Sustainable Schools

Practical Tips for Exams and Revision

This section contains help and advice to get you through the revision and exam sessions. However it does not contain any specific syllabus advice - if you want this, click here.

There are four areas you can read about. 

Click on a link below to go straight there...







Revision! What a nightmare...

But must it really be so bad? The following tips will help you consider when, where and how you revise so that you can use your time to the best advantage.

Q. "When is the best time to revise?"

When, for how long, and how often you study are very important considerations in improving the effectiveness of your study time. Only you can say what is best for you, but you should think about:

bulletDo you prefer to study first thing in the morning, or late at night?
bulletIf you revise for long periods at a time (say 2-3 hours) are you really taking it all in?
bulletWhen do you take breaks? Regularly, or when you are on the brink of madness?
bulletThe brain works best on small chunks, repeated often. So 15 minutes per day on a topic is going to be better than 1 hour every 4 days.

Q. "Where is the best place to revise?"

Research suggests that the ideal place to revise is the room where the exam will take place, because different parts of the room will serve as reminders (accessing cues) for different parts of the revision. However, this is unlikely to be possible! The next best thing is to revise in lots of different places to get a wider variety of 'accessing cues', so get used to revising in different places in the library, common room, or around your house.

'Accessing cues' include parts of your room, the pieces of music you listened to when you were revising, and even moods. By trying to recall or recreate these cues, it is claimed that you will recall the revision associated with it. It could be a song lyric that reminds you it was Descartes who said "I think therefore I am." (or Monty Python who said "I'm pink therefore I'm spam.") Whatever...

Q. "What's the best way to revise?"

Revision needs to be active, so don't just sit there reading and re-reading your notes! You will remember far more if you make your revision an active learning process. Here are some strategies which people find useful. You may, too:

bulletEnsure you have plenty of past exam papers - these are useful aids to revision as long as you get the answers!
bulletDraw diagrams or pictures to represent the facts you want to learn. You'll find they stick in your mind better than pages and pages of notes. Ask your teacher about the powerful "7 Monkeys" technique.
bulletAlternatively, try using a Mind Map (see below). Write a topic title in a box in the middle of a page, and add branches which structure the details of your revision. These tend to represent the way the brain deals with information, and is easier to remember because its very visual.
bulletTry using Mnemonics. This is a way of remembering information by using abbreviations, words or phrases. An example is the way we remember colours of the spectrum, i.e. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. They can be as personal as you like (you're more likely to remember them that way), and composing them can be great fun!
bulletRevise with others, discussing a topic. Its probably best to avoid testing each other though, as this can be a demoralising experience.
bulletReward yourself! Set yourself a target, and the promise of a reward when you reach the target, like a bag of jelly babies, the pub for last orders, or even watching Strictly Come Dancing ( if you were desperate).

Remember to make your revision time as active and enjoyable as possible, just so long as what you are doing is constructive.

The Day of the Exam

Here are some tips for taking those dreaded exams:

bulletDon't panic! If you've prepared, you'll be fine.
bulletListen carefully to all the instructions. There might be some you weren't expecting.
bulletFill in your personal details. Read ALL the instructions, and check how many questions you have to answer.
bulletAllocate your time, including enough to read through the paper at the start, and time to plan your answers and check them through at the end. You might want to allocate more time to those questions which carry greater marks.
bulletRead the question carefully, answer the question that is on the exam paper even if it is not quite the one you had prepared for. Find out what RTBQ means!!!!
bulletBe strict with your time. You can always go back to a question at the end, and you won't score many marks if you don't answer enough questions.
bulletIf you do run out of time, you might gain some valuable extra marks for providing a plan for an answer that might have been!
bulletEver had that all important fact on the tip of your tongue? Maddening, isn't it? Sing yourself a song, doodle, or do anything to unblock your mind. Try writing out the alphabet... the first letter of the word you're looking for might be the trigger you need.
bulletDon't forget to turn over the last page for the examiner's hidden last question. If I had a pound for every student who told me after the exam that they'd missed the question on the last page, I'd have...ooohhh...at least a fiver by now.

Good luck.


Have you tried 'Memory Mapping' yet?

Key Benefits

bulletBenefit 1    The brain is thought to organise experiences more like a memory map, rather than 'linearly' as in a book.
bulletBenefit 2    You can get lots of relevant information compressed onto one diagram or map.
bulletBenefit 3    You will recall a lot more for the exam because your revision has been personalised by the act of making the map.




Mind Mapping


Mind Mapping: A Technique for Innovative Brainstorming 

(Don't try to read anything on this map - it's just an example to show you how it looks!)



1: What is a Memory Map?

 Uses words and/or pictures to organise your thought

2: What are its benefits?

