How to study effectively for your exams

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Take the hard work out of revising and get in great shape for your exams with our study habits and revision methods

There might not be any shortcuts to exam revision, but studying effectively doesn't have to be difficult – hard work stops being such a grind when you stick to a plan.

If you're struggling to build good study habits, look no further than our revision method masterclass – we'll talk you through revising for your exams, getting more organised and making sure you remember everything in the exam hall. 

1. Make a revision timetable

Creating a decent revision timetable is key to being well prepared for your exams. If you revise without one, you might run out of time or focus too heavily on some subjects.

"Creating a revision timetable helps a lot. It is a great way to organise your study time and boosts your motivation towards each subject," says TSR member Chittesh 14. 

Don’t overdo it – your revision guide shouldn’t dictate your time to the second. What it should be is a useful general guide. Slice your revision into sensible chunks – a topic here, a topic there – and stick each piece into the plan, making sure you limit each day to a reasonable amount of study.

What you’re after is a plan that’s both detailed and flexible. It’s detailed so you can quickly refer to it and know exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It’s flexible so you can easily switch your revision time around when life inevitably gets in the way.

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

2. Setting up a room for your study space

You'll need to find a quiet space to study in. This could be your bedroom, but you also might like working at school or college - you could even try the local library. 

You don’t need to study in the same place every time – moving about will help keep your mind fresh. But wherever you end up, make sure it’s tidy and comfy with lots of natural light.

It's important that you don't have any distractions. Trapmoneybenny suggests you should "turn off your phone, disable your internet and get stuck in". 

"The fundamental step is to get yourself organised. Have you got a tidy workspace? If you think you work better in a clean environment, organise your room as well! Organise loose sheets and have a to-do-list," says Kangaroo17.

Keep a bottle of water and some healthy snacks close by as well – brain food such as fruit and nuts will help to fuel you through your study sessions.

3. Define your study objectives and plan ahead

Revising effectively is about targets, and this is one way your revision timetable can help you. Where do you want to be at the end of each day? Set yourself achievable and measurable targets and make sure your timetable is set up accordingly.

Maybe you could create three mind maps for a particular physics paper, or remember 50 French words on a particular vocab topic. Whatever it is, tick off each target as you reach it. Nice: now you’re buzzing with a little sense of achievement.

Review your targets at the end of the day and give yourself a little test on each one – that way you’ll reinforce it in your mind. But if you haven’t nailed something, don’t beat yourself up about it – just revisit the topic the next day.

4. Get your study motivation

Ask yourself: why are you doing this? Maybe you want to get into university, or secure your dream apprenticeship. Whatever it is, write your goal on a massive sheet of paper and stick it up above your study space.

Lean on people you know to support you when you’re feeling stressed. Get them to test you on what you’re learning. Parents are ideal for this sort of thing – they love it because it makes them feel helpful.

Try going to a friend’s house to study – having a revision partner will keep both your motivation levels up (and you’re less likely to let each other skive). Remember: revising doesn’t have to be a lonely pursuit.

And – guess what? One day, these exams will actually be over. Plan something nice for when your exams are finished and keep the thought in mind to help you stay motivated.

5. Pull your class and course notes together

Before you go any further, get all your revision papers in one place. That’s your class notes, your handouts and any other resources you think will be useful.

Then it’s time to organise. Find the course specification and make sure your notes cover everything. Any gaps? Ask your teacher to help you fill those in.

Ideally you’ll be working from your own notes and we’re sure those notes are amazing. But, on the off-chance they’re a bit rubbish then it’s worth asking your teacher for a hand again.

Alternatively, you could buy a current study guide – it will take you through everything you need for the exam.

student with exam papers

6. Check past exam papers and mark schemes

Past papers, mark schemes and examiner’s reports. These are your secret weapons to bossing your revision. Together, they paint a pretty accurate picture of what the exam’s going to throw at you and how to handle it.

Past papers introduce you to how the paper might be structured and worded. Are there sections to the paper? Are there question choices? How much time should you spend on each section?

Going through these papers will help you understand what to expect as well as highlighting any questions your notes don’t cover. You should be able to find past papers on your exam board's website. 

Next, look at how the mark schemes work. Looking through these will show you where marks are gained and lost, as well as how best to answer each question. Keep an eye out for key terms, which may be essential for marks.

Examiners’ reports are real goldmines – they’re an insight into the mind of the examiner. Basically they list all the questions from an exam, along with notes on exactly what students should have done to get the top grades. Read these and you will know what examiners think is important.

7. Write up your study notes

Done all that prep? Good work – now you’re ready to get started. Kick off by creating revision notes that summarise the crucial information. You’re looking for notes that simplify what you need to remember, structured in a logical way with clear headings and subheadings.

Once you’ve got these written up, you’ve got a quick and easy way of checking your knowledge. Just read them through, then cover up sections with a book and test yourself. Be tough and honest with yourself – you need to be confident this stuff is really sinking in.

