Learn it properly in lessons : Revise effectively : Perform well in the exam

Learning material in class is not the same as revision. Revision means that when you walk into the exam, you know all the content, methods and techniques you will need to get the marks. Making revision effective is a skill that needs time and practice. I’ve posted on this topic, but this is a quick summary which I will expand if I get enough requests in the comments.

Reading a book is not revision. Nor is reading a website or flicking through a folder. Active revision works better, and students best understand it by considering the idea of constructive laziness. Effective revision means getting the brain involved in what you are doing; this means they can’t do it so long and so they’ll need breaks. (Perhaps an analogy with muscle-building rather than aerobic workouts?) If they revise effectively, actively, then in an hour they might do three fifteen minute activities, with breaks in between. I tell them “You’ll have worked for less time than a solid hour of reading, but you’ll remember more.”

Audit and Revision Planning

Know what topics are needed – use the syllabus, contents pages of the revision guide or textbook, and checklists if available.

Revision should be started in plenty of time and topics borken down into small chunks. Keep some kind of logical sequence but try to do the trickier material early, so there is time to fix any problems.

Going through a list of topics (perhaps after attempting a past paper) lets students colour code them; green for ‘easy’ or ‘already sorted’, yellow for ‘not sure, needs checking’ and red for ‘danger, need help’. As they practice the ideas and techniques they should move from red to yellow, and hopefully to green.

Students can make the best use of time by working on a couple of different areas each session with breaks in between, finish by testing themselves and then set their priority for the next session. It’s amazing how easy it is to sit down, then waste 20 minutes deciding what to revise and where the book is etc. If they finish a session by writing ‘momentum’ at the top of a new piece of paper, then leave it sticking out of the revision guide at the right page, their next session will already be off to a good start.

During the sessions, work for 10-15 minutes (set a timer) and work hard. No text messages, no TV, no excuses. Then have a break – a proper one. Get up from where they’re working, stretch their legs, get a coffee – then get back to work for another stint. This way they stay focussed.

Try to make revision part of a daily routine. Post-it notes on a bathroom mirror allow students to check their ideas at the same time as their make-up. Saving powerpoints as jpegs to a mobile phone means time spent waiting at bus stops or for friends in town can be used. Revision podcasts, their own or downloaded ones, can be added to a music player – no-one needs to know what you’re listening to!


Just like studying in lessons, revision works best if it’s active. Everyone’s different so they may be be using the same methods as their mates. (NB listening to audio while they sleep or flicking through notes in the breaks of a TV programme are not useful for anyone.). One way to make it effective is to use the five ideas of what I call the MORSE code.

  • Mnemonics are shortcuts to remembering something; MRS NERG for the seven life processes, ROY G BIV for the visible spectrum. Write silly phrases to remember a short list in a particular order.
  • Organising what we know – in headings, categories, order of importance, mind maps to show the links, opposites, advantages and disadvantages, whatever – helps us to recall it. Convert information from one format to another, such as a paragraph to a table or sentences to a mind map.
  • Repetition of exactly the same thing is fairly effective, but revisiting facts in a different way can be better. Covering something something once doesn’t work as well as coming back to it and considering a new approach.
  • Simplify what you need to know; summarise a paragraph into a sentence, or a page into a list of bullet points or key words. Headings are often useful prompts, helping make links between concepts.
  • Extend understanding by trying to use what you know in a new way. Apply it to a real situation, explain it to someone else, express it in a poem or consider the implications to you, a friend or family member.

Most good revision methods use these ideas. There’s software available which may be helpful, some of it available as free downloads. Most of the good ones use the pribciples behind revision cards or mind maps, in an electronic format.

The Night Before

If you don’t already know it, it’s probably too late. Hours of revision will just mean you oversleep and miss the exam or are tired when you need to be alert. Set a timer, review the ideas once, then take it easy. Have a break and try not to get too stressed. (There are some thoughts about dealing with stress on the next page.)

Learn it properly in lessons : Revise effectively : Perform well in the exam

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