Revision and study

How To Develop an Effective Revision Plan

Revision – sit back and enjoy!

Can you really enjoy revision?

Perhaps not, but by following an effective and disciplined plan you can perhaps make it less stressful. Let me share with you my revision story and also my top tips for revision.

Revision is an intensely personal event. Ask anybody who has revised for an exam what techniques they used and you will get a range of strategies, some effective and some not. As a student at school I was absolutely rubbish at revising. How I managed to get through any exams is a real mystery to me. But I did pass, and having progressed to University I discovered a real passion for learning that has never left me. I can still remember sitting in the University library late at night with my friends surrounded by books and feeling the intense enjoyment of being thoroughly prepared for the imminent exams.

So what changed? For me, the most important thing was a change of environment. My parents never really understood schooling, and when revising for my school exams I was pushed out into the kitchen where to keep warm I had to put on the gas cooker! Not surprisingly, I kept my revision efforts to a minimum so I could return to the relative warmth of the lounge.

TIP #1 – make sure when you revise that you find somewhere comfortable and warm. Avoid distractions such as the television or your computer, switch your mobile phone off (do you know where the off button is?) or to silent, and ignore the urge to check your Instagram. You need to be able to focus for short periods of intense activity – you can catch up with all the social stuff during your revision breaks. Tell your parents or whoever else is
at home what you’re doing, and explain in the nicest possible terms that you don’t want to be disturbed.

I was never taught how to revise. My school never considered it necessary to give any guidance, and we just had to get on with it. Probably the only guidance we got was “read through your notes”. I guess that’s all I actually did, and it’s a wonder that I managed to recall anything at all!

The key thing about revising is to make it an active process – you need to do something positive with the information you’re trying to take in so that it ‘sticks’. As an undergraduate I became a dab hand at condensing my lecture notes into a much shorter form that was easier to remember. My target was always to condense on a 5:1 ratio. If I had 20 pages of notes then I would look to write 4 pages of revision. I also used loads of colour, and was forever drawing boxes and squiggly lines around key words.

My daughter adopted a similar approach when she was revising for her school exams, and she went to the extreme measure of sticking her colourful notes onto the ceiling of her bedroom – she would then spend hours lying on her bed with her dog, reading and re-reading the notes that she had made.

TIP #2 Get active with your revision! The more you can do with your notes, the greater your retention of the key facts.

  • Make your notes really colourful – use different shapes to highlight key words, make ‘key facts’ cards, create mind-maps, etc
  • Be a bit more original in your revision. Why not create your own podcasts that you can listen to over and over again on your mobile devices (to create a podcast just download the free Audacity software and create MP3 files).
  • Delve into the wonderful world of mnemonics – I’m sure your remember Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (ROYGBIV) as a way of recalling the colours in the spectrum? Try making your own mnemonics for any lists you  may have. I can still recall the mnemonic I created over 30 years ago to help me remember the order of the geological periods (Pre-cambrian, Cambrian, Devonian, etc – see, it’s still there!).
  • Work with friends who are revising for the same exams as you. Test each other, share revision materials, etc. Make revision fun (I told you it could be!)

TIP #3 Plan ahead! Remember the old saying – ‘Fail to Plan and you Plan to Fail’. Work out how long you’ve got until the exams, and plan effectively. Use a spreadsheet or a table in Word as the basis for your timetable, and as a start put down all of the milestones ahead, particularly the exam dates! Then prioritize, subject by subject, and then within each subject.Be aware of the ‘tailing-off’ effect – you will be highly focused for the first
few exams, but a normal exam season may last for a month, and those exams towards the end may not be given as much attention as those at the beginning. Traditionally, the core exams of English and Maths tend to be put early on, whereas my own subject of Science is invariably one of the last subjects to be taken. Be aware of this, and plan accordingly.

Exams are very tiring, and very stressful, so intersperse your revision with planned R&R – rest and recuperation!

How long should you work for? Research has shown that most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 40 minutes at a time. Fatigue, hunger, noise, and emotional stress reduce time on task. Common estimates for sustained attention to a freely chosen task range from about five minutes for a two-year-old child to a maximum of around 20 minutes in older children and adults.

So go for a compromise of 30 minutes sustained revision. When you have a break, make sure it is a complete break. There is no published research about how long the break should be, but I would recommend at least 30 minutes, and do something completely different – crosswords or Sudoku are not recommended! Give your brain a chance to recover and develop those all-important neural pathways.

For more helpful resources to assist you with your revision, consider signing up to my free study skills course.



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