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5 revision techniques to help you ace exam season (plus 7 more unusual approaches)

Here are some handy tips that can help make your revision more bearable

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Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

Seeta Bhardwa

Editor, THE Student
May 23 2017
Student studying at home


After months of attending classes, submitting essays and attempting to read around your subject, exam season is finally here. And with it comes multiple hours of revision, which can be a difficult thing to master. 

But fear not. Here are a selection of revision and exam tips to help you get through this tricky time. Read on for some revision tips that go beyond cue cards, highlighting and spider diagrams. 

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1. Start early

The earlier you start, the more prepared you will be. Starting early allows you time to really learn the material and understand it – and it means you can cope with any factors that may unexpectedly disrupt your revision. Also, “cramming” is just not effective for everyone, and will often only create more stress. Spend a couple of hours figuring out the material you will need to know for each exam and map out a revision timetable that takes into account when each of your exams is.

Make your revision timetable as detailed as possible, writing exactly what you need to do each day, for how long, and make sure you schedule in regular study breaks too. Without regular breaks you could be headed for stress and burnout, which definitely won’t contribute to exam success. 

2. Work out what type of learner you are

Everyone learns in different ways. Some like colour-coded spider diagrams, others will be able to learn simply by reading and copying. Some people like to learn through listening to others speak. Revision can be a highly personal process and it’s worth testing out a few different methods before finding an approach that suits you. This will make sure that you are working smarter, not harder. 

Along the same lines, figure out when you learn best. This may be early in the morning or late at night – again, each person is different. Plan your revision to utilise the times when you think you are at peak productivity levels. 

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3. Create the optimum learning environment

There will be loads of people who will tell you that working in a library is more productive than working from home. Others will say that locking yourself in your room is the only way to revise. This will vary based on how you learn best and, again, it is worth experimenting to find what works for you.

For example, contrary to most of the revision advice out there, I always found that coffee shops were a great place to sit and make revision notes, and I could never work well in my room. But a friend of mine couldn't revise anywhere other than her room and actually found working from her bed effective. Varying your environment can also help to keep your revision interesting too. 

Noise is a heavily debated topic. Most revision guides will tell you that music or the TV is too distracting, but this is entirely down to personal preference. One thing that worked wonders for me while making revision notes was playing Disney films in the background. I watched them so many times as a child that I didn’t get distracted by the dialogue – and it provided the gentle background noise I needed to help me focus.

If speech or songs with lyrics are too distracting for you, try film scores or instrumental music. For others, pin-drop silence will be the only thing that works. The only way to know for sure is to test this out. Also, as a side note, make sure you wear comfortable clothes and have plenty of water and healthy snacks to hand. 

4. Be strict

No matter how you dress it up, revision isn’t the most enjoyable of pastimes and I’m sure there are millions of things you would rather be doing. But you have to be strict with yourself. Eliminate all distractions and stick to your revision timetable as best as you can. Keep your phone away from you, switch off the wi-fi on your laptop if you don’t need the internet, and make sure you have everything you need before you begin, to stop yourself having to get up.

If you must have your phone near you, download an app that stops you from continuously checking Instagram or Facebook. Forest is a particularly innovative one. It plants a seed when you lock your phone and a tree continues to grow until you quit the app. To make sure your tree keeps growing, don't go on to any other apps on your phone. If this doesn't work for you, there are plenty of other productivity apps that can stop you unnecessarily checking your phone. 

5. Practise, practise, practise

It is important to ensure that all this revision doesn’t go to waste and that you are able to apply the knowledge in an exam situation. Past papers are a revising student’s best friend, and if your university or school doesn’t provide them, ask a teacher or lecturer to write a couple of questions down for you. The more you do, the more you can work out what the exam board is looking for and you can adapt your revision accordingly. Remember you are likely to fail the first couple, so don’t be disheartened. As with anything, practise makes perfect, so keep at it.

And finally, some more unorthodox revision methods that might work for you:

  • Record yourself reciting key dates, quotes or equations and listen to them as you walk to and from the library/supermarket, while at the gym or when you’re cooking dinner. You won’t feel like you’re revising but you will be amazed at how much you retain.
  • Wear a particular perfume or aftershave while studying different modules and then make sure you wear the same one on the day of the exam corresponding to that module. Similarly, have different mints or sweets while revising different modules and then take those into the exam (if allowed). Associating certain smells and tastes with one area of study could help to jog your memory. 
  • Set up a sports game with people on your course and incorporate exam questions into the rules of the game. For example, during a rounders/baseball game, every time someone runs to a post they have to shout out a fact, quote or figure relating to the subject.
  • Read things out loud in different accents or voices. Then when you are trying to recall the facts, you’ll remember the accent and then hopefully the fact too.
  • Write down your revision notes in different formats. For example, write one subject as a news story, another as a letter to a friend or relative, compose them into haikus or draw them as a comic strip. Be careful not to waste too much time on this though. It doesn’t need to be a work of art, just a different way of presenting the information.
  • Find a friend who is on a different course to you and teach each other about your courses. The act of having to explain things to help someone else understand something will help to highlight what you yourself have learned.
  • Stick Post-it notes everywhere. Literally everywhere. Just being surrounded by your revision notes will mean that something will have to sink in.

 Read next: how to deal with exam stress

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