Exam time is inching ever closer, and all around you people are descending into revision meltdown.


Rise above it! Leave the mob to battle over who's doing the most-insane revision marathons, safe in the knowledge that you're focused on a revision plan that actually works.

So what's the plan? Well, everyone has a different way of revising, but there are some key revision tactics that work for all of us. Don't just take our word for it; these are backed up by science.

We looked at studies on revision - not just one piece of research but summaries of multiple research papers, known as meta-studies.

Here's what those meta-studies tell us works best.

Break revision into chunks

break it upLet's start with your overall approach. Should you revise one topic until you feel you know it or should you leave gaps in between learning sessions so revising a topic takes place over a few sessions of, say, half an hour?


Professor John Dunlosky’s meta-study comes to a clear conclusion.


In experiments where one group learned in long sessions and the other broke the sessions up into chunks, the second group always learnt more when they were tested.

The message from Professor Dunlosky’s research is clear. It's better to use spaced practice: learn a topic over several shorter sessions rather than keep going for hours until you’ve finished. Even leaving gaps of days between sessions is fine. Take some breaks and keep going back to it.


This way your brain has to work to recall what you're learning 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.

Chunk your revision with our smart study planner


Revise actively

The second piece of advice focuses on how you go about revising. Marzano’s meta-study shows the sort of revision methods that are going to be most effective – so effective that they can improve your work by the equivalent of two GCSE grades.


The methods you need to use could be called active learning. They make you think while you're learning and really understand material so you can use it in different ways in the exam depending in the question asked and the skills tested.

So don’t just read through your notes or highlight them – make question/answer flashcards or turn your notes into something more visual – mindmaps, tables of advantages and disadvantages, timelines or cause/effect tables. These will help you use what you know to answer real questions.

Make active revision resources with TSR's tools


Test yourself

test yourselfTest yourself regularly and do it often. Be ruthless with yourself - find the gaps in your knowledge and fill them.


More than 100 experimental studies over the last 10 years have all come to the same conclusion: testing works.

It works whatever method of testing you use – flashcards, multiple choice, short answers – and it works even if you’re testing yourself using a different format from the exam.

So why is testing so effective? It seems there are two reasons.

Firstly, the act of testing involves retrieving information from long-term memory – the answer you need but also some related information. Pathways in the brain are created that link information and make it easier the next time you need the information.

Secondly, learning happens after the testing – you find out what you know and what you don't. That means you can restudy the material you were weaker on – filling in gaps in your learning.

Find flashcards and quizzes to test yourself here


Putting the three pieces of advice together

So how can you put these three pieces of advice together? Let’s say you're learning an important topic. You might allocate five revision sessions for this, each half an hour long and a few days apart. In the first session you make your own brief notes based in your class notes and then turn these into question and answer flashcards in the second session.

In the third session you test yourself on these cards and in the fourth you practise an exam question, checking your answer against the mark scheme. The final session is checking how well you did and filling in gaps in your knowledge.

In this way you’ve used all these three techniques: spaced practice, active learning and testing.

Good luck with your revision; but if you follow the guidelines here your exam success won't be a matter of luck.

Watch the video for more information on revision techniques that are scientifically proven to work


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What revision methods always work for you? Do you think these meta-studies matter?