We all need to revise sometimes, so follow these tips and try not to get too stressed out. Remember that people find different things effective, so not all of these tips may work for you.
Before you start
Make a revision timetable
Make a plan for every week, so you maximise your time and can decide exactly how much you do and on what you want to focus on. Some people find it's best to plan very carefully, and decide that they will revise page 82 of the textbook at 9am, and then move onto page 83 at 9.15. Others will simply decide to revise "geography" in the morning. Find what works for you, and then stick to it!
Make sure you include other things in your timetable. If you want to watch Neighbours every day, plan for it.
Be realistic in your time allocation. If you know that you can revise one lecture in one hour, but that you sometimes get distracted, then it may be better to revise two lectures in 3 hours, which allows you time for a break. If you make your aims achievable, then you're more likely to feel like you're doing a good job rather than getting disheartened and giving up, or getting behind and playing catch up. If you do that then you're likely to skip over stuff in your bid to get back on target and not revise properly.
Find out what kind of learner you are
Some people are visual learners, whilst others are auditory or emotional. If you learn best by remembering things you see, make your notes look pretty and bright so they'll stick in your mind. Or, if you learn best by hearing stuff, record yourself talking about a subject. You can then put the recordings on your mp3 player and listen to them wherever you are.
Prepare for revision
You need to have a place where you can revise without being disturbed. If you're working at a desk, spend some time tidying it up and making room to work on, and put away anything that you might be tempted to fiddle with or might distract you. Ensure that you have all the notes and books you need before you start so you don't waste time once you're in revision mode. Stick to your revision timetable and don't let yourself get distracted during the periods you set for revision.
Take regular breaks
It's no good sitting at a desk for ages getting more and more stressed and not taking anything in. You need to take regular breaks, even if it's only for a couple of minutes each time.
But do try to limit your breaks somewhat, as you don't want to end up having more breaks than actual study time.
If it helps, actually timetable in the breaks: I will work from 9 until 9:45 then break for 15 minutes. If you know when you're going to take a break then it'll be easier to tell yourself "just ten minutes more!" and you're also more likely to start work on time again, rather than getting distracted and doing something else.
Get enough sleep
Pulling regular all-nighters will not help you. You need to be rested and relaxed.
Eating well and drinking plenty of water is important all the time but during exams it's especially important to be on top form. Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Many people find having a bottle of water on the table at all times helps. Whenever you're bored / thinking / procrastinating / hungry you tend to reach for the bottle, and this keeps you hydrated.
Check the syllabus and markscheme
You need to know that what you're revising will actually be on the exam. You can even use the syllabus as a tick list, and check things off when you've done them.
Go through past markschemes, and see if you can get easy marks for doing something fairly simple. For example, in physics practical exams you can usually get marks for simply taking 3 measurements and averaging them.
- Check that you know exactly when your exams are. It's no good knowing it's in the afternoon, as start times can vary. Do you need to be there before the start time?
- Make sure you know where all of your exams are. For most of you, this is probably just your school or college, but even then rooms can change. You don't want to have to sprint from one side of town to the other!
- Plan your route to the exam venue. Consider having spare money on you for taxi fare, in case the bus is late. Wear sensible shoes if you might have to walk far.
- Make several copies of your exam timetable for when you lose one.
- Check how many questions you will need to answer on each paper. Sometimes all questions are compulsory, but sometimes you have a choice. Make sure you know this.
- Plan the timing for your exam. If there's 2 sections and it's an hour exam, know you need to answer each section in half an hour. Some exams have short questions at the start and longer questions at the end - make sure you plan for this.
- Read the specification for each exam.
- For every exam, make sure you know what is expected of you, what you should know, and remember any equipment that you may need (for example, a calculator for a Maths exam, or pencils into a graphics exam)
- For every exam, make sure you understand what sort of questions you will be asked about each area of a subject, and which compulsory questions you will have to answer. Plan your time, making sure you have time to read through the instructions carefully, answer as much of the question as you can, and read through your answer to check it.
- Remember that Mobile Phones are banned from all exam rooms and halls, so check beforehand where you are supposed to leave your phone, and remember to turn it off.
- Make sure you know what revision notes you are allowed to take into an exam, if any, and if you can, make sure they conform to the exam boards rules.
- Believe in yourself. You wouldn't have been given a place on the course if you didn't have the ability to do it. Therefore, if you prepare for the exams properly you should do fine, meaning that there is no need to worry excessively.
- Don’t try to be perfect. We all want the best possible grades that we can get, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that. If you think that ‘anything less than an A means I’ve failed’, then you are just creating unnecessary mountains of stress for yourself. Try to do your best, but remember that we can’t be perfect all the time.
- Keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now, but in the grander scheme of your whole life they are only a small part.
- Avoid panicking. It’s perfectly natural to feel nerves before entering the exam, but getting yourself into a state of worry will only hinder your ability to think clearly.
- If your mind goes blank, don’t panic. If you worry and panic, it will make it harder to recall the information. Focus on some deep breathing for a few minutes. The information is there, you just have to get to it. If after relaxing for a few minutes, you still can’t remember the answer, move onto the next question and come back to this one later.
- Answer as many questions as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, then just pop anything down as the answer. Having a stab at a question is better than just leaving the space blank. At least then, even if you think your answer is completely wrong, it shows that you had a go anyway, and who knows, what you put down may even be correct!
After the exam
- Don’t spend endless hours criticizing yourself. Self assessments are usually too harsh, and you will probably find on getting your results that you have done much better than you thought. Congratulate yourself on the parts you know you did well in, and don’t dwell on the questions you didn’t know the answer to. This will only make you feel bad and make you worry even more. Obviously, this is not good if you have more exams coming up. Think to yourself, you have done fine, learn from the parts where you know you could have done better, and then move on.
- Relatedly, it can be helpful to enforce a strict ban on talking about the exam immediately afterwards. It can be very demoralising to realise that you came so close to the right answer, or that the answer you knew for sure was right is actually way off, or that three-quarters of the cohort seems to have done better than you. If you're not allowed to mention the exam afterwards, then you don't have to go through this. Remember that everyone who is talking about how well it went is in just the same position as you - they're probably trying to make themselves feel better by making their performance seem better.
- Give plenty of time to chill out. You deserve it after all that revision. If you have another exam coming up the following week, give yourself a day just to do what you want to do, then start revising for your next exam. It may seem a bit manic, but at least your exams don’t last too long!