Exam Revision Tips: How To Revise Effectively

By School House

6 years ago

Cyrus Afkhami, founder of My Tutor Club, explains how revising the right way can be the key to success

We are approaching the summer half term,  a crucial time for students sitting summer exams, whether that is the 13+ Common Entrance, GCSEs, AS or A-levels or IB exams. However, it is remarkable how many students do not know how to revise. Approaching revision in the wrong way wastes time, reduces confidence and is more tiring. Follow these revision tips for students…

Here are six revision tips to ensure that your child learns effectively and efficiently before their exams.

strathallan revision

How to revise for exams effectively

Take a break
Tired students do not learn and will not perform to their full potential. They have finished a long, hard term at school and they should spend the first five to seven days of the Easter holidays resting, relaxing and rejuvenating. This does not necessarily mean forgetting about studies all together – an hour per day just to keep the brain ‘warm’ is sufficient – but certainly diving into a rigorous revision programme, especially for 13+ Common Entrance candidates, is ill advised. Revision will be so much more fruitful and efficient once the mind has had some time to switch off.

No cramming
About five days into the Easter break, gently start to re-open the books. But, don’t over do it – there is no point working hours on end, as it is completely counter-productive.

Create a schedule
Want to know how to revise for exams in a day? Or a week? To achieve the best results, break revision into manageable chunks, interspersed with breaks. Get into a routine which is realistic. One suggested routine for a GCSE or 13+ Common Entrance student is:

9:15-10:15>> English (either comprehension /language or literature)
10:15-10:45>> Take a break
10:45-11:45>> One maths topic (one topic, for example algebra)
11:45-12:15>> Take a break
12:15-1:15>> Biology, chemistry or physics)
1:15-2:15>> Have lunch (oily fish, vegetables and a smoothie works great)
2:15-3:15>> One history topic, for example the collapse of Weimar Republic
3:15-3:45>>Take a break
3:45-4:45>> One topic from geography, religious studies, French or Latin

The above schedule can be adapted for A-level or IB.

Clearly, this timetable will vary depending on each student (the above is just a rough suggestion) but the point is that creating a timetable that you can stick to will give you the structure and discipline to revise a variety of subjects in an efficient way.

Effective revision techniques: focus on revising past exam questions
It is important to go through past exam papers as part of the learning (and later on the revision) process. Going through past exam papers, taking down notes, understanding how various maths problems are solved and paying attention to the various ways that questions can be worded are what students should be focusing on.

Start practicing under timed conditions
Students should start practicing solving problems or writing essays under timed conditions sooner rather than later. No doubt students will find this difficult at the beginning, but that’s not a problem, because the more questions you practice under timed conditions, the better time management skills will become. When the exams do finally arrive, students will be better accustomed to the time pressure.

Encourage and Reward
Regular encouragement helps students of every age, and ‘rewarding’ a good day’s revision with a trip to the park, a film or a lovely dinner provides a meaningful target to aim for. Reinforce the idea that in less than two months the exams will all be over and after that there will be two months of summer holidays ahead.

Cyrus Afkhami is Founder of My Tutor Club, a leading private tuition company based in London that provides private tutoring for all levels (both in-person and online) as well as 13+ / GCSE / A-level revision booster courses, Schools Advisory consultancy and 11+/13+ school interview practice to students in the UK and abroad.

Revision tips: What NOT to do

Now we’ve told you how to revise, here are 13 of the common revision pit-falls, and how to avoid them. 


1. Stop putting it off

» Plan for revision from the start of the course. Revise material at the end of each term rather than in one end of year sprint. If possible, start to learn names, dates and key details from index cards at odd moments early in the term.

» Write model answers. When planning or reading for a part of the course, write alternative essay titles on separate pages. Once you have done this, you can create a model answer of notes and page references under each heading.

» Make notes clear. Make your notes as readable, attractive and visually compelling as you can going through the course. This builds memory.

» Allow plenty of time. Allow one week for each exam you are sitting. Thus, six Common Entrance subjects = six weeks, plus 4 weeks for intensive reading. Or 6 + 4 = 10 weeks. For 11 GCSEs 11+ 4 = 15 weeks as a minimum. This should really take the pressure off.

2. How to avoid the problem of not being able to force yourself back to study

» Think about your motivation. Try not to see revision as a sort of prison sentence but something you want to do to achieve more. This simple mental change from positive to negative can work wonders.

3. How to deal with rising panic

» Speak to parents or a school counsellor and avoid friends who bring you down or are negative – stick to the positive ones.

» After every revision session, list the positive things that you have accomplished.

4. How to stop boredom and mind wandering

» Work in short spells with breaks. Try different learning techniques – interactive ones are better. To challenge your mind, read more advanced articles on the subject and think about how you could use any of this more advanced material in your exam answers.

5. How to avoid leaving revision until the last minute

» Ask a sibling or a parent to act as keeper of the timetable, making sure that you keep up to speed. Take the view that every day of delay on planning or work means extra pain later.

6. How to avoid writing out notes again and again

» Working to different essay plans keeps your thinking fresh and helps to develop your thinking about the subject. Index cards, where the material is boiled down to smaller pyramids or ‘heads’ can help to reduce information to a series of memory triggers. This is a useful tool towards the end of the process.

7. How to avoid reading through revision notes again and again

» Read to ask questions, rather than just to read. The best way to do this is to look for material related to possible examination answers.

» Talk about past exam papers with a group of friends in a ‘debate’ format. This will throw up all sorts of new material and angles and make the process more interesting. The one rule is that every person present has to hand round pre-prepared quotes and references supporting each point that they make. This adds to the sum of knowledge for the whole group.

8. How to avoid writing out essays and learning them by heart

» Just avoid this. It is completely counter-productive as it is unlikely that an identical question will come up in your examination. Instead, spend time reflecting on, and practising, a range of answers, so that you can adapt the material to the exam question that you receive.

9. How to plan work around your responsibilities and social life

» Short spells of time can be used for revision – study flash cards on bus journeys, for instance. Look at the course as a whole and divide it into small chunks. Always carry a section of work with you.

» Divide work and play rigorously. Exam results can change your whole life, so don’t be pressurised into partying by friends who care less about revision than you do. They will suffer in the end – unless they are pure geniuses in which case they will have other problems to contend with!

10. How to avoid stopping at the wrong point

» Some people make the mistake of starting the revision process too early and they forget what they learn. It is vital to keep checking back on what you have learnt and to keep reducing your material to shorter memory triggers.

11. How to revise by ear

» To revise by ear, record yourself answering questions. Listening to your own voice can help memory.

12. How to stay healthy

» Eat, sleep and relax properly or your attentiveness and recall will be damaged. Take regular exercise. Walk around the block occasionally to refresh your mind – it is not wasted time.

13. How to get help when you need it

» Use subject surgeries if you have them at school and never be afraid to ask a teacher for help if you do not understand a topic. Ask clever friends to help – a maths whizz can check your answers on equations and a bilingual friend can ensure that you haven’t made too many obvious mistakes in your German essay. Be generous with your own strengths – you are not ‘in competition’ for national examinations, as a certain percentage guarantees a certain mark.

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