Five revision myths that will stop you getting top grades

students revising together
students revising together

Don't believe the hype

You know that student at another school who did no revision at all and got top marks in everything? It's true. He just looked over his notes the night before the exam and got really high marks. Honestly.

Spoiler: it's not true. Here are some of the revision myths that do the rounds year after year, and why they actually aren't true at all.

More like this: how to study effectively for your exams

1. 'I know this one girl who did no revision at all... she got top marks'

This person doesn’t exist.

It's definitely the case that some exams need more revision than others, but they all need preparation of some sort, even if it’s just looking through plenty of past papers to get used to different types of questions and the way the exam is organised.

For most exams, students who get 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.

Gent2324 says: "Stop thinking about why you're not revising and just do it."

Find the best revision help and tips on TSR.

2. 'Examiners are just trying to trip you up'

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, who is usually a teacher 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 (which is why remarks exist) but the aim is to make exams and marking as fair and accurate as possible.

Riyah_0403 says: "Looking at mark schemes also really help so you know what the examiners are looking for."

More like this: how to use past papers to ace your exams

student revising in library

3. '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.

MinaBee says: "Make a plan, prioritise your weaker subjects and spend a decent amount of time revising each day."

More like this: how to build a revision timetable you'll actually stick to

4. ‘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 it's tempting 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.

Dylann recommends making more detailed plans while revising and less detailed ones at the start of an exam: "Don't waste time writing essays for every single past paper question in the above subjects, just write a plan and then compare to the mark scheme. Being able to plan and structure an essay is 90% of the difficulty putting it into sentences is the easy bit.

"Just write bullet points of the main arguments, if you want you can put examples next to them, if you know you can explain it then you don't need to write anything else. When you check the mark scheme be honest with whether or not you would have written that. Be extremely strict on yourself.

"In the real exam, hopefully by this point you're so good at planning answers you can just immediately start the essay but there's no problem with jotting down your main points at the top just so you don't forget (also helps if you run out of time as it shows the examiner where you were going)."

More like this: how to kickstart your revision

student writing in notebook

5. '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, and 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.

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.

Sinnoh says: "Don't waste time making your notes pretty. Just do questions. Learn why and how you mess up, because in doing that, you learn how not to get things wrong. Learn from yourself as well as from your textbook."

More like this: six amazing apps to help you revise

Ask a question in the Studying, revision and exam support forum
Your question will be posted in the Studying, revision and exam support forum
Awesome! Your question has now been posted. View your post here
  1. Please choose where you want to post your question.
    Please choose your study level.
    Please enter what your question is about.
    Please enter your question.
    Your message must have two characters or more.
People are talking about this article Have your say