A-levels, GCSEs and summer exams are quickly approaching. This means it would be a good idea to get some quality revision done over the coming weeks. This blog post is all about helping to get you started so that you can revise effectively and efficiently – a key part of doing well in exams. Before you read this, it would be worth reading an older Push blog that has an excellent list of time management apps (these will come in handy for helping to keep you organised).
There are topics/subjects that you are naturally better at and there are some that you will find more difficult. When revising content you’re already familiar with, it can be easy and require little effort so it might not be the most effective use of your time. Therefore, going through a specification or checklist of topics and categorising them based on how well you know the content can be a real game-changer. I usually use the Red-Amber-Green highlighting system which allows me to categorise content into three difficultly levels. After this, I focus on getting all the reds to ambers and then all the ambers to green. This is the perfect strategy for when you are short on time as it ensures you are in a stronger position (even if you’ve only changed all reds to amber).
Flashcards are great – until they’re not. Revising mass amounts of information using flashcards probably won’t work for the average person, however they are good for memorising smaller important bits of information such as key dates, definitions or vocab. I personally like to use a mix of physical flashcards with online resources such as Quizlet. Quizlet is great because there are thousands of study sets out there, which saves you from having to make your own. I find that Quizlet is better for vocab (because having hundreds of words on little bits of paper could easily go wrong) and physical flashcards are better for information that is interlinked. For example, in History there may be a few key dates you need to remember and which are all linked by an important figure or battle. Finally, when using flashcards, I like to put them into piles. One pile for stuff I found easy to remember and another pile for things I found harder. This way, you can spend more time revising the difficult content (it’s all about prioritising information). Note: Quizlet does this automatically.
3. Note Taking
Note taking is bittersweet. Spending hours writing out pretty notes can feel super gratifying and can look like you’ve done a lot of work. The problem is, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to remember everything you wrote down and re-reading notes is one of the worst revision methods out there. Don’t get me wrong, you need to write down key information and note taking is perfect for learning content. However, when it comes to revising, I’d recommend you avoid spending too much time using this study method. Instead, try limiting your note taking to a third (or less) of your total revision time. Rather than completely re-writing a textbook, try making notes on topics that you consistently get wrong; this way you can ensure that you’re actually learning something.
4. Practice. Practice. Practice.
How does that saying go again? Oh yes, practice makes perfect. And... it truly does! It might sound cliché, but Olympic athletes didn’t get to where they are by dumb luck and raw talent alone. They spent hundreds of thousands of hours working hard and going through gruelling training regimes. What you put in you get out. Now, most of us aren’t Olympic athletes but there’s still a thing or two we can learn from them. Very few people start out with perfect grades and those that do have probably been practising from a very young age. Success isn’t linear – sometimes you’ll go through rough patches. And the human mind is literally designed to get smarter after failure.
What’s this got to do with revision? Well, the more familiar you are with the test papers, the better you are going to do. Exam boards tend to recycle questions from older papers so if you practice enough, you might start to recognise them. More importantly, it will put your mind at ease when you’re sitting the exam if you’ve done it a thousand times before because you’ll know what to expect.
Past papers are some of the most effective revision activities you can do. If you do them right. What I mean by this is that simply doing a couple of past papers isn’t enough. Instead, you need to carefully consult the mark scheme or ask a teacher to mark the paper for you. After this, review any mistakes and turn them into *cough* *cough* flashcards. It’s the process of getting things wrong and learning from them that will make you better at a subject. The next time you see that question, you’ll think to yourself at least I know what not to do.
Practice exams are also useful when it comes to building up your time management skills. Exams like GCSEs and A-levels are timed. So, you have the pressure of having to answer a finite number of questions in a short period of time. Practising can make you faster and allow you to develop strategies that you can use in the exam hall. This is especially helpful when revising for essay writing subjects – where it feels like more of a race than an exam.
The most effective student will probably use a combination of the techniques mentioned above in conjunction with some of their own. One of the most important aspects of revision is taking breaks as it allows the mind to rest and to consider the information you’ve just input. Much of the time, when we find ourselves stuck the answer may be to go on a walk, have a nap or dance for twenty minutes in our rooms, as opposed to trying to ram more content into the brain. So, while I hope you utilise the techniques mentioned throughout this article, I also hope you find plenty of time to rest and look after your wellbeing.
Tiffany Igharoro is a sixth form student. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She studied art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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