Revision is essential to exam success, but many are unsure of how to revise effectively. We all know it is best to start early and get organised, but when it comes to technique, this will differ from person-to-person and from subject-to-subject. Below, some of our Oxbridge-graduate team members share their top piece of revision advice:
“A-level exams have specifications and mark schemes. A mark scheme is effectively a ‘how to’ guide for picking up points. Read them, absorb them. Lots of teachers will tell you to read around the subject; and that’s useful (particularly for university applications), but it can be inefficient in preparing for exams. Be laser-focused on what the mark scheme wants, if what you’re writing in an exam situation doesn’t connect pretty directly to something on the mark scheme then you’re probably wasting time. Also, read examiners’ reports; not only do they highlight common mistakes, but identify hallmarks of ‘top candidates’.”
“I couldn’t live without my whiteboard weekly calendar, and I recommend buying something similar when you’re planning your revision. I always like to put my exam dates in the calendar and then plan backwards, mapping out which modules I would need to cover each day before the real thing. That way it always felt more bitesize and less overwhelming. Also: coffee. Coffee helps.”
“While some people revise best on their own, for others it can be helpful to have a small group of friends to study with. Making plans to meet up and revise is a good way to hold yourself accountable and ensure that you meet your goals. Having someone around to test you on a topic can also help you see how much of what you’ve revised is sticking, and to identify areas that need more work.”
“I’m naturally lazy, which has advantages when it comes to developing the most efficient ways of working. Why trudge through pages and pages of notes when a more efficient way of memorising course content might be to use a quiz app and make a custom quiz for your course? Reviewing the content in small chunks will be much more manageable, and probably feel more like a game. Listening to suitable podcasts is another way of deepening your understanding in a low-energy format.”
“Short bursts of active revision are much better than long periods of low-intensity revision. This is good news as it saves you time and makes revising more fun – in my experience, 30 minutes of engaged, active processing of material is much more effective than 90 minutes of passive reviewing (such as re-reading, highlighting, and vague summaries). One of my favourite strategies for this is to make essay plans from scratch for unseen titles, or to make spider-diagrams/mind-maps and then re-create them unseen. You could also try recording mini podcasts of yourself explaining key ideas from your syllabus or explaining a technical idea to a friend or family member to bring it to life.”
“For me, the most important thing is to build up gradually to the exam. Start revising for each subject well in advance. In the past, I’ve focused my revision on one subject at a time, but this always meant I felt rushed and underprepared for the final exams. Instead, I would recommend making your revision days varied, which has the benefit of preventing you from losing your mind with boredom, but also not leaving any one subject to the last minute. You’ll have to avoid the temptation to spend too much time on the stuff you like, though…”
“The chances are, you will have accumulated a hefty stack of handwritten or typed notes, especially if you are revising for a subject like history, which requires you to remember lots of dates and events. Reading and re-reading will only get you so far; the best way to remember information is by making connections, so, rather than spending a second hour at your desk, you’d be better off going for a 15-minute walk. It’s easier to do creative work when it doesn’t feel like work, so make sure all books and writing implements are out of reach and let your mind wander a bit. That doesn’t mean you should think about work during your breaks, though! You need complete breaks too.”
“One of the most useful things a teacher taught me was the technique of ‘condensing’ your notes. You’ll start with information in quite disparate places (textbooks, worksheets, articles etc.), as well as potentially sporadic or overly long class notes. Aim to centralise the key information for each topic into one document – make sure you condense the information as you go in your own words (don’t just copy as you go). This will make sure your learning is active and you will be much more likely to remember the information. Once you have made the first set of notes for each topic you are covering, go back and make an even more ‘condensed’ version – e.g. on note cards / in a different format. Depending on how much time you have, keep condensing your notes until just a few words / sentences on a page will act as memory prompts for lots of information.”
Oxbridge Applications has spent 22 years providing Oxbridge admissions test tuition for applicants to Oxford and Cambridge universities. Helping students identify and overcome their academic weaknesses and improve their potential when it is time to tackle the Cambridge and Oxford admissions tests.
Our Oxbridge-educated tutors deliver online private tuition for students at all levels and stages in their education, from 11+ to GCSE, A-Level, IB and Pre U. Find out about our online private tuition or request a callback.