Exam Revision: Powerful Pointers
So, exam season is upon us: nervous teenagers everywhere have their heads buried in text books, genning up on problematic equations and prepositions. It’s true that nothing beats hard work when it comes to studying, but by utilising my Exam Revision Powerful Pointers you will be able to guide your brain to retain crucial information much more easily.
My Powerful Pointers cover four key areas:
- Prepare to Revise
- Effective Revision
- Take a Break
- On Exam Day
PREPARE TO REVISE
Start Revising Soon Enough
Think about it: do actors only rehearse the day before opening night or do athletes only train the day before a competition? It takes time to commit something to memory so revising should begin months, not days before the exam itself.
One of the most powerful techniques you can use is “spaced revision” where you plan ahead and break up your topics into a number of short sessions: research has shown that we learn more effectively when we study in several sessions over a longer period of time, rather than studying repeatedly in a short period of time. It’s also incredibly motivational as you feel like you’re whizzing through each section and it’s no effort to start the next one as they’re so short. Read more about Timetables.
Don’t Put It Off
Delaying … postponing … procrastinating: it’s a common problem that most of us fall prey to at some point. If you find yourself tidying your desk, googling song lyrics or doing some other “displacement activity”, try doing a 5,4,3,2,1 countdown where you start revising as soon as you hit 1. You could also decide on a reward for yourself at the end of the revision session to motivate yourself to get through it. Try these other ideas from the Student Room to help you beat procrastination.
Find the Right Environment to Revise
The right environment in which to revise is crucial. It’s best not to sit on your bed as you’re likely to fall asleep, so a desk containing all your revision materials is the best option. If you don’t have a desk in your room, can you claim a quiet spot in your home solely for your revision? This will really help you concentrate and increase your productivity. Try having a plant or flowers in your study area as it could increase productivity by up to 15%!
Revise alone, in a quiet environment, rather than in Costa, or in the lounge with your family. And don’t be tempted to watch YouTube or television whilst revising. Even a radio can be distracting with constant interruptions to the music with adverts and DJ chatter. If you really feel you need some background noise, try a soothing playlist – preferably instrumental – that segues from one track to the next.
Draw Up a Revision Timetable
It’s never too late to draw up a revision timetable. It adds structure to your revision and can help you identify which topics you need to focus on. It also helps boost your motivation and combat exam stress. Be realistic. There are limits to how much work you can manage to do effectively in one day and regular breaks, eating and exercise are all important factors to incorporate. It’s also important to ensure you get enough sleep.
Include Regular Breaks
When I say regular, I mean every hour, not every 10 minutes! Research indicates that taking breaks during revision gives the brain a higher chance of remembering what you’ve crammed into it. Try 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off.
Move away from your study space to give yourself a change of environment. Do something entirely different for at least a couple of hours in the evening – anything that will de-stress you, whether it’s watching TV, going to the gym or just going for a walk. See Relax.
Tempting as it is to snack on junk food whilst you’re revising, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour if you eat as healthily as possible to ensure your brain and the rest of your body function optimally. Remember to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, carbs for energy and protein for growth and repair. Omega 3 is recognised as “brain food” and if fish isn’t your jam, then try taking capsules.
Recent research shows that rosemary, turmeric, sage, olive oil, baked beans and dark chocolate improve brain functionality, memory and concentration. Read more here.
Get the Inside Track
Get a copy of the exam syllabuses and ensure every part of each one is included in your revision timetable. Search the net for Examiners’ Reports. These are an invaluable source of information as they quite literally tell you what they want to see on exam papers, as well as examples of what not to do.
Put Away Your Phone
Phones are one of the biggest distractions and often a source of procrastination when revising. A recent study found that even the sight of a phone was enough to reduce a person’s ability to focus. Out of sight really is out of mind.
Do Past Papers
Once you’ve learned your mind maps and your revision cards, put them away and concentrate on doing past papers so you begin learning how to apply what you’ve revised to the exam papers.
Do as many as you can and do each one at least twice. It will familiarise you with exam format, question style, time pressure and how to retrieve information quickly, which is key to exam success. With each one, trawl through the mark scheme and ensure you understand everything there. This gives you a better idea of how to think through an exam question.
You will also be able to make connections between different areas of the syllabus which is ultra important when it comes to A / A* questions.
