1st April 2019
This guide is taken from the Know How Library, a tool on the Unifrog platform. Not sure whether to take the ACT or the SAT? Or how to give the perfect Oxbridge practice interview? The Know How Library is an easily searchable library of 100s of expert guides for both students and teachers, covering every aspect of the progression process. It is included as standard for Unifrog partner schools.
Step 1 - Understanding
This is the part of the process where you make sure everything is in place for revision success. You can’t begin to learn the course content until you fully understand it. Check anything you are unsure of with your teacher before creating clear and concise notes which transfer the teaching resources into a format you will be able to memorise.
The first stage of your revision should ideally start months before your exams. This will give you plenty of time to consult teachers on the course content before you begin to learn it. Aim to have all your notes written before the Easter holidays so you can concentrate on the Learning and Practicing stages of revision as soon as possible. This will save you the stress of cramming in the days before your exams.
“The earlier you start, the easier you make your revision. I was able to have a night off before each of my exams, whilst most of my friends were busy cramming.” - Hannah, 18
Check the syllabus
Start your revision by looking through your syllabus (you’ll find this online if your teacher hasn’t already given you one.) Is there anything that seems unfamiliar? Is there a topic you never really understood in class?
If it’s on your syllabus then it means it could appear in your exam paper so don’t leave anything to chance and make sure you understand every topic in the course.
- Print out a daily calendar that runs up to your final exam.
- Next make a list of everything you want to get done before you sit your exams to give yourself the best chance of passing. For example, for French GCSE, your list might include taking the 5 available past papers, writing and learning flashcards for the vocabulary and creating a mindmap for each of the 8 topics.
- Divide these tasks up across your available days, being realistic about how much you will achieve in your time. In this way, you will create a to-do list for every day of your revision which, if followed, will mean you will sit your exams having completed every task you set yourself.
Making notes to revise from is important but remember that it is just a small part of the revision process. It is tempting to spend all your time perfecting your notes but ultimately it doesn’t matter how elaborate your mind maps are if you don’t get on and learn the content.
Step 2 - Learning
Once you’ve understood the course content, the next step is to learn it. It’s advisable to use a variety of revision methods to prevent yourself from becoming bored (and also to discover what works best for you.) The following list is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully give you some ideas to help your revision notes stick:
“My main A Level notes were on about 20 sides of A4. The next time I wrote them out I summarised them on 10 sheets, then 5 sheets then 3 etc. The night before my exam I just had one sheet of A4 to read through.” - Edward, 20
“To revise my Physics GCSE I went through my text book and wrote out questions on flashcards for each piece of information I needed to know. Then I’d write the answer on the other side. I could then test myself really easily on every part of the syllabus. Every time I got a question wrong in a past paper I’d look up the answer and add it to the cards.” - Emily, 22
“I advise all my students to buy an A2 whiteboard for revision, with a pack of coloured board pens. It can be used for any subject and is an excellent tool for planning essays, outlining topics, diagrams and simply planning an exam answer. It engages different parts of the brain, and can be used collaboratively.” - Graham Baily, Head of Sixth Form
Say it out loud
“I would look through my notes then I’d find someone to explain them to, or say it out loud in front of a mirror. If I could teach a topic to a friend or family member then it would mean I knew it properly myself.” - Jess, 19
Step 3 - Exam practice
Practice makes perfect
Practice papers are an essential part of the revision process. They help you become comfortable with the exam format, get you used to the time limit and also highlight the areas you are still unsure of.
Make a list of all the available practice papers (you will find these on exam board websites) and try to sit as many as you possibly can. The first few needn’t be in timed conditions but eventually you need to practice working to the clock.
Tip: whenever you take a practice paper, ensure that the mark scheme and your notes are out of reach. Don’t be tempted to look up the answers as you go along; you will only see what you don’t know if you mark it properly at the end.
Learn from your mistakes
Practice papers are only useful to your revision if you mark them properly using a mark scheme and then learn from your mistakes. The mark scheme will give you the model answers; add these to your notes and learn them to ensure you don’t repeat the same mistakes. If there is a question you still don’t understand, consult your teacher.
For essay-based subjects, you will be unable to mark papers yourself. Therefore it’s important to always hand in practice papers to a teacher and ask for feedback. Often for these subjects you will need to perfect a preferred style of answer so ensure you leave enough time to practice this, as well as learning the course content.
It’s easier said than done, but try not to panic about your revision. Be confident in the good work you have done.
Avoid classmates who talk excessively about their revision during the exam period. Anyone who keeps telling you how little (or how much) revision they have done is sure to make you feel even more anxious.
Have a routine
Forming a routine will help you get started each day and make the most of your time. This is especially important when you are having to motivate yourself to work in the holidays or during exam leave.
Getting enough sleep is essential; you will be unable to retain information if you’re tired. Eat regular, healthy meals and avoid relying too much on energy drinks and caffeine as these will increase stress. Set aside time each day for exercise - raising your heartrate will pump more oxygen to your brain, reducing tiredness and stress.
Overall, it’s important to stay healthy physically and mentally so you are able to perform at your best.
Motivate yourself with the prospect of a well-earned break at the end of each revision session. Watch a film at the end of the day, eat something sweet or engage in some retail therapy. Revision is a marathon, not a sprint and you don’t want to burn yourself out before you reach the exams.
Set the right targets
Each day make a quick list of the goals you want to achieve, including practice papers, topics to learn and notes to write. That way your revision will finish for the day once you’ve achieved everything you set out to, rather then when you’ve reached a certain number of hours. This will mean that you stay focussed on completing tasks, rather than whiling away the time until you reach the 8 hour goal.
“I used to set myself the goal of 6 hours of revision a day. But I wouldn’t be revising properly for the whole time and realistically I was only getting about 4 hours of actual revision done.”- Beth, 19
Find the right environment
When revising, it’s important to have a quiet, clear space where you can remain uninterrupted for hours at a time. Let your family know that you will be revising here so they won’t disturb you, and remove all distractions, such as your phone.
“Revision should be hard work, and you should find yourself saying – ‘this is hard work’. If you are finding it easy it probably means you already know the work. Your brain will want to stay in its comfort zone with music, devices and distractions. Fight against this and be disciplined. Music on and devices close by will drop your learning capacity dramatically.” -Graham Baily, Head of Sixth Form
Tip: if you really struggle to put your phone down, apps such at Offtime and AppDetox disable your phone for hours at a time to help you stay on task. Alternatively you could ask a family member to look after it until the end of the day.