When is the best time to begin revising for exams and how do you get started?

Knowing where to begin with exam revision can feel a bit overwhelming – here are some tips to help get you going

It's never really too early to start studying for exams. After all, starting early means you can go into classes with a focus on applying what you're learning to the exam – you'll be able to make sure you fully understand key concepts and ideas and to take notes that you can eventually turn into a revision resource. 

But even if you're not quite ready to kick off your revision yet, you could definitely start thinking about starting. 

Follow these tips from the TSR community to get your revision for the 2024 exams off to a flying start. 

And remember, if you're not sure about something, our study help forums have hundreds of students who are asking the exact same questions that you also want answering.

Take our quiz to get personalised recommendations and resources to help you ace your exams...

Make a plan

Before you get going with revision, you need to plan it out. Make sure you leave enough time for all your subjects, that it’s all sensibly spaced out and that you allow yourself time to do fun things and relax as well. 

I_joker007 says: "the trick to successful revision is to make a good timetable. I clock in three hours every evening with each hour for one subject and on weekends six hours (in two-hour slots – don't want too much stress)."

You could try developing your study timetable to reflect the way you’ll actually want to revise by using the spaced repetition method. This technique involves revising for a subject and committing it to memory, then coming back to the subject again and again after increased intervals of time to refresh your memory.

Lauren___e says: "I used spaced repetition for my A-level exams!

"For psychology I used it to learn psychologists names, as well as brief summaries of the studies. In maths I used it to memorise trig identities/product rule and in physics I used it to learn the many definitions.

"I really feel like it did help me to learn it... I would recommend using space repetition!"

Read more: how to make a revision timetable you'll actually stick to

Sort out the best stationery for revision

Revision can take up a lot of time, but with the aid of a trusty revision kit, it needn't be such a chore! Here is a useful list of stationery and equipment you may want to buy.

  • Black pens - you'll have to use black pen for exams
  • Pencils - mechanical pencils are  well-made, precise and don't need sharpening
  • Coloured pens - great for writing notes
  • Highlighters - use lots of different colours to pick out different points
  • Lined paper - essential for writing notes
  • Plain paper - useful for making mind maps and information posters
  • Squared paper - for drawing graphs if you're studying maths or science subjects
  • Flashcards - use online flashcard generators or coloured cards by hand
  • Paper clips - these are really useful for holding random bits of paper together
  • Hole punch - to file your notes in a ring binder to keep them organised
  • Stapler - and staples too, for grouping paper together
  • Sticky notes - stick them everywhere! 
  • Tipp-Ex - it's like your mistake never happened
  • Ruler - one of the most important things you can buy for revision
  • Sellotape or glue stick - useful for sticking revision notes around the place
  • A clear pencil case - this will come in handy for exams
  • Geometry set - if you need one for your subject
  • Calculator - depending on the subject you're taking 
  • Pencil sharpener - for keeping those pencils sharp!

hallamstudents says: "I am a very visual learner and like to use a lot of colour on my notes. I like to use the Bic Crystal coloured pens, A3 paper to brainstorm and regular lined paper for notes. I find use of colour helps me to remember things and helps to distinguish certain topics."

BTAnonymous says: "I suggest buying lots of lined paper, it's really high quality. If you buy a few pads for each subjects then you can easily keep all your notes in one place."

CalicoP recommends "Post-it Notes definitely, stick them around the house with random facts on them," while stargirl001 likes "those little sticky things you use to mark pages in books. Like Post-it Notes but tiny little strips."

Get your notes up to date

You'll need to get all your notes together and make sure there are no gaps in your knowledge. 

You could borrow other people’s notes, go over your textbook, find YouTube videos on your subject – anything that ensures you have all the information you need. Once you’re sure you’ve got legible notes on all your topics, try organising them in a logical order so that they’re easily accessible if you need to refer back to them.

Obiejess says that she is "making sure all my notes are in order, and starting to prepare revision materials for the future – I know exam season me will be grateful for it!"

basicallykaya says: "for notes, as long as it seems, I re-write the textbook but in my own style, like in a way I would write it in an exam. No bullet points, abbreviations or shortened sentences. I write all of the necessary information in full sentences, but occasionally throw in analogies for concepts that are harder for me to grasp.

"When I'm done actually writing notes, reading it out loud flows so easily, because it isn't the textbooks information anymore, it's mine and it's personalised. I keep this all in one book rather than sheets in a folder, just preference though."

Past papers are your friend

Some people rely on past papers as their primary revision method and others use them in the few days immediately before the exam. Almost everyone will do a past paper at some point during their exam journey. 

There are loads available online as well as examiner’s reports and exam specifications – all this information will help you understand how to write the best possible answers.

burnatte4 says: "I went through as many past papers as I could first, but I did them timed and with no resources. Then I marked them all! Then afterwards, all the ones I had failed, I would revise those topics and do the past papers again."

Read more: how to use past papers to ace your exams

Use active revision

Research has shown that active learning is the most effective way you can revise. Active recall makes you think while you're learning, so that you understand the material enough to use it in different ways in an exam, depending on the question asked and the skills being tested.

Instead of just reading through your notes or highlighting them, make question-and-answer flashcards or turn your notes into something more visual like mind maps or timelines. These will help you recall the information you need and turn what you've learnt into answers to real questions.

You could also tap into active recall by explaining the topic to someone who doesn't know anything about it. 

LarissaAlves says: "explain whatever you want to learn to your grandparents! One of the best ways to see if you actually know something is to be able to explain it to people with no previous knowledge on that topic."

And furryface12 shares that "my friend used to learn things by arguing. I spent what felt like hours giving weird nonsensical arguments about historical stuff I hadn't a clue about. They learnt it though and did well in the exams."

Read more: how to study effectively for your exams

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