What separates the A* students from the rest? We asked those who got top grades in their exams to divulge their tips and study hacks.
Revising for exams can be difficult and it can be easy to develop bad revision habits. Follow these top tips to ensure you are fully prepared.
1. Start early
Effective revision is not something that can be rushed so start well in advance of the exam date. This will lessen the chance of having to do last-minute cramming and pulling all-nighters in the library.
Try and start your revision early each day as your brain is fresher, making it easier to work. Not starting until the afternoon means you’re likely to be up later and trying to revise whilst tired.
It’s a good idea to have a routine with your revision where you aim to start and finish at roughly the same time each day.
2. Decide what you’re going to revise
Look over your syllabus and decide how you’re going to approach your revision. Find out the format for your exam as this will determine how much of the syllabus you need to revise.
For instance, with essay-based exams you don’t need to cover the entire syllabus as it is more effective to learn some of the content in greater detail. In contrast, short answer-based exams will require a broader, yet less detailed, understanding of the syllabus.
3. Make a plan
Once you know what you will be revising, you can make a revision timetable. Make this detailed, including any relevant papers or notes you need to look over. Block out time for socializing, exercising, and any other breaks or plans you might have. Stick to this as best as you can and avoid the temptation to jump straight into your revision without one.
Whilst you might think that making a plan is time-consuming, in the long run it will save you time as you won’t be having to decide what to revise on a day-to-day basis.
4. Find a method that works for you
There are various revision techniques including flash cards, past papers, mind maps, group work and recording yourself talking and playing it back.
There is an element of trial and error to finding what works for you, and bear in mind that what works well for one exam may not be the best method for another. This is all the more reason to start early, as you need to take time to find out how you revise best.
5. Eat healthily
Whilst revising, it can be easy to end up in the library all day surviving off excessive amounts of coffee and junk food. You may feel like doing this instead of spending time cooking proper meals. This may be more time efficient but it does not amount to more productive revision. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will leave you feeling more energetic and focused.
6. Regular exercise
Regular exercise helps keep you focused and
Exercise gets the blood flowing. This means more oxygen will reach the brain and help it to function better. Anything you can do to get the brain working well will be welcome during the exam period. Plus, it makes for a nice respite from studying – win, win.
7. Take breaks
Effective revision does not mean constant revision. If you start to lose focus, take a break and do something completely different. It is better to do five, one hour-long stints broken up, than revising solidly for seven or eight hours.
Taking breaks during revision gives the brain a higher chance of remembering what you’ve crammed into it.
8. Get a good night’s sleep
This is especially important the night before an exam, but applies to the entire revision period. Getting to sleep at a reasonable time means you will wake up earlier and be able to fit in more revision during the day time. Sometimes, revising later is unavoidable, but try keep these instances to a minimum.
9. Stay calm and positive
Perhaps the most important thing to remember throughout the whole revision process is to stay calm and positive. If you have a bad day, try to not let it affect how you revise the next day. Remember, performing well in exams is not the be all and end all of your university experience, and whilst they are important, they are not worth getting really stressed about.
10.Check past papers
This is a great way to get accustomed to the type of questions you’ll face in an exam, as well as the language the questions will be told in – something like this might throw you off if you’re encountering it for the first time on exam day.
11.Make it more manageable
Starting to revise can feel overwhelming, especially if an exam covers two years of work. Breaking things down can be a great psychological win and make things slightly more achievable.
12.Don’t be tempted to cram
Don’t leave things to the last minute, thinking that it will stick in your head if you do (it won’t).
Get into the habit of doing a little nightly or weekly throughout the year. By the time you get to revision season, everything will (hopefully) feel more manageable. This will also leave you more time to practise and test what you really know.
When should you start revising?
This will depend on how many exams you have, when they are and how prepared you are already. Most students will begin just before or during the Easter holidays, but focus on what your needs are, and plan accordingly.
Mocks are a great way to kick off your revision, whether these take place before or after Christmas. Here you can start getting your notes together, figure out a study plan and discover what techniques work best for you. This can save time when preparing for the real thing, later.
When you get your mock results back, this will tell you how you’re doing, what material has stuck and what you need to work on. Check out our tips on what to do if your mocks go badly.
From there, you can decide when to begin. This might begin with simply making notes or highlighting key information, and ramp up slowly to actually memorising this and doing past papers. Again, things will vary from student to student; don’t try to get too bogged down by what others are doing.
Your teachers can also give you some guidance on when to begin and what you should be doing, as they will know you best.
How many hours should you revise per day?
Again, this will depend on how much you need to revise, how you’re doing so far and how you best revise.
You don’t want to be in a situation where you haven’t got enough time to cover everything you need to, so start early if you have to, to get the job done. Cramming, overly long revision sessions and not covering material in enough detail won’t do you any good. One Oxbridge student reveals her biggest revision sins.
Stick to short revision sessions, take breaks, and switch up what and how you study to keep things interesting. A four-hour study session without breaks may look impressive; but if you’re not remembering what you need to, how effective is it really? The human brain can only go so long without being distracted, so don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
If you need to meet a certain number of study hours in a single day, experiment with revising at different times to avoid long, unproductive sessions. This might mean doing a little work before school, at lunchtime or after school (before and after dinner).
This might not sound fun, but exam season is where you’ll need to learn to prioritise commitments in your life (temporarily) for a greater goal – a worthy life lesson. So things like extracurricular clubs, sports, part-time jobs, browsing Instagram, playing video games and seeing friends might need to be put on the shelf (if possible) for now. That doesn’t mean you should be working 24/7 and not blow off steam here and there, but be smart with your time and earn your rewards.
What are the best revision techniques to study effectively?
Studying in shorter sessions with breaks, and revising different subjects in different ways, often works best for most. This will keep your brain stimulated, whereas doing the same thing for too long will likely make you switch off.
Revision doesn’t mean sitting in your room alone staring at a book, either. Everyone is different and there are lots of ways to approach studying, so find the method that works best for you – use your mocks to help you decide what works for you:
- Alone vs with others: do you need a disciplined friend to keep you motivated and stop you reaching for your phone? Or will you simply be distracted by their presence?
- At home or elsewhere: not everyone has an area at home to revise comfortably for long periods. Whether it be Netflix, games or dad popping in to grab your laundry, many distractions at home can stop you getting into the groove.Study rooms at school, the library or a local café can be alternative study spots. Make sure you have sufficient light so you’re not straining your eyes, a sturdy chair that won’t leave you hunched over, and enough space for all your books, notes and equipment (plus a study snack).
- With music or in silence: dead silence can drive some people doolally, but if you’re revising a particularly tricky subject, you might need to focus. Others need some sort of background noise; this could be music (from hard rock to block out noise to indie folk to chill out to), the radio or television, or even just the happenings of their local café.
- Reading vs taking notes vs explaining it out loud etc.: for most, reading is not enough and you’ll need to shake things up, especially when hopping from one subject to another.Making notes might take a while, but taking the time to write down (not typing) key information can help it stick. Another question to ask yourself is how much you should write down. This could start of as extensive notes, slowly narrowing down to flashcards or brief ‘crib notes’ with acronyms, key names and formulas as exams draw near.
But how do you know it’s all sticking? Try making notes without looking at your books, completing past papers, and even explaining key concepts to others – in fact, this last one is a great tip to check that what you’re learning makes sense to you.
There is no perfect formula for exam success and you may not find all of our tips to be right for you. The key is to work out how you revise most effectively and stick to that as best you can. Ultimately, when it comes to revision, you get out of it what you put in.