Revising for exams

With the Easter holidays finally over, study leave starting for many and exams looming, this may be the first time that you are left to your own devices and you probably don’t know where to start. Luckily, revision needn’t be so daunting, and we’ve put a few pointers together to help you out. 

What the hell is revision?

Revision originally comes from Latin and translates as ‘seeing again’. This, unfortunately, implies that you understand everything you’ve learnt so far and are looking over your notes. In actual fact, revision consists of:

  • checking that you understand what you’ve been taught in class
  • understanding where the topics you’ve learnt fit together
  • reminding yourself of the facts that you’ve forgotten (perhaps even learning facts by heart, such as vocabulary in languages, dates in history, formulas in maths, and gas tests in chemistry)
  • if you don’t understand something getting help to figure it out

How should I revise?

Read through your notes and make sure you understand them. If not, ask your teacher or a friend who you think will be able to help. You then need to consolidate your notes and re-write them into a format that is useful to you. These may include:

  • lists - perhaps highlighting the key points which you can expand on in your head when you go through your notes
  • mindmaps - these are diagrams which represent information visually - you may use them to understand how information fits together
  • flashcards - these are especially useful when you’ve facts to remember off by heart

Another useful thing to do is to colour coordinate your notes; you’re likely to remember the layout of your notes more vividly in this way, which can be useful in the exam. 

You then have to start to remember what’s in the notes/mindmaps/flashcards that you’ve made. Everyone remembers and learns things in different ways, and you are no exception, so stick to what you are good at. With technology, there are some brilliant tools to help you along the way. In searching for revision topics on youtube or iTunes you can watch videos of teachers to master your topics. Or for those who are more audiologically inclined, there are plenty of podcasts available on iTunes - you might even find yourself walking the dog with one of them! If you prefer pictures and diagrams, you might want to go through your notes and analyse them by representing information in different ways, such as mindmaps or lists. 

Also, remember that you can adapt your revision style for different subjects. For example, revising maths works best when you are able to answer lots of questions, but you may want to revise for a language by flashcards so you can recall the vocab. Mindmaps might be best with a subject like history, where you can relate events to one another.

You may also want to do something more expansive with the material, for example make links between topics or contrast them - this is especially useful for the humanities, to evaluate different points of view, or in English literature you may want to compare and contrast different characters.



I’ve just started study leave and I have no idea where to start!

Make a revision timetable! It adds structure to you day, makes you less stressed and motivates you to get on with things! Get Revising is a brilliant website that creates a revision timetable for you - all you have to do is to tell it your subjects, school class times, exams dates, outside school commitments (part-time work, social events, holidays), the number of hours you want to revise for each exam and when you want to start revising.  As your modules are logged, the website also recommends resources based on what topic you want to revise, allows you to make notes and links to their study groups.

If you want to make your own timetable, breakdown your subjects into topics. You can then allocate a revising period for each topic - once you’ve covered all your topics you can then put each one back into the revision timetable, modifying it depending on when your exams are (you may want to spend the whole day on one subject if you’ve an exam on it the next day). On your second round of revision you’ll find you recall what you’ve learnt much better so each topic won’t take as long. Additionally, remember that some subjects will have more information to learn than others and may, therefore, take more hours to get through. 

You may also want to factor in a time where you review your revision timetable - you may find that revising is taking a lot longer than you imagined, and you need to up your revising time by an extra hour a day. Or you may decide that you’ve some subjects that you need to prioritise as you understand then less, and need to revise them in greater depth than others. 

Remember to stay productive so choose study slots to suit you - if you know that you’ll get distracted after an hour, perhaps revise for 50 minutes and then have a ten minute break, while if you concentrate in longer bursts, perhaps revise for an hour and a half and have a 20 minutes break. Be careful not to start anything in your break that you won’t be able to put down!

After you feel as though you understand the material, you may find that studying with other people helps. This can be with your friends or also via online forums. They may have different perspectives on the material or may have better ways of remembering the information. You may also remember more by talking thing over with other people.

Make sure that you have an area you feel comfortable in to revise. If you’ve no space at home, this can be in a public library or the school library, or even a cafe. Also, know how you like to revise - if you like getting out the house, traveling to school and working there may be a good option, however you may prefer staying at home and getting your head down.

Continue with activities outside of school, whether this entails playing an instrument, going to the cinema, seeing friends, walking the dog or playing sports - it’s good to get away from revising once in a while. You might also want to factor in big treats, such as a day out to Thorpe park or a shopping trip.

If you feel yourself going round and round in circles and not getting anywhere; stop. Have a nap or go for a run, or if it’s going disastrously have the evening off. Factor in a couple of these meltdowns into your timetable, so you are not behind on your revision and you can enjoy your time off worry-free.

You might also find that you work better at a specific time of day - if so, do more revision at this time of day if you think this. However, make sure that your day is not wildly dissimilar to exam times, as you don’t want to find yourself sitting in a 9am exam yawning away, as you’ve never experienced anything so early for the past month. 



Past exam papers

Once you get nearer to the exam date, concentrate on doing some past papers. Many are available online for free - Edexcel, AQA, OCR SQA provide a number of past exam papers online - while your school may also be able to give them to you. Initially use them to get a feel for what topics come up, how the questions are asked and the format of the exam, but later sit them under exam conditions. Spend the exact length of time going through the paper, and afterwards use the answer sheet to evaluate how well you’ve done. You can then revisit the topics you didn’t feel you had a hold of.

Useful Apps

There are plenty of apps available to help you with your revision, and here are some of the best:

GoConqr is a free online platform that offers you the ability to make notes, mindmaps, quizzes and flashcards online, which you can then use to test yourself. You can invite your friends to study with, and you can see the amount of time that you have spent studying; an achievement in itself.

StudyBlue is a a library of online study materials from more than 250 million user-generated digital notecards covering every topic from Algebra to Zoology.

Remember the milk is a great a way to create multiple to-do lists to help you understand what revision you've still got to do and what you've completed.

Exam Countdown helps you keep track of your exams and keep you motivated.