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Exams: Revision Techniques

Useful tools and techniques to help tackle exams. Advice on revision techniques, memory aids, and how to reduce exam stress

Overview

Exam revision shouldn’t be an ordeal. By planning your time carefully, and being aware of how and when you learn best, your revision should progress fairly smoothly leaving you able to go into your exams feeling prepared and confident that you will pass. 

NEW: 24-Hour Exams Tips

How Ready Are You?

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Go through this check-list and identify any areas that you are uncertain about: 

Exam Revision Tips

Try to follow the tips below to make your revision smooth and effective. Some of these tips are further explored in this page. 

1) Write a revision checklist of topics to revise: identify all the topics you need to revise and make a list. 

2) Gather your revision materials: gather notes from lectures, seminars, and your own readings.

3) Check how to tackle each exam: make sure you know the nature of the exam e.g. multiple choice/essay, number of questions you must answer, weighting of marks for questions, if study materials can be taken in etc. Some exams require substantial levels of memorisation. Memory aids can help. Other exams require good essay writing skills. 

4) Consider when and where to study: consider the time of the day when you are more productive. Do you do some tasks better at particular times? For example, you may find it easier to read and consolidate notes in the morning, but then practice exams paper in the evening. Find a study space that is conducive to focus and concentration.

5) Plan your revision: Identify your deadlines and work out what do every day to successfully meet these deadlines.

6) Explore different learning strategies: visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic, multimodal. 

7) Choose active revision strategies: actively do something and engage with the material (summarise, do mind maps, test yourself...).

8) Look after yourself: take regular breaks, eat and drink healthily, exercise, sleep.

Plan your Time

Time is essential to prepare for exams and assignments. Manage your time as effectively as possible by visualising your deadlines and identifying the steps to fulfil your aims. 

Note: revision occurs in waves. It should be something like this: study the topic during term time (preparing for lectures and seminars, taking notes during lectures, annotating and reading after the lectures); general revision; revision during exam period; last revision before the exam. For convenience we only discuss here how to plan the exam month.

Step 1: On your calendar mark when each exam will take place (also mark other commitments)‚Äč

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Step 2: Identify time-slots you can dedicate to revision.

Make sure you split your time between all of the exams.

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Step 3: Manage your time daily

  1. Write a revision checklist: gather all the topics you need to revise and make a list.
  2. Match the topics with the days that are available for revision. 
  3. In order to achieve your aims (meeting deadlines, succeeding in your coursework), set yourself daily SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. 
  • No: I'm going to study for two hours
  • Yes: From 9am to 11am I'm going to read, take notes and do the exercises of chapter 13 of Development Economics.
  1. You can divide all your day into time slots, or have a mix of time slots and flexible time 

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  1. Make sure you have breaks. They help your health and concentration! You can also try the Pomodoro technique. See box below. 

 

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, so-called pomodoros (traditionally 25 minutes in length, but this can vary according to your concentration preferences), separated by short breaks. Focusing on tasks to be completed in a certain period of time helps you stay focussed and effective. The short breaks help you assimilate your learning, refresh, and provide an incentive to complete your tasks timely. After 3-4 pomodoros you earn a longer break (15-30 minutes).

Steps to use the pomodoro technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done. This should be SMART task: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic. It will be automatically Timed, in the pomodoro.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

The video below explains the technique and illustrates tools and apps to put it into practice.

A shorter video on the Pomodoro technique by Birmingham City University

VARK Test - Know Your Learning Style

According to the VARK model, there are several ways to learn: visual, aural, reading/writing, kinesthetic or multimodal.

Some of us favour a particular learning style, while the majority benefits from a combination of more than one learning method.

Take the VARK test and familiarise with learning styles. After the test, you may wish to try some different learning methods you had not considered in the past! 

Active vs Passive Revision Strategies

Try to make your learning as active as possible. The more "active" you are when studying and revising, the more you will remember. By active we mean, for example:

  • Engaging the brain (linking, associations, processing, elaborating, applying)
  • Involving the body (writing, drawing, speaking)
  • Involving the senses (hearing, watching, experiencing)

A great way to revise actively are to test yourself and to explain what you are learning to someone else.

Try active revision strategies and you should see the difference!   

Passive

Active
Re-reading notes After reading your notes, writing index cards with key points helps to encode the information. Try mind maps too (see box below)
Copying notes Consolidating and summarising notes or annotating your notes or texts makes this more active
Writing notes out on your computer Handwriting notes is more active as the physical act of writing works as a memory aid
Copying quotes Reading notes out loud, or recording yourself talking through the key point - it incorporates auditory learning and is something you can then listen to whilst on the tube or running errands. It can help you remember key points.
Highlighting notes

Trying to teach your subject to someone else - if you can teach it and make someone else understand your subject, then you're on the right track. It's also a useful way of finding out where you are less confident and where your knowledge has gaps.

You can use this strategy as a way of gauging your revision progress to determine what you still need to learn and what you have a good grasp on. 

Looking at past papers Actually taking practice papers under timed conditions
Chatting about topics Peer to peer testing - ask a friend to test your knowledge with you.

Mindmaps

Mind maps can be a very useful tool to improve memorisation, as they help you:

  • Identify what is important to remember on a particular subject;
  • Associate information, build links and connections;
  • Visualise information. Consider that pictures are generally easier to remember than words! You can use different colours and be as artistic as you'd like.

The video below illustrates how to do mind maps.

The Importance of Sleep