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Fingers crossed, by now you’ll be firmly stuck into your revision and starting to make some headway. Here, are the four phases you’ll have to go through to get the best results before you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Phase 1 - Consolidating your Revision Material
For each subject you may have been given handouts, written notes, got essays and assignments back with feedback, and have textbooks, and with so much to study from it might all get a little confusing.
From these sources, the first thing you’ll want to do is to consolidate your material so it makes more sense to you and you can start memorising from it.
AQA, Edexcel and OCR and SQA in Scotland offer the syllabus for each of your GCSE or A-level subject online. You can use this to make sure you have notes on each of your subjects, and they can form the basis and themes for your notes. If you want to be pernickety, you can even print them all off and tick off everything after you’ve made notes for them, so you know you’ve definitely not missed anything out.
You want your notes to be as memorable as possible, and these few steps will help:
Write out your notes so that they are clear, have a coherent structure and are easy to navigate.
Understand the main points from your notes and the overall themes.
Create your own system for remembering them, for example colour coding with highlighters by topics or themes.
Write your notes in more concise versions, so that the content is manageable and digestible. You may want to put your notes on post-its or cue cards. By this point your notes should act as a reference rather than being every little detail you have to learn.
Depending on the subject and how you like to learn, you could also organise your notes into mind maps, timelines, diagrams and flowcharts, which will also help you remember more when it comes to the exam.
Phase 2 - Memorising your material
Depending on the way that you learn, there are numerous techniques for memorising, and your brilliant notes will have helped you consolidate and understand the material along the way, making it much easier for you to remember all those facts!
Included in memorisation techniques are those in our revision techniques blog, such as word association, flashcards and study groups. Treat these techniques like and game. Go through your notes alongside your flashcards etc. and after a few times you’ll find that you won’t need your notes to remember the concise information on your flashcards.
Unfortunately, just trying to remember something has almost no effect on whether you do remember it, so just looking at your notes won’t help! Instead, you need to reorganise you information, for example thinking about how your topics relate to one another, or eventually by practising writing answers. This approach is called "depth of processing" and ensures the material gets lodged in your memory.
Your revision sessions, at this stage, should also be goal-oriented rather than time-oriented. In this way, you should set yourself tangible goals, for example memorising 10 quotations from your English set text. It also means that you can break your material down and also learn something new each session. Revising may seem like a daunting task, but breaking it down means you’ll know exactly how much you’ve done, and soon find you’ve memorised a whole module without much stress.
In Phases 1 and 2, as you’ll be taking in so much information you’ll want to take frequent breaks, for example 30 minutes of studying with a 10-minute break. In your 10-minute break it’s important not to do anything where you’ll recevive new information, as your brain will go into information overload and won’t be able to process the information you learnt while revising. This means that you can’t go on Facebook or Twitter, read any news articles etc. A better break would involve exercise or some fresh air.
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Phase 3 - Practice makes Perfect
Unfortunately, merely memorising you material is not enough! Writing exam answers is a skill which can be likened to playing a game. In a game you’d practice moves to improve, not memorise the said moves. Other research confirms that practising retrieving information is one of the best ways to ensure you remember it.
The big exams boards offer past papers online for you to practice from. With these past papers you’ll also get familiar with how you’ll get assessed for each subject. For example, will the exam use lots of diagrams, ask for short essays or link between topics?
Starting past paper questions early means that you can establish a base from which, via further and regular assessment, you can judge your progress. You can identify the subjects, modules and topics which require more work, so you can then go back to your notes to consolidate your knowledge.
From past papers you’ll also be able to understand exam technique. Examiners’ reports can be found with past papers and tell you what they like to read. For essay subjects this means that they might tell you whether they will give you high marks for criticisms to viewpoints etc., whilst in science subjects they will offer you model answers (which you can learn off my heart) and examples of what not to do. Those that do well in their GCSEs and A-levels have stated that they spent most of their time learning the exam technique and answering answers to the examiner’s specification, rather than on memorising their notes.
Because there is only a finite number of past papers available, you might want to keep half for going along and revising from and practicing exam techniques, and half to use to practice under exam conditions.
As, by this point, you are not consolidating information you should be able to revise for at least an hour, probably two, without a break and then treat yourself have a longer break afterwards.
Phase 4 - Exam Conditions
Studying under exam conditions means that you practice for an exam using a past paper in exactly the same way you’d do the exam. This means that you have to set aside the allotted time, fill in all the paper and work under the pressure of time constraints.
After you’ve taken an exam you can then use the mark scheme provided with the exam paper to mark your answers - harshly! - and see where you’ve gaps missing in your knowledge or where you can improve an answer. You can then go back to your notes to make sure you’re up to scratch.
Having revised under exam conditions, when it comes to the exam you’ll be far less stressed about what to expect and this will help you perform better.