Many stories fly around schools and colleges during the exam period; tall tales of super-powered students, impossible questions and evil examiners. Each of them complete cobblers.
Here Mr Langley, TSR’s resident teacher, tackles some of the most dangerous exam and revision myths.
‘I know this one girl who did no revision at all… she got an A*’
This person doesn’t exist.
Yes, it’s true that some exams need more revision than others. But they all need some preparation, even if it’s just looking through past papers to find out how the exam is organised.
For most exams, the students getting the high grades will have weeks if not months of revision under their belt before they sit down in that exam hall. Even the most intelligent students can’t get away with doing absolutely no revision.
‘Examiners are just trying to trip you up’
OK, examiners are probably not your favourite people at the moment. But they’re honestly not trying to reduce you to a quivering wreck and destroy your chances of a decent grade.
The paper you sit hasn’t been written on the back of an envelope in a pub. It’s been worked on for over a year and a half to make sure it’s clear, not too simple or too difficult and that it covers a range of the specification. Several people – often teachers – draft the paper, then there are checks from subject and assessment experts.
Once you’ve sat the paper your script goes to an examiner - usually teachers of the subject. They all use the same mark scheme which they’ve been trained to apply in the same way. All markers are encouraged to be positive and reward students wherever they can. Samples of their marking go to senior examiners and if it’s too generous, mean or just plain inconsistent they’ll be taken off the job.
Of course this process isn’t perfect (that’s why remarks exist) but the aim is to make marking as fair and accurate as possible.
‘I don’t need a timetable; I’ll just revise whenever I can’
If you’re the kind of person who hates forward planning you’ve probably already decided that a revision timetable isn’t for you. You know you’ll knuckle down to revision eventually anyway, right?
Wrong. Revision shouldn’t be left to chance – your exams are just too important. Not planning means there’s a danger that you’ll run out of time, panic and miss important topics.
Having a basic timetable in place will help you keep track of your revision and stay motivated. It’s the best way of avoiding that blind panic one week before your exam.
‘Planning essays in an exam is a complete waste of time’
It may seem counterproductive to waste precious exam time planning an answer. The minutes are ticking by and the temptation is strong to dive straight in and get as much down as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind.
But remember that to produce great essays you need to follow a logical argument, back up the points you make with evidence and come to a reasoned conclusion. Not many students can produce this type of work without a bit of planning.
The plan doesn’t have to be long or detailed. It just has to remind you of the main structure of the essay – the order of your main points and probably what might go in the introduction and conclusion.
‘Highlighting is the best way to revise’
Don’t panic, highlighter fans. We’re not suggesting you have to bin all those lovely luminous pens. We just want to make a few things clear.
Highlighting is the comfort zone of revision. Buying nice pens and sitting yourself down to cover your notes in fluorescent colours feels reassuring and not too demanding.
But if revision feels easy it’s usually because it’s not working. If highlighting feels easy, you’re probably not learning much.
That isn’t to say 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.
In general, the more you think about what you’re highlighting and the more you link it into other ways of learning the more useful it will be.
But highlighting shouldn’t be your only method of revision.
What you should be doing is regularly testing yourself, not just on the latest information you’ve learnt, but on samples of everything you’ve learned previously.
That way your brain is regularly stimulated to call back the key information. It’s even better if you test yourself in different ways (flashcards, multiple choice, past exam questions, writing definitions) so you get used to using information in different contexts.
What revision myths have you heard? And what revision methods work for you?