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

8. Create revision cards and flashcards

To make sure you’re learning, take your revision notes and whittle them down further. By simplifying your notes in this way, you’re training your brain to remember what’s unwritten.

Buy some cue cards and use each one for notes on a different topic. Experiment with this and find out what works for you – how much detail you need, whether to use colour, that kind of thing. Your aim is to create a bunch of cards that you can flick through to remind yourself of what you need to know.

Flashcards are a quickfire version of revision cards. The idea here is to put a question, word or theory on one side and the answer, definition or explanation on the reverse – they’re great for testing and improving your memory of the important facts for your exams.

9. How to create a mind map

Mind maps will mix things up a bit – they’re a more visual way of learning. These diagrams consist of a central starting point, to which you then add branching information.

They’re great for showing how a topic is built up and showing how everything links together. These will help you spot trends and relationships, while focusing on the smaller details too – really handy for essay questions and larger topics.

Read more: ace your exams with these free revision resources

10. Finding more revision resources and study help

If you don't click with a certain revision method, don't worry – you can keep testing different ones until you find one you like.

"Find methods of revision that work for you – different techniques work for different people. Your friend might be using flashcards whereas you need something more verbal. Don't worry about what techniques you're using, in many cases the sillier it is the easier it is to remember," says TSR member Acsel.

And don't forget to visit our study help forums to get even more revision tips and advice from other students. 

11. Using memory techniques for studying

You don’t have to be Derren Brown to use memory techniques – a few simple tricks can make your revision significantly easier.

Go back to your revision plan and set yourself regular tests on each topic. Testing yourself on something 10 minutes after you’ve revised it is important, but you also want to test yourself a day later, three days later, one week later and so on – that way you know it’s really sticking.

If you’re looking for quick ways to remember nuggets of information, try mnemonics. This is the idea of making a little rhyme or sentence around the initial letters of a topic. You might have come across this one for remembering the wives of Henry VIII in order: all beheadings should carry heavy penalties (Aragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard, Parr).

Making up your own is best – the activity of thinking up the mnemonic will ensure it really stays with you.

Read more: students who got A* at A-level explain revision tips everyone can follow

12. Study breaks and the Pomodoro Technique

Revising for eight hours straight might seem like an astoundingly productive thing to do, but in reality it’s just going to turn your brain to mush. Taking breaks isn’t just important, it’s essential if you want to keep your study time productive.

Many people swear by the Pomodoro Technique (named after the popular kitchen tomato timer). This method breaks down work into intervals – you work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break to do whatever you like.

After four study sessions, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Keep yourself focused by adding little treats into each break – a quick burst on the Xbox, a scroll of your Instagram. Just make sure it takes no longer than a few minutes.

13. Practise exam questions

Once you think you’ve nailed the facts, make sure you know your stuff by doing all the past papers you can get your hands on. Try to do each one in a single sitting, under exam conditions (in a quiet place and for the right length of time). Then check your answers against the solutions and practise the ones you got wrong.

This is a brilliant way to expose your weaknesses, which you can then focus on improving. Do a ton of these papers – every one that you tackle will help cement your understanding of the subject.

14. Exam preparation tips

Don’t underestimate the importance of the prep you do immediately before each exam. Get a good night’s sleep – if you’re yawning your way through the paper you won’t be at your best.

Look after yourself by having a healthy balanced meal before the exam. Tuck into brain food such as those containing healthy fats – Omega 3 (oily fish and flaxseeds) and omega 6 (sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds) are known as essential fatty acids and play a huge role in supporting brain functionality which includes memory. 

And do your best to keep a positive outlook. Spend some time before the exam visualising it – picture yourself getting ready at home, travelling to the exam hall, sitting down and then knocking every question out of the park.

Visualisation techniques like these will help you feel naturally positive when you do the exam for real.

15. Don't revise all the time

Revising is going to keep you busy, but you don’t have to turn into a study hermit – reserving a bit of downtime will keep your mind fresh and give you things to look forward to. 

"You shouldn't give up all your hobbies just to get extra revision time for your exams. We all need a break at some point and if it's something you enjoy it will help you be less stressed overall," says ToffeeJoy.

Manage your time properly and you’ll fit everything in and be ready to go once exam time rolls around.

And that's everything! Want a quick recap? Here's your complete revision cheat sheet: 

15 ways to supercharge your studying

  1. Make a revision timetable 

  2. Find a quiet study space 

  3. Set yourself achievable study objectives 

  4. Find your motivation 

  5. Get all your notes in one place 

  6. Check mark schemes and past papers

  7. Write up your study notes

  8. Create revision flashcards

  9. Make a mind map

  10. Test different revision methods

  11. Try some memory techniques 

  12. Take study breaks 

  13. Practise exam questions

  14. Sort your exam routine 

  15. Don’t revise all the time! 

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