Dos and Don’ts of Exam Revision


Revision period is definitely a time of intense work and stress. It’s not always easy knowing the “right” way to study. There are so many different ways to revise. And although any revision is better than no revision, there are certain methods that are better than others.


A recent article in The Guardian discussed what is an appropriate amount of time to revise each day for exams. The article started off with stating that although an expert recommended students to study for seven hours a day throughout the Easter holidays, many others, such as psychologists, teachers and pupils, believed this advice was unreasonable and unrealistic. As we can see, the “right way” to revise is not clear cut nor unanimous.


So what does that mean for you? If you are in university, does that mean the revision hours should be even more? What are certain things everyone must do to properly revise, and what could hinder revision? This article made me realise that not everyone has the same idea of what is the “correct way to revise” and that perhaps you could benefit from a list of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exam revision.


What are the Dos
If you are reading this blog, your room is probably covered in notes, highlighter pens, books and binders. Anyone who has gone through education knows what it’s like to prepared for an exam and how much time and energy it takes. But not all methods are equal. So what are the top 5 things that are a must when revising?


1) Organise yourself, your notes and your books. Make sure you have clear stacks for each subject and that all your notes are in one place. It’s ok to spread it out over your desk or your room, as long as your piles are organised. Create a revision timetable which will allow you to identify what subjects need to be prioritised, either because they are more difficult or because you need a higher grade on them.


2) For optimal concentration: have a healthy balanced breakfast, don’t listen to music and put your phone away. Studies have shown that even when your phone is not in use it will still distract you. The Huffington Post wrote an article highlighting how recent research has concluded that by simply being next to your phone your ability to concentrate will decrease. Studies have also demonstrated that listening to any type of music (even classical or jazz) will lessen a person’s focus. The Guardian highlighted in their article The science of revision: nine ways pupils can revise for exams more effectively how “students who study in a quiet environment can recall more than those who revise while listing to music”.


3) Fresh air, breaks and good sleep. This may seem obvious, but taking breaks is essential. It’s difficult for anyone to maintain their attention span for too long. Giving your brain a rest for 5 or 10 minutes will allow you to recharge and redirect your focus more efficiently. Check out the TIME’s article Stay Focused: 5 Ways to Increase Your Attention Span for ways to improve yours. Getting enough sleep is an obvious, but crucial part of a successful revision period. For more about sleep check out our blog How to improve your ability to fall asleep, even when stress is making it difficult.


4) Teach someone. In the Independent article Top 10 revision tips for your final (or first year) exams, they suggest asking people around you to test you and give you feedback. For example, once you’ve made revision cards, why not give these notes to your friend and ask him or her to test you? This is not only a good way to revise but also a good way to have a break from the hard work. Explaining a topic to someone using your own words will not only helps you to remember and go over what you have learned but also will allow you to use your own words. This means that the information will be absorbed in a more “authentic” way and will more likely be remembered in the exam hall.


5) Reward yourself. Putting aside some time to relax and enjoy yourself is not only important for your brain, as it will give it a well-deserved rest, but also an opportunity to let the information you have absorbed sink in. By taking a break, your revision time will be more effective, both quality and time wise. Taking time before moving on to your next subject is vital for the newly absorbed information to properly remain in your brain.


What are the Don’ts
Now that we have covered what does work, let us look at what doesn’t. In this section I will not only highlight what doesn’t work, but also discuss what does work instead and why.


1) Don’t waste time rewriting your notes. Although it is crucial to have good notes, spending valuable time rewriting them won’t really help you in any way. As long as you can read and make sense of what you wrote, there is no point spending hours rewriting your notes with different coloured pens and paper. You need to spend the majority of your time understanding and memorising the information. Nice looking notes won’t make a big difference. Of course, if they are completely illegible, then spending one hour rewriting a few pages is ok. Just try to limit it to the bare minimum.


2) Don’t push revision off. It may be tempting and come easily. Especially when the weather starts to warm up. But the important part is to just start. Even if it’s not a major revision. Just start. Start small. Start early. Building up over a longer time-frame is better than tons of revision a few days before your exam. The sooner you start the less you’ll panic. To get over the initial block of getting into the swing of it, set small tasks. Like writing out your list of tasks or reviewing notes of one of your important subjects. Anything that isn’t too daunting and will get your stated will be great.


3) Don’t rely too much on your highlighter. The BBC article Revision techniques – the good, the OK and the useless discusses research demonstrating how using a highlighter can hinder revision. “When students are using a highlighter they often focus on one concept at a time and are less likely to integrate the information they’re reading into a larger whole,” wrote Prof. Dunlovsky in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. So use it sparingly, or think of alternative ways to help you remember the important sections.


4) Don’t write summaries but test yourself. According to Prof. Dunlovsky writing summaries doesn’t help at all. “Students who go back and re-read learn as much as students who write a summary as they are reading.” However, if students test themselves, and try to retrieve information from their memory, they are going to learn more efficiently in the long run. He suggests: “Start by reading the text book then make flash cards of the critical concepts and test yourself…A century of research has shown that repeated testing works.” The reason for this is because the student is more engaged when learning and therefore it is harder for the mind to wander. He adds: “Testing yourself when you get the correct answers appears to produce a more elaborative memory trace connected with your prior knowledge, so you’re building on what you know”.


All in all, everyone has slightly different ways of revising. If it works for you, then great! But if you noticed that your revision could be improved, then consider some of the suggestions mentioned above. There’s no need to apply all of them at once. But just going through the list and trying out a few of them might really help you. It’s definitely worth a shot!


Looking for more exam tips and insights? Check out our other popular blogs such as:
6 Easy Steps to Guarantee Top Grades!

Our top 10 tips to prepare for university exams

6 Skills to Write an Outstanding Essay.


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