Want to put your revision time to best use? Looking for advice on how to improve your study skills? You'll find lots of helpful hints and tips in the information provided, including: developing revision notes; exam techniques; stress and time management; when to study alone or in a group and alternative revision techniques.
Effective Goal-Setting: Think about GCSE success as the first in a number of stepping-stones leading to the realisation of your long-term goals. You can use the reflective cycle to help achieve your goals.
Stage 1: Generating a Vision
Sit-up on your bed or sit on a chair and close your eyes
Relax your muscles, take a few slow and deep breaths and, with each out-breath, count down from 1 to 10
Imagine that it’s the day your GCSE results are released and you open the letter (or email) confirming that you’ve been awarded the very best GCSE grades that you believe you can achieve
Before opening your eyes, close this exercise by saying to yourself three times, ‘I am capable of achieving these grades in my GCSEs’
Stage 2: Making a Plan
Develop a revision strategy.
Space – The ideal space for revision has plenty of natural sunlight and is quiet, spacious and cool, but not cold
Time – Key aspects of effective time management include: clarifying priorities; creating a timetable; changing your daily routine; and being assertive
Money – There are essential pieces of revision equipment such as stationery (e.g. pens, notebooks, files) and resources (e.g. revision guides and exam papers) you need be buy
People – Ask teachers and other students for help
Stage 3: Taking Action
Keep a broad perspective on how your revision is progressing, focusing on solutions rather than problems, stay relaxed and continue revising! Take positive action, e.g. get up half an hour earlier every day to review your revision notes.
Stage 4: Evaluating Progress
Regularly set aside time to review recent experiences, evaluate how revision is progressing and use this process to refine your vision, amend your strategy and take fresh action.
What students say
“Don’t over revise! Well placed breaks and sleep are just as useful as active revision. It allows your brain to recover and rest and helps you absorb the information you’ve revised previously.”
“Use a variety of sources to revise, including revision guides, apps and past papers.” “Do the subjects you don’t like as much EARLY in the morning and you can focus on the subject you do like later on and enjoy them! REVISION SHOULD BE FUN!”
Effective revision is not just about studying alone. It’s also about making the most of social learning environments. Some aspects of revision (e.g. studying textbooks) are best completed alone in a quiet space where there are few distractions. This is known as self study. Other aspects of revision (e.g. enhancing your existing knowledge of topics) are best-suited to social environments where you can learn more interactively (e.g. by asking and answering questions). This is known as group study.
Organising out-of-school revision get-togethers will help you to build on the work that you complete in lessons, and to expand on progress that you make during self-study sessions at home. Teaching Topics to Friends
One of the most effective ways to learn information is by teaching and explaining it to others.
Create a summary – arrive at the meeting with a single piece of paper that sums up everything you want to say
Divide the topic up into sections - study your class notes, textbooks and revision guides to identify the main sections
Give examples of exam questions – have a look through practice and past exam papers so that, towards the end of your presentation, you can give examples
Provide opportunities for questions and answers – encourage questions and make a note of questions that you found difficult to answer and ask your friends to correct you if you haven’t explained something well
Set up new email contact groups and use social-networking sites to exchange revision notes and exam questions with friends that cropped up in previous years
What students say
“Ask your friends to make a few questions on a specific part of a subject. Once you have all done this you can get together and take it in turns to be a quiz master with your set of questions, your friends all answer them, then everyone learns about each part of the subject.”
“Revise with a friend or colleague - if possible, exchange ideas during revision - this can be very helpful to both people in understanding topics and building confidence.”
When people suffer from stress their concentration is poor and they find it difficult to memorise and recall information. Long periods of stress will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of your revision and on your performance in the exam room.
Major Life Changes
Avoid major life changes such as moving house, starting a new relationship, taking up a work experience placement, setting-up a new club or society or playing for a new sports team. Some of these changes are likely to be largely beyond your control (e.g. moving house). The key is not to try to avoid every source of stress, but to be sensible about how many life changes you can make whilst preparing for your GCSEs.
Clearing and re-organising a room that you use as your primary out-of-school revision space (e.g. your bedroom) will help to put you in control of your revision, and will boost your self-confidence.
Health and Fitness
Because of the strong links between mind and body, one of the best ways to combat exam stress is by ensuring that you keep yourself physically fit and healthy. Eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise and get plenty of rest/sleep.
Social Support Networks
Stay connected – some of the best ways to reduce exam stress involve other people, so be sure to stay connected to your family, friends and teachers.
