7 tips to revision with less stress and more success
Updated: May 20
So many students wait until the last possible moment to prepare for their exams. At that point, under stress and with limited time, it is very difficult to embed anything in to your brain.
Independent learning is a skill that is developed over time. It takes time to learn what works for you. So it is certainly a good idea to start early. The more time you allow yourself to practice study skills, the more effective your revision will be. And you won't have to spend as much time reviewing material in the last weeks before the exam.
So start today an immediately get ahead of all those Last-Minute Larries who will be cramming the night before.
1. Build good habits daily
The key to building any good habit is the same - one day at a time. Practice, review, improve, repeat. That's how any new skills or habits are built.
So its important to make revision a part of your daily schedule. Perhaps once you get home from school, have a drink and change out of your uniform, and then sit down for an hour to revise each day. Or perhaps after dinner you'll head up to your room for some revision. Maybe you'll spend thirty minutes of your lunch break summarising the latest topic of one subject. Whatever works for you, and you can tweak it if it doesn't work out. But make sure it is daily.
2. Have a schedule
There are constant distractions in our day. We could easily spend all of our time responding to these rather than giving our time to the things that truly serve us.
This is why it is important to have a schedule for your weeks and days so that you can give attention to the things that need it.
Most people have a calendar app on their phone. You may well already use this to keep track of important dates and plans ahead of time.
You should also make a rough schedule for your week / month to include the things that need to happen regularly.
You can make this very quickly:
- Draw out a weekly template
- Take out time for the critical things: sleeping x 9 hours per day; eating x 2 hours per day
- Block out the time for the important things: attending school x 6 hours per day; homework x 2 hours per day; clubs x 1-3 hours per week
- Make time for the valuable things: family and social events 1-3 hours per week; rest and relaxation 1-2 hours per day.
- The time that is left is when you work on your goals: revision!
Set up a schedule that will work for you, and you can tweak it over time until it feels comfortable. However comfortable does not mean easy. Working towards our goals is difficult, or else it would not be working. Don't be put off - stick at it.
3. Know your exam content
You can usually download a copy of your exam specification from the exam board website. These things are diamond level valuable to you for your revision, but many students aren't even aware they exist!
These list everything that may be included in your exam, as well as details on the exams you will have to sit, and handouts you might be in the exam, etc.
A commonly used one is the Edexcel GCSE Maths Specification which you can download here.
Look up the specification for each exam you will have to sit. Your teacher should be able to guide you if you have trouble finding it.
4. Make a checklist
Once you know the content that will be on your exam, divide it into individual topics. It should be divided into sections small enough that you could review it in an hour's revision session.
Don't be over-optimistic with your time here. You'll only make life harder for yourself. Lots of small chunks is better than one mammoth revision session.
When you're done, count up how many topics there are to revise. This is how many revision sessions you'll need to schedule before your exams.
Its also a good idea to save time at the weekend to review everything you've studied through the week. This second review helps to make sure that you're studying was effective through the week. If you don't remember the content at this point, just make a note to come back to it later in a different way.
5. How much time do you have?
You should also be able to get a list of the exam dates from the exam board website. They're also shared by Ofqual. Make sure to put those dates in your diary.
Everyone taking the exam, whichever board or level, takes their exam at the same time. So for example everyone will sit GCSE maths paper 1 on the same date and time in May, regardless of whether they are sitting it with Edexcel, AQA, or OCR, and whether they're sitting the foundation or higher paper.
How many weeks does that leave you to prepare for your exam? That's how many chances you'll get to tweak your revision schedule, and to cover all of the content. So you can see that it is important to start early!
6. Active learning
In order to remember anything, you need to have processed it through your mind. So simply reading notes won't do. You need to do something with them.
You might like to create a mind map or graphic with the content, to structure the information. These are useful useful to put up on your wall after your revision to help memorise important facts and figures over time. Put them somewhere you'll see them often, and you'll be revising without even thinking about it.
Perhaps you like to create revision cards with bite size chunks of revision on each. Creating these is revision in itself, but they're also great for testing your understanding, and also last minute revision.
You might even make a video to represent the content you've covered. Why not have a go at becoming a YouTube star while you're at it. Or if you prefer, you can just make them for yourself, and review them later to mix up your revision.
Its also a good idea to work with other people sometimes, and test each other as you go. It won't work if all of your revision is like this, as you need to focus on your own personal study needs, and make sure you're focused. But sometimes its good to work together and make it a bit more fun. Take turns being quiz master and student, and perhaps even make a competition out of it.
7. Monitor your progress
It can get a bit draining to be working towards a goal for months on end. Sometimes it can feel like a waste of time, and you can lose motivation.
Its really important for this very reason to keep track of your progress.
Keep testing yourself, and record your scores each time.
Record what you get in end of term tests and mocks.
Measure how well you do on online quizzes.
Note it all down in a single study record.
When you feel like you're not making progress, when you start thinking you're stupid and you'll never get it, when you feel like a failure, take a look back at how far you've come.
We're always learning, throughout our lives. Through your teenage years it is likely at the most intense level it will ever be for most people. This unfortunately coincides with the time you're hit with a massive growth in hormone production, and associated mood and energy fluctuations.
This causes the tendency for students to put undue stress and pressure on themselves by setting expectations really high.
There is no expectation of perfection. The aim is not grade 9s across the board or failure. This is a stepping stone on a much bigger path, on which we'll make many changes and decisions after this point. We're just trying to get through this as best we can. No more, and no less.
As long as you're moving forwards, you're doing well. So make sure you're keeping track of your wins along the way.