It’s the time of year again when revision stress wreaks havoc in family homes and our youngsters (and sometimes not so youngsters) feel the nightmare of the approaching exam season.
You will find reams written on the subject of revision and mine include some of the common sense basics.
But I’ve also included what worked for me. I studied the old ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, got a Degree in English Literature and later spent a couple of years studying Administration for Personal Assistants (sadly no James Bond included) and Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications, so I have done plenty of studying and completely understand that lurch of the stomach when you contemplate the moment when you are asked to turn your paper over.
I have also tutored in English to GCSE standard and understand how confidence sapping and stressful the revision process is if you don’t grab it by the scruff of the neck and show it who’s boss. I have also seen the consequences of leaving your revision until the last minute – clue, not great grades.
So let’s, um, revise some of the things you need to do:
1. Plan your revision timetable.
As well as studying, allocate time within it for eating, sleeping and some leisure activities (yes, browsing Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat is not classed as revision!). Filling it with wall to wall studying is unrealistic and will make you just want to bin / delete the whole thing.
2. Start weeks before. Not days.
As soon as you have the dates for the exams, arguably even sooner, you should be starting your revision. Re-read your course notes. Make sure you have actually read the set texts and re-read them. I remember in University being told by one (possibly over zealous) English lecturer that you don’t really ‘know’ a novel until you have read it at least FIVE times. Clearly, this may not apply to non-fiction texts but I don’t think it’s that bad a maxim to apply!
3. Break your revision sessions into chunks of approximately 45 minutes with a 15 minute break per hour. This is because your brain and your memory need a rest to absorb your learning.
4. And do something in the break – get up and move around. Make a coffee (better, have some water) and a protein based snack.
5. Build in a reward – whether it’s an episode of your favourite soap or current box set passion but give yourself a clear objective. “I will watch Game of Thrones when I have re-read the first three chapters of my textbook”. Sitting in your room painting your nails whilst staring vacantly at your notes does not count.
6. Write it down. I found it invaluable to test myself by writing my answers and thoughts down on paper (or typing them up on a PC). There’s something about seeing your notes in writing that helps cement them in your brain.
7. Get a blackboard and play teacher. No, I haven’t lost it, honest. It’s amazingly effective if you pretend to be the teacher in front of a class (or your favourite celebrities) and teach them your study topic. You may want to pretend you’re a world class lecturer at an international conference.
Go on, see if you can talk clearly about your topic for 15 minutes and illustrate your points with quotes / facts / figures on the blackboard. From MEMORY.
You could even get someone to record your lectures on camcorder
8. Make a Mind Map. All in the spirit of making it a bit more fun, the theory goes that using visual cues will help you remember more effectively. A mind map is a simple diagram you make with lots of branches demonstrating related ideas. Why not start each session by drawing a mind map and you may find you include ideas you had forgotten or that may be genius inclusions even your teacher or lecturer has not considered.
9. Record it. I once learned the whole of Shakespeare’s Macbeth almost word for word. I did this by recording the whole play on an old fashioned tape recorder (tricky doing all the parts, I can tell you) and then I used to play it to myself whilst going to sleep.
Never underestimate the power of the subconscious. You’ll find information coming to you effortlessly rather than having to struggle to recall it.
You could do something similar by recording the key facts you need to know and then playing them back through the day or just before you sleep. Possibly not the most exciting track on your iPod but just consider the fabulous career getting your qualifications may lead you to.
10. Revise on the move. Having your notes recorded means you can listen to them anywhere – on your morning commute, whilst waiting to see the dentist etc.
11. Make it mini. If you prefer something written down, challenge yourself to note down key facts on postcards and whip them out for a quick run through during the day.
12. Flashcards are king. Or, create full A4 size flashcards with important points on and get your relatives to test you on them (hey, why should you be the only one to suffer)?
13. Buy / lend past exam papers.
If you can afford copies of past papers, please contact your local exam board and get them – even if it’s just for the past 2 years. You’ll get a sense of what the questions are like and, if you know what came up last year, you may be able to guess what will come up this year. NOTE: you still need to revise everything but just give a bit more emphasis to the themes which may appear.
14. Have a mock (we won’t mock). Sit those papers. Recreate the exam scenario. Desk, watch, water, fruit pastilles – the whole shebang. Do the paper to time. Get the cat to invigilate.
15. You are the evil examiner. Now that you have sat the paper – be absolutely ruthless. Mark yourself as harshly as possible. Penalise yourself for spelling mistakes and grammatical howlers. Be honest. Would you have passed? If you’re not sure, take the paper in and ask your teacher or lecturer.
16. Prepare the night before. Not by cramming, not by panicking but by having a decent meal and an early night. Reread your flashcards, listen to one of your home-made recordings, try to relax.
Remember, there is no such thing as failure. If you don’t pass this time then you have learned what not to do next time.
And if you have tried your best with your revision and you can honestly say you did the best you could, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself this is just one step towards success. And even Rome wasn’t built in a day.