Revision Diary Entries
Completing regular entries in a revision diary provides you with the chance to review your progress and reflect on solutions to any difficulties you’re facing. It also provides opportunities for you to complete and write up exercises that’ll help you to pacify negative emotions and stay positive.
What students say
“Before a revision session, clear your head by doing some exercise and getting rid of any ‘fidget’ energy you might have. Hula hooping is a good release of stress as well as being fun and good exercise.”
“Write questions from your revision guide on scraps of paper and scrunch up. On several bits of paper also write the word ‘chocolate’ and scrunch up. Mix up your pile of paper bits. Randomly pick one up and either answer the question or eat a bit of chocolate! Good motivation to answer all the questions to find all the hidden treats”
You typically need 30-90 minutes to properly revise each of the 200-300 topics in the subjects you’re taking. This means setting aside at least 200 hours and revising for an average of 1-2 hours per day from 3-6 months before your exams start!
Changing your Daily Routine
A good way to find time for revision is by changing your routine:
Note down your typical activities.
Make changes that enable you to revise for 1-2 hours per day.
Estimating Your Revision Time
Multiply the time that you intend to revise on average each day by the total number of days between now and your first exam. 15 weeks until my first exam 15 x 5 = 75 weekdays x 2 hours = 150 hours on weekdays 15 Saturdays x 3 hours = 45 hours on Saturdays 15 Sundays x 3 hours = 45 hours on Sundays
Add these three totals together. 150 hours + 45 hours + 45 hours = 240 hours
Subtract the number of days when you know that it will be difficult for you to revise. Unavailable on 5 weekdays x 2 hours = 10 hours Unavailable on 5 Saturdays or Sundays x 3 hours = 15 hours Unavailable for a total of 10 hours + 15 hours = 25 hours. Total time unavailable: 240 hours – 25 hours = 215 hours
Assume that you have underestimated the number of days when it will be difficult for you to revise by reducing this figure by 10-20 hours. Total revision time: 215 hours – 15 hours = 200 hours
Distributing Your Time Across Subjects and Topics
To make sure that you don’t spend too much time revising certain subjects (e.g. the ones that you find easiest), it’s important that you share out total revision time across all the subjects you’re studying. As there are more topics in some subjects than others, it’s also helpful at this stage to make a note of the number of topics you need to revise for each subject. You can then use these figures to work out roughly how much time you need to spend revising each topic within each subject. Having calculated how long you need to spend revising ‘typical’ topics, you can decide whether particular topics deserve special attention.
Creating Revision Timetables
When creating revision timetables, rather than trying to revise all of your subjects every week, focus on revising half of the subjects you are taking one week and the other half the following week, etc. A revision timetable tells you what you need to revise each day and puts you in control of your revision. Don’t worry if at any point you get behind. By working towards revising all topics by your first exam, you can catch up between exams.
What students say
“Set out your revision as if it was a school day, with same breaks and lesson times etc. It means the revision is not too intensive and gives you enough time in between the subjects to have breaks so you don’t lose concentration. If you did 6 hours of revision a day then that would obviously be very successful!” “To motivate you to revise, use a simple egg timer and place it in front of you with your revision work; set it to 30 minutes. You will find it easier to revise as you are being timed.”
“Make sure you have (and read!!!) the syllabus for each subject you are taking so you know what to revise for each exam. Break the syllabus up into sections and revise a section per week/couple of days (give yourself some time at the end to go over it all and to do past papers).”
Although there’s no single note taking technique that suits every individual or every learning task, there are general principles that you can apply when taking notes. You can think of these principles as a collection of ‘tools’.
Use colour to highlight, contrast and group information
Highlighting or underlining information in different colours according to its importance
Using colours to distinguish between sections of a topic (e.g. orange for notes relating to one section and pink for another)
Key Words and Symbols
Create memorable notes by using key words to help you remember what each sentence stated. Your revision notes can also be enhanced by using symbols - rather than writing key words, you could draw a symbol to represent the key word.
Experiment with different ways of summarising a passage of information
A summary list
An eight–part shape – draw a circle divided into 8 segments and put a key piece of information into each
A summary map or mind map
Using Mnemonics Effectively
Mnemonics are things that help students to remember information, e.g. creating a story around a set of key words that you need to remember. Having to memorise and recall the story acts as a mnemonic.
