Exams are a necessary evil. They are designed to test our understanding of a given subject or topic, demanding hours of study to enable us to reproduce often pointless information. Most of us spend hours and hours revising hard but not necessarily revision well. Efficiency is key! So, to help you achieve a result you deserve, here are 10 tips to optimize your revision, and to get the best grade possible!
1) Be organized - Have a plan.
This is probably the most important tip. How many times have you spent too long revising a particular topic, only to find that it is worth less than another? How often does it seem you just don’t have enough time to get through all the material you need to?
Make a plan and make it early. Here are some things to consider when hatching a plan:
- How much each topic is worth. A 20 credit module requires twice as much revision time as a 10 credit module.
- How much time do you actually have to revise? You need to eat and sleep too!
- You have a life too. Give yourself time to enjoy yourself too.
- Balance your topics. Don’t neglect something you find particularly hard. At the same time, don’t neglect something you find easy!
- Make a key summary section after you have revised a topic. You should be able to pick out what you think is essential to know.
Efficient revision means being organized. Make good notes and file them properly. When study time comes, you really don’t want to be rummaging through mountains of paper to find what you need. The same applies for your revision notes. Know exactly how much time you have, get an academic planner, they are cheap and will allow you to get real perspective on how much time you actually have!
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2) Where should you revise? Where do you work best?
Humans are social creatures. Especially young humans away from home surrounded by other humans their own age… Working in groups can often be beneficial, but is it beneficial to you? To revise efficiently you must have a firm grasp on what works best for you. Going to the library and working with your friends may seem more fun than sat at home on your own, but how much work will you actually get done? Would the 20 minute walk to the library be better spent actually working at home? That said, finding a quiet spot in the library to smash work in solitude is often preferable to working at home with the TV or your laptop so close…
The most important thing is to actually get on with the work and to do it yourself! When exam time comes round, you can’t ask your friend for advice can you?
3) Take plenty of breaks - The 20:10 Rule.
Hour after hour of solid revising is good for no one. Keep your mind fresh and agile and take regular breaks. No, I don’t mean 20 minutes work, 1 hour Youtube video surfing; the video of a man throwing a racoon down a set of stairs will still be there when you finish!
I like to use the 20:10 rule. Set a timer and work for 20 minutes solid. And then when the timer is up have ten minutes off. This technique is especially effective because you will find yourself reaching 20 minutes before you realize, and you will keep your concentration levels higher for longer. This rule means you will be working 40 minutes solid every hour and that is substantial. Feel free to play around with this, perhaps first thing when your mind is like a sponge and ready to absorb whatever rubbish you must fill it with, try 30:10. Then, when you are mentally fatigued try 10:10.
You will undoubtedly reach a point of no return when you may as well be reading Chinese. This is the time to stop. Go home put your feet up and have a brew, perhaps now you can watch that racoon video!
4) If you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail.
This tip does what it says on the tin. While it is possible to learn a year’s worth of material on a subject in the weeks leading up to an exam (I know as I have done it), this is likely to make your hair fall out and induce insomnia. Revision is the process of committing what you have learned to memory, and being able to regurgitate this information appropriately. To do this you have to know the material in the first place!
- Attend all lectures, force yourself to take notes.
- Make note of what you have yet to re-visit.
- Don’t let work accumulate. One lecture a week to summarize is easier than 10 lectures at the end of the course. Do it while it is fresh.
Do yourself a favour, learn as you go. Learning your course material as you study will save you from many sleepless nights and the fear of failure all together.
5) Don't skip lessons. No matter how boring they are.
It is incredible how often you will find yourself missing lectures. Being an independent young person you will of course indulge in the occasional night out, waking up surrounded by fast food boxes. This will occasionally lead to missing a lecture or two. Fight this habit! If you are at University or College, you are paying for this course, often excessive amounts of money. Get your money’s worth! While the economical factor is substantial, the reality of the situation is that you will miss out on valuable information if you miss lessons. Simple as that. To achieve top grades, you often have to show you have learned around the scope of the course you are enrolled on. More to the point, your exams are internally written meaning your lecturers will have written the papers! To miss their guidance on a regular basis is an unwise move. Revision lectures towards the exam period are extremely beneficial, as you may find clues to where you should direct your revision focus!
6) Mix your revision up.
Reading the same stuff over and over will not get you very far. There is only so long you can be stimulated by a particular subject, no matter how much of a geek you are. Flash cards are a great way to spice up your study and they are a cheap resource too! Get others to test your knowledge. Discuss a topic with your colleagues, this is a sure way to know if you truly understand a topic. If you can talk about it, you know it. The key here is not to get set in a tedious routine. Flex your mind and keep active.
7) Eat well, stay hydrated and exercise.
Try to refrain from eating crap while you revise. You wouldn’t put crap fuel in your car and expect it to run like a beast would you? Your body is no different. Now, I fully understand just how stressful revision can be. Especially when you have a bad day and two packs of caramel digestives one after another… The point is, get all your snacks ready for revision. Don’t give yourself excuses to get up and forage for food. Also, staying hydrated is imperative.
As for staying active, brisk walk in the morning to the library will switch you on mentally, and a nice stroll home in the evening will give you time to unwind your brain on the way home.
8) Be realistic and reward yourself.
If you think you will be able to study 7 days a week for 6 weeks before your exams, you are a fool. You really must take time for yourself to stop you from losing hope. If there is a film you would like to see, or a game of football or whatever, reward your 6 days of hard work and have some time for yourself. You deserve it.
9) Practice makes perfect. Past exam papers are your new best friend.
The saying is true. You will be better at answering questions if you have practiced before the exam. Trawl the past papers and use them to assess what you do and don’t know. Exams are often similar. Chances are, if you have really worked on the previous exam papers, you will be much better off in the long run.
Read the exam questions then brainstorm your ideas. Planning an answer to the question is no different to planning your revision. A solid plan yields a solid answer. A good exercise is to predict potential questions and answer them. Assessing your course material and anticipating questions is a great way to prepare for an exam. However, guessing what will come up on an exam and then only revising that is a bad idea! Be smart.
10) Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.
To succeed in exams, there is unfortunately no substitution to solid hard work. There is no magic potion that will make you do well. You have either worked hard and know your stuff or you haven’t.
And that is it! Use these useful tips to optimise your revision and study more efficiently. Remember:
- Know how you work best, find the right place to revise for you.
- Work hard play hard. Take plenty of breaks to keep your mind fresh. Reward your hard work with social activities.
- Practice makes perfect, work hard and smash past exam papers.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. It’s important to fuel your revision machine.
- Get organized. Make a plan and stick to it. Make a revision timetable.
Good luck with your revision!