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

student revising at her desk

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 2022 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.

Feeling a bit stuck on revision? No matter what stage of revising you’re at, take our quiz below to get personalised recommendations for next steps and resources to help you ace your exams.

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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. 

This article explains how to make a revision timetable you'll actually stick to

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 etc. 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!"

student in a stationery shop

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 and/or blue pens. Typically you'll only be able to write in black pen for exams, but some studies have shown blue pen to be better for remembering what you wrote down so stocking up on both could be a good idea.
  • Pencils. Staedtler mechanical pencils are highly recommended because the lead doesn't get everywhere, they're well made, they're precise and they don't need sharpening! 
  • Coloured pens/pencils. Fineliners are great for writing notes, but you may also want to buy felt tips and/or colouring pencils.
  • Highlighters. Use lots of different colours to pick out different points. Pastel ones are often best for being able to read the text beneath
  • Lined paper. This is essential for writing notes.
  • Plain paper. This is useful both for making mind maps and information posters. 
  • Squared paper. If you're studying maths or science subjects then squared paper is best for drawing graphs etc. And some people find it works best for notes too. 
  • Flashcards. While many now swear by online flashcard generators, there's nothing wrong with some good old-fashioned coloured cards to write out by hand instead! 
  • Paper clips. These are really useful for holding random bits of paper together. 
  • Hole punch. To file your notes in a ringbinder to keep them organised.
  • Stapler. And obligatory staples, too. This is probably not strictly necessary, but many people like to group paper together more securely than paper clips do.
  • Sticky notes. Stick them everywhere! 
  • Tipp-Ex. There are many different types, but the pen is pretty nifty and better when you're trying to be accurate.
  • Ruler. So useful it should probably be above most of these other items...
  • Sellotape and/or glue stick. Useful (predictably) for sticking stuff around the place.
  • A clear pencil case. While this is really for your exams rather than revision, you should buy it at the same time as your other materials to avoid that first exam day panic that you've forgotten it! 
  • Geometry set. If you need one for your subject. 
  • Calculator. Again, whether you need one will depend on the subject you're taking. 
  • Pencil sharpener. For if you've got more traditional pencils.

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, if you have the money (because they're a little expensive considering the time they get used in) then buy Pukka pads! They're really great as they come with high quality paper and you can buy one or two for each subject so 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."

student notes

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 banter/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, its MINE and its personalised. I keep this all in one book rather than sheets in a folder, just preference though."

teenage boy studying

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 exam 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."

This article explains 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 mindmaps, tables of advantages and disadvantages, timelines or cause and effect tables. 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 (well, from their responses) and did well in the exams."

Get more detailed revision tips in our article on how to study effectively for your exams

group of friends laughing

Take a look at the advance information or adjustments being made to your subject for the 2022 exams

Students taking most A-level and GCSE exams in 2022 can access advance information released by the exam boards to help focus their revision. 

The exam boards have released this information to help manage the disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Find out more about advance information and other adjustments to the 2022 exams in this article, including links to subject and exam board-specific details. 

You can also find the advance information/other adjustements directly from the exam boards by following these links: 

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