Five principles to apply when creating mnemonics are summed up by SOLAR:
Symbols – information can be stored and communicated by symbols. When creating mnemonics use symbols that are powerful and meaningful to you
Outstanding – by making things outstanding your mnemonics will be easier to remember – use concepts or characters in your story that are unusual or dramatic!
Links – including clear links in mnemonics speeds-up recall – different parts of your story need to relate to each other
All five senses – you should be able to imagine the sound, smell and sight of aspects of your story
Repetition – go back over mnemonics several times. Memorising the story and telling it to someone else should make it easier to recall the key words within it
What students say
“ACROSTICS! (“Eh?!” you say.) Do not underestimate them. They are a fun and easy way to remember the order of something tricky...and they really work (this is coming from someone who got full marks in her latest biology exam....yay)!”
“Use LOTS and LOTS of colours. Try to use the same colour for similar things. By colour coordinating your work your brain will start to understand things more easily. It will also make your revision easier as you’ll know what to look for!”
Make sure you read through all of your class notes, textbooks and revision guides during the run-up to your exams.
Some aspects of your revision (e.g. completing an initial overview of a topic before studying it in detail) require you to read lots of information quickly. This is known as skim-reading. Here are some guidelines for skim-reading texts:
Set time constraints – Limit the time you spend skim-reading. If you are to revise a topic for an hour, set aside five minutes to skim-read it first.
Increase the pace at which you read – Comprehension levels go down when people read too slowly, so read at pace when skim-reading.
Skip sections that are difficult to understand – Make a note to come back to these later on.
Jot down notes on rough paper – As you read through the text, underline sub-headings and key words and jot down information you feel is important.
Summarise in your own words – Reinforce your knowledge and understanding of the text by writing a summary of it in your own words.
Reading for Close Analysis
You can use skills of close analysis to focus on the details.
Annotate texts using key words and symbols - underline key words – there are normally only two or three key words in a paragraph and sometimes none. Draw symbols in the margin to act as reminders of important information
Group information into categories or themes - under headings that summarise the main issues, techniques or themes covered in the topic
Think about how to organize your notes - there are lots of different options, some of which are covered in the Note Taking section of GCSE Study Skills
“Record notes, put them on your iPod, and listen to them at any convenient time, such as travelling to school or at the gym.”
“I always used past paper questions; that way, you knew how the examiner wrote the questions, what they wanted, and how they wanted to write it!”
“Make revision cards but rather than just putting facts on them write questions to which the facts you need to know are the answers. This will allow you to quiz yourself as you look over the cards and makes the whole process active rather than passive.”
You can combat the physical causes of exam stress (e.g. tiredness) by sticking to a positive health and fitness regime. You can combat the psychological causes of exam stress (e.g. fears of the unknown) by completely familiarising yourself with the whole exam process:
Drink plenty of water
Go to bed early
Answer the Question
Misreading an exam question can lose you lots of marks. The most important piece of advice to remember and apply when taking your exams, is to answer the questions that you’ve actually been asked.
To ensure you answer the question asked, practise identifying command words (e.g. ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘compare’, ‘choose’, ‘list’, ‘why’, ‘how’) in questions from exam papers.
Before responding to longer-answer questions, jot down an outline of the structure and content of your answer – then you could plan your answer by quickly sketching out from memory a rough outline of the summary map you creating during your revision. Here are some other ways to get top marks for responses to longer answer questions:
Include at least one key point in each paragraph
Define any complex words that you use
Back up your arguments with examples
Write thorough answers, but don’t waffle
Making Final Checks
Always set aside 5-10 minutes towards the end of each exam to complete final checks. During this time:
Check that you’ve answered every question. Even if you don’t have time to write full answers, examiners may give you additional marks for last-minute responses. It’s especially important to respond to all multiple choice questions, because you normally have a 15%-25% chance of guessing the right answer!
Ensure that your responses actually answer the questions that you’ve been asked, and that they’re as precise and thorough as possible
Remember that you can be marked up and down according to your spelling, punctuation, grammar and the overall fluency or impact of your writing style
Make sure that you’ve clearly outlined all of your workings when answering maths and science questions
If you finish early then don’t just sit back! Check through the whole exam paper to identify further improvements that you can make to your answers
What students say
“Do a body map by touching your ear, hand, foot etc and say something that you really need to remember and keep saying it. If you are stuck in an exam you can do the body mapping and remember what you need to.”
“We use a different essential oil for each subject, and as we revise we have the scent around us. Then when in exams the same scent on tissue aids memory of what you have revised.”