once cut in half, or buy ready made ones. Business cards are also good. Once filled in, these cards will allow you to reclaim time that would otherwise be wasted - on the bus, in the queue at the supermarket - there's no limit.
Mind maps (I'll use philosophy as an example) Plato ----> arguments/analogies (e.g. forms/cave) ----> draw links ----> work things out ----> show criticisms etc.
Get an A3 piece of paper - divide into four parts. Then, for example, make four headings e.g. Hume, theory, good things, bad things; Aristotle, theory, good things, bad things etc. For the latter you could have under theory his four causes: material, efficient, formal and final (MEFF) etc.
Mini Revision Booklet
Take the topic heading for your subject and a few pieces of paper and then attempt to write concise summarys containing key information under each. This is a useful way to see what you know and create a resource that is easy to underdstand.
It is important that this is done completely from memory towards the end of your revision. Points you miss out can be put in an appendix section called 'points to remember'. Don't forget you're not writing a book - this should use up no more than 10 A4 sheets (both sides)
Past Papers and Questions
Practice Essay Writing
Perfect your essay technique. Good spelling and grammar helps too.
When attempting past papers, always answer the question! It might sound fairly obvious but many people just narrate the story. Examiners are assessing your ability to show historical reasoning. Always reread the question at the start of every new paragraph. Make a brainstorm/mindmap of the major points you want/need to cover in your essay. Make sure your points are relevant. Try not to waffle.
Never say 'I think' (unless you're studying something like Philosophy where personal evalutaion is paramount) - they don't care about your opinion! Use phrases such as 'the evidence suggests' or 'this implies that...'
Don't assert - demonstrate.
Be analytical and evaluative.
Structure your essays - e.g. intro, 4/5 paragraphs, conclusion. Start and finish every paragraph with a topic sentence relating to the question. Make links.
Key sentences - an interesting intro - a clever conclusion (with a twist?) - use historical hindsight. Use evidence well. Don't be afraid to criticise.
Listen to the points your teachers/friends/parents make - write them down so that you have a really comprehensive range of notes to revise from.
Past Exam Questions
Read outside of the exam syllabus (don't get carried away, mind).
Practise your writing skills or make sure you know what rules, definitions and equations you might be expected to know.
Always ask where you went wrong if you get a low grade.
Have a look at what the examiners are after. There are specific websites with past papers, mark schemes etc. For maths, look at what you get marks for - many marks come from the method even if the final answer is wrong. So make sure you always show your full working when in the exam.
Do lots of past papers under timed conditions - this works particularly well for History, English Literature and Philosophy.
Only describe events when you need to in order to make your argument. - Explain why your point is relevant and how it answers the question.
Give a definition- Explain in your own words what this definition means. I.e. Marketing- “To satisfy the wants & needs of the target audience”. What this means is getting the product/service to the customers.
Give an example to explain the definition. I.e. One of the methods of Marketing is advertising. This is done so the target audience are aware of the product/service available to them. For example, Tesco advertise their discounted products in national/local papers.
Critically analyse by giving benefits & drawbacks. E.g., The advantages of advertising in newspapers are... E.g., The disadvantages of using newspapers as a method of advertising is...
Make comparisons from other organisations i.e. Tesco use T.V as their main source of advertising but a corner shop will use word of mouth & posters displayed on the shop window. This is because a corner shop’s finance is limited and their target audience is smaller than Tesco.
Include research relating to the topic using the internet, newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.
Include quotes to support your findings & theories.
Highlight any problems you have found and suggest constructive solutions. E.g., By just using word of mouth & posters as a means of advertising will not increase the corner shop customers. They could increase their target audience by producing a simple leaflet about their product/service which they could distribute through letter boxes around their area. This would create awareness to more people regarding their products/services.
- Argue with a friend and/or talk things over with someone - parents make interesting victims!
- Write charts showing the pros and cons for each topic. This works best for essay subjects.
- Study with a friend, and test each other on what you've learnt.
- Stick post-it notes over your walls and places where you might see them.
- Make mnemonics! You might find this anagram wizard helpful.
- Write things in words you understand, even if it is slang. Just don't write like this in the exam.
- Use a variety of sources - your notes, the textbook, and various websites.
- If you struggle with motivation for studying, watch a short documentary on YouTube of people who slacked off and are now unemployed and struggling. If you struggle with focusing while revising and hate horror films, turn a horror film on the tv. You'll be forced not to look at the screen ;)
There are now many places to get help with revision online now.
Tips for during revision
- Be realistic. It is important not to over revise (for example in Biology, you only need to know what is on the specification in the "candidates should know", parts any other knowledge gained from the textbook/revision guide is contextual, and is to be understood but not necessarily memorised, however this would not be as appropriate with other subjects like history). When you are revising, make sure you take plenty of breaks, or work towards little rewards; work for half an hour, and then as a reward, eat something you love, or go on the computer for 15 minutes. Drink plenty while you are revising too. This will help keep you fresher for longer, so you will be able to learn more. Try to steer clear of tea and coffee; these will give you a boost for a short time, but will hinder your concentration skills.
- If you don’t understand something that you have to know, then go and ask questions! It does not make you look weak if you do not know the answer. Don’t get stressed about it.. Ask your tutor, or even your friends for help.
- If you have any particular problems, do not keep them bottled up. Confiding in someone you trust will do wonders for your confidence.
- Leave time for yourself. Even though you have to revise, you have to have some fun too. You will need to put your books down and do something you enjoy for a while if you want to stay in a good mood. Develop a time table to give time to every aspect of your life while revising.
- Always keep positive. If you find that your mood is slipping because of revision, be nice to yourself. *Don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t revised all you need to, or you can’t recall an answer. Instead, make a quick list of five things you have done that you are proud of. This will improve your mood, and you will learn more.
- Experiment with different revision techniques. This will make revision more fun and enable you to concentrate for longer.
- If you feel like you are starting to lose it, and the studying is overwhelming you, take a bit of time out. Breathe deeply, tell yourself how well you are doing, remind yourself that everything will turn out ok, and it sounds stupid, but stand up, and smile. You are guaranteed to feel better straight away!
- Do not start a diet, new job, or new sleeping pattern a week before your exam. It is important that you maintain a balanced lifestyle during your exam period. To help performance in your exams, make sure you get at least 8 hours sleep at night, take regular exercise, and keep to a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables.
- Do not cram in all your revision the night before the exam. It is most likely that you will forget much of the information. Try to spread your revision over a couple of weeks if you can, because this will help the information sink in more, and will help you to remember it in your exam.
- The night before your exam, make sure you have a relaxing evening, doing as little revision as possible. Get a good night’s sleep, and try your best not to worry; you have already done all your revision anyway! On the day, make sure you have plenty of time to get ready, have a good breakfast and arrive at college or school in plenty of time.