The time when GCSE and A Level revision begins to intensify is nigh. After last week’s blog about how parents and students can deal with exam stress, this week we are looking at some top revision tips for students.
There are two overall aims for revision: to make sure it is effective, and to keep it as stress-free as possible. There’s no point spending hours ‘revising’ if you’re not focused and it’s not going in, and – however important exams may be – they are not worth sacrificing your mental health for. It goes without saying you should always eat breakfast, get enough sleep and for God’s sake, try and ignore your phone while revising! (I used to put mine on airplane and check it during breaks…seriously, it’s the only way). You can even get computer apps to block certain websites on your computer while working.
All of these are backed up by research, as well as teachers and tutors…so what are some of the subtler tips for effective revision?
Find out what type of learner you are
By GCSE/A Level you should have an idea of what kind of learning works best for you. Maybe it’s visual – videos, flashcards and colour-coding, or a number of great revision apps. Maybe it’s oral, and discussing a subject with other people in a group is how you best understand things. Indeed, the effectiveness of teaching a subject to someone else to improve your own understanding is proven. Maybe you like to sit in a quiet library and read/look over books and articles, and make your own notes. Whichever it is, try and gear your learning towards that. However, generally speaking, making notes in your own hand, then condensing them, is better than just reading and highlighting (more tedious? Sure. More effective? Definitely)
Get out of the house
Quite simply, for most people it is hard to separate being at home from comfort and relaxation. Your bed, TV and kitchen are all mere seconds away, and that will always make it harder to focus on work. Whether it’s a cafe, library or at school, it always helps to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and have a definite ‘work’ space. Then, having done a good day’s revision, you can actually relax at home. Even better if you can walk or cycle between places…
The links between good physical and mental health are well established, and making exercise a part of your daily routine can help reduce stress, improve focus and mood and lead to sharper mental awareness. And it doesn’t need to be much – even a brisk 10 minute walk will have positive benefits. Many teenagers will already have exercise as part of their daily routine, but it is important not to let this tail off around a stressful revision period, when the benefits will be even more pronounced.
Have a plan – and test yourself
It doesn’t really help to be scattergun about revision, and to wake up every day not sure what to take with you, or what you’ll be doing that day. It’s better to have a timetable of what you will cover when, thinking about how long you need to spend on each subject. Take some time to make a revision timetable, give yourself a routine, and try and stick to it. Then, don’t move on from a topic until you’ve effectively tested yourself. Do a practice essay or some questions from a past paper. And if you’re not happy, then spend some more time on it.
Give yourself enough time!
This is so important. I know, because it’s not something I did at GCSE time (but having learned a hard lesson, I rectified it for A Levels). If you think you need three months to revise everything in every subject, well – start now, and spread it out nicely. There’s plenty of time right now to start slowly revising stuff you did back in september and don’t remember so well. Maybe you know everything there is to know and only need a month to revise but…really?
Of course the exams feel far away now, but they’ll creep up on you. And if you’re left to cram, well that means…late nights, added stress, nagging parents (probably), weird sleeping and eating habits, waking up feeling awful every day and possibly developing a caffeine addiction (again – personal experience). And of course, feeling like that every day makes it harder to concentrate and do effective revision.
Wake up at a reasonable time
It’s no secret that most teenagers could happily sleep until midday or beyond (it’s their biological destiny). So it can be hard to have the right discipline during study leave – but worth it. If you can get at least two hours of effective revision done by midday, that’s a great start (and harder than it should be for lots of people). It’s also important to take breaks, roughly every 45 minutes, and this is more justifiable if you got to the library before 1 (plus, all the seats will be taken by then and you’ll be wandering round like a berk).
Don’t try and cut out everything you enjoy from your daily life, stop seeing your friends, or try and work for 18 hours a day. After a certain point, it becomes detrimental. Have a cut-off time every day after which you will do no work, when you can relax, switch off and do something else. This will also encourage you to focus during the day, as there’s no sense of ‘I can just do it later tonight.’
On top of doing effective revision, if you are looking for an expert tutor in any GCSE or A Level subject, for one-to-one or small group sessions, get in touch with the Temple of Minerva on 0208 819 3276.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.