Test Yourself (and Others)
Repeated testing works. Fact. Leading memory researchers believe testing yourself is one of the most effective ways to improve your ability to recall information. It engages you with the subject and it’s trickier for your mind to wander. It also helps you check for any gaps in your knowledge. Start by reading a text book then make flash cards of the critical concepts to test yourself, or do the tests in your revision guides.
After you’ve tested yourself, teach someone else, – parent, sibling, classmate or friend. This requires you to learn and organise your knowledge in a clear and structured manner. Research shows this aids memory and recall: it is known as “the Protégé Effect”.
Firstly, make sure you actually make notes, not just read through your books.
Don’t waste time making them look pretty. Include the details you need to learn, but don’t make it a work of art. Limit yourself to 2 or 3 colours so you don’t get carried away colouring things in.
Despite being a popular revision tool, research suggests that highlighters don’t work as they isolate single pieces of information. People learn and recall information better if they connect it to other pieces of information.
Using just one approach to revision will make it very dull indeed. Try watching videos or documentaries (don’t get side-tracked watching YouTube!), listening to podcasts, making mind maps, using visual imagery, making flashcards, posting sticky notes around the house or using different colours for each subject.
Your brain will recall where you were, how you revised for the topic or where the sticky note was located.
Wildcard: Stop Revising Before You’re Finished
This is one you may or may not choose to try: it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect. If you never fully finish a task or interrupt it regularly whilst you are in full swing, it makes you nervous and more likely to make an effort to remember what you were doing. It won’t suit everyone but you may want to give it a go!
TAKE A BREAK
If you find yourself getting nervous at the thought of exams, look at them in perspective. Yes, they are important and can help you in achieving your desired future, but not every successful person performed well academically. If you’ve put in the hard work, you can only do your best on the day.
As well as putting in the effort to revise, it’s essential that you keep time to do things you enjoy. It may be as simple as meeting friends for a coffee or going for a walk. Don’t be afraid to take your mind completely off the exams for a few hours.
It’s no secret that exercise improves your mental as well as your physical wellbeing. Fresh air will reinvigorate you and you’ll be able to focus better afterwards. Exercise gets the blood flowing which enables more oxygen to reach the brain, helping it to function more efficiently. In turn, this helps you deal better with stressful situations by reducing anxiety and increasing self-esteem.
It’s tempting when you’ve finished revising to slob out in front of YouTube or Snapchat your friends but be careful about doing this into the early hours. If you draw up a Revision Timetable you should have a clear plan for revising and relaxing – but also build in bedtime!
Sleep is such an important factor in ensuring our brains are in in tip-top condition for the day ahead. Aim to have a regular bedtime and stick to it! Read a book to switch off and use soothing music on low volume, timed to go off after a specific time period, to help you drift off to sleep. Ensure the room is dark enough and make sure your mobile phone is not only on silent, but that the backlight is off.
ON EXAM DAY
Relaxed Start to the Day
Set your alarm to give you plenty of time to get ready. Have a shower, listen to music and calm yourself.
Everyone knows it’s important to eat breakfast: it gets your metabolism going again after the long overnight fast. Research has proven that eating a breakfast containing complex carbohydrates helps improve memory and concentration during the morning. Complex carbs include fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and wholegrains. Ideally choose a wholegrain cereal with nuts and little sugar, such as muesli or granola. Research has also shown that breakfast-eaters are “less emotionally distressed and have lower levels of perceived stress” compared with those who do not.
Double check the time and place of your exam the night before and plan ahead so that you arrive 10-15 minutes before the start. Allow for eventualities such as your bus being late, or something else holding you up.
Take a drink and a snack for before and/or during the exam.
Avoid the Stressers
When you get to your exam, think about who makes you feel calm and confident and actively seek them out. Avoid spending the time before your exam surrounded by people who are particularly negative or who stress you out. It won’t help.
Find somewhere quiet to sit for a few minutes. Remind yourself of your exam strategy, eg the amount of time you should spend per question, reading each question first, writing five minutes of rough notes before answering a long question, or some other technique you’ve learnt. Pause and take some deep breaths which will lower your heart-rate and reduce tension. You can also do this in the exam itself if you start panicking.
Wildcard: Take in a Beer Mat
OK, it sounds crazy. What for? There’s nothing worse than working on a wobbly desk. It will help your nerves and general mental status if you can cure the problem!
Remember to keep exams in perspective. You can only do your best.