Lets you 'see' 

a) Problems

b) Opportunities

c) Solutions

d) A way forward

e) Not necessary to think logically

 f) Making connections that aren't obvious or linear

g) One idea triggers others

h) Thought chain reaction

i) Sometimes, the crazier the better!


 Truly innovative ideas can stem from this technique


3: So how do you do it?

1: Take a blank sheet...

2: Write and/or draw the topic you wish to address in the centre...

3: As you think of different aspects relating to the topic write them down, or draw them with a line connected to the centre topic...

4: Thoughts relating to these aspects are then drawn out in a tree like structure ( or it could be a 'spider's web!)...

5: You can add or jump between aspects as thoughts arise...

6: You colour the text/lines and add pictures/sketches to gain insight and aid recall.


4: When do you use memory maps?

1: When you wish to be creative, innovative

2: When you want to make sense of the spaghetti in your mind

3: When you're revising difficult topics


5: What to use them for?

Limited only by your imagination, but try making a map for any of these topics that you find difficult:








Here's a memory map to help you to organise your revision...


Now for a bit of basic psychology...

The information below comes from the Open University site, but it is just as relevant to revising for school exams.


1) Memory and understanding

School examinations are not tests of memory, but are much more to do with the selection, presentation, and interpretation of materials. When you have understood what you have read, you can think about it and use it. Nonetheless, you may still be concerned about your ability to remember the information you want to revise and hopefully use in the examination room, and understanding the way you prefer to learn can be very helpful.

Look at these two groups of statements – do you feel more in tune with one set or the other?

Example A Example B

I like to get everything sorted before I start.

I don’t have any trouble remembering numbers and codes.

I tend to make lists to organise materials.

I prefer to write things down.

I can often follow a map more easily than written instructions.

Sometimes my best ideas come in quite unexpected ways.

I tend to have a good ‘feel’ for what I am doing but it doesn’t look very organised.

The A list represents some of the feelings that are associated with the logical, sequential, left side of the brain. 

The B list includes some of the more intuitive, spatial, and holistic qualities that are associated with the right side of the brain. 

If you feel more comfortable with list B, then you might like to try allowing yourself to study in a whole variety of ways. Some of them are described below. 

If you are more in sympathy with list A, then it can still be useful to experiment, because the most effective learning seems to take place when both sides of the brain are engaged together.

Most of us also seem to have a preference for the way we perceive information through one or more of our senses. Look at the lists below and tick the suggestions that seem to be most suited to you. Try some of them out in your revision.

Visual - you tend to say: Try:
I see that now>> designing an exciting poster or a colourful mind-map
I get the picture >> drawing a cartoon with facts attached to the pictures
that seems clear >> colour-coding different categories of information


Aural – you tend to say: Try:
that sounds great >> repeating out loud as you revise/read
I hear what you’re saying >> making facts into a rhyme or rap
that strikes a chord >> making a tape of information


Kinaesthetic – you tend to say: Try:
that feels right >> walking around speaking aloud the points you want to learn
it slipped my mind >> making any drawings as large as possible so you feel the word as you write it
let’s start from scratch >> making gestures as you speak or read


Whatever technique you use, the key is to make something memorable by exaggeration, by association, by colour, or humour – creating a vivid picture, sound, or feeling.

Finally, practice reviewing information. You remember best the information received at the beginning and end of a learning session. Thus, you learn more in a 60-minute learning session if you take two breaks, because you have three beginnings and three endings, so less is forgotten. When you take each break, quickly review the key points. Review them again one hour, one day, two days later. The reviewing is vital to reinforce the memory links.

Try out at least three new ideas taken from the Revision Section. Make a list of the strategies that work best for you.


2) Managing exam anxiety

You may find that examinations provoke levels of anxiety ('stress') which are highly uncomfortable and that you do not produce your best work under such pressure. If you tend to be a perfectionist an examination can be particularly stressful because exams have a set time limit which limits lengthy planning, rewriting and checking. Even revision can be difficult if you are constantly worrying about whether you will remember and understand your material when you are in the examination room.

These techniques will be more useful if you practice them early since you can use them alongside your revision, in the final run up to the exam and in the exam itself.

Technique 1: Self Talk

Turning Negative Statements into Positive Ones

You can guide your thinking away from general worry and self doubt by turning negative self statements into positive ones. This strategy is useful in all aspects of life. The example we give here relates to an unsuccessful test result and illustrates the process:

Unsuccessful test result

Down arrow

Down arrow

Negative self-talk Positive self-talk
I'm a failure, I should have done better than that. It's because the teacher doesn't like me because I don't do my preps well. I'm disappointed, but I understand more about my  performance now and overall strengths and weaknesses.

Down arrow

Down arrow

Feeling cheated, angry and disappointed or depressed. Determination to do better next time. I will ask the teacher for help.

Down arrow

Down arrow

Why bother trying ?- I'll just fail again! Revise twice as hard as before - I need this grade.







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