In this series, I’m looking at the ways get the most from mock exams, with practical steps to help you dial back the stress.
- Know your goals.
- Create a revision timetable
- 10 revision tips (this post)
- A good revision space
- What to do during mocks
- Review, reflect, repeat
Revising is hard work. There’s no getting round it. If you want to do really well, you need to revise. And to make the most of that effort, you need to do things that work really well – that actually get your brain working.
Basically, you want to move your knowledge and skills into long-term memory, so that it’s easier to retrieve and work with. The way to do that is to show your brain that it’s important, and approach it in different ways, because every time you do that your brain gets a little more understanding that this is important. If your brain thinks something isn’t important, it won’t store it in long-term. This post’s a bit longer than the others but it’s definitely worth it!
Revision tactics that work
- Using flashcards.
- Past questions.
- Look, cover, write, check.
- Active listening
- Spaced practice
- Asking questions
- Explaining to someone else
And three things that DO NOT WORK:
- Highlighting passages
- Re-reading notes
These might feel like you’re learning, but actually scientific research suggests you don’t really learn much long-term by using these methods.
The key here is USING. it’s a good idea to make flashcards regularly through your course so you have a bank of them when you need them. Ideally flashcards should have limited information on them – don’t fill them up. They should be a single word or question on one side, and an elaborated or expanded version on the other. If it’s vocabulary, put a definition. If it’s quotations, put analysis. You can even use an essay question and outline your essay plan in fifteen words (GREAT for A-level or literature essays).
There’s no need either for colour-coding or highlighting. At most highlight a key word in the quotation or a sub-heading. if you need colour-coding to replicate it, there’s too much on them. Once you’ve done them, it’s about learning what’s on them. test yourself by looking at the front and trying to recall what’s on the back – it’s often easier to write this down. Speaking it aloud is also useful. Basically, in your head can be bad – it often tricks you into thinking you’ve remembered it when you haven’t really. The Learning Scientists have a great blog on how to use flashcards in a more complex way.
What are they good for? Vocabulary, quotations, formulae, mini-essay plans.
Make sure you’re not just learning facts but you practise applying them. You can get loads of these online from exam boards, or from your teachers. Practise writing them, timing yourself, and then do a different revision task – preferably a different subject. Then, come back to your response and read it again. How is it? Would you change it? Add detail, quotation or subject vocabulary? Make sure you know what a good answer looks like – you should have plenty in your books – and really honestly look at what yours has in common with it. The gap between writing and assessing is important, because it makes you see your writing in a more neutral way.
What is it good for? Practising technique, timing and writing style.
3.Look, cover, write, check.
A classic that most people used in primary school to improve their spellings. Look at the piece – a brief essay plan, a flash-card, a quotation – then turn it over, write it down, and check its accuracy. Importantly if you got it wrong you need to rewrite it. Muscle memory is a great thing here; your brain/muscle remembers writing it, so make sure it has an accurate memory. Writing it out over and over might be time consuming but it really helps to fix it in your mind. Make sure, though, that you’re handwriting – there’s a greater link in your memory between handwritten work and typed.
What is it good for? Vocabulary, spelling, formulae and quotation. Mini-essay plans or spider-diagrams
Literally speak it out loud. Try writing introductory sentences or conclusions, or using key quotations for English. Saying them over and over again, then doing something else, then going back to it, is fantastic for recalling ideas. You can whisper if you think you sound like an idiot! For bonus points, I’ve had students recite onto a voice recording on their mobile phone and then play it while they sleep…
What is it good for? Quotations, key phrases or sentences.
Watching YouTube videos can be helpful – bearing in mind that you have to know the person is accurate! but you have to do something with what you hear. Practise making notes, either putting ideas into diagrams or sketches as you listen. Don’t try to write everything down. Firstly, it’s too hard to get it all at the speed of talking. Secondly, because it’s the process of listening then changing the format of the information that is really helpful in creating those long-term associations. If you’re studying English, then there’s some great YouTube videos from the British Library and the Hay Levels that are well worth watching. It can also be a good thing to do with plays you’ve studied, particularly Shakespeare.
What is it good for? Revision videos or lectures; performances of plays.
Don’t do all your revision at once. Spread it out – an hour a day is better than four hours on a Saturday. This is where having a good timetable comes in handy. And vary your subjects, too – don’t do all your subject revision in a block then move onto another subject. Part of the process of forming memories is forgetting and then forcing your brain to remember again, proving that it’s important enough to keep in long-term memory.
What is it good for? Everything
As you read or practise, ask questions about things. So if you have a quotation, think what questions it could provoke:
“To look like th’innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t”
- Who says this and to who?
- When in the play is it?
- What is the connotation of serpent?
- Is that connotation somewhere else in the play?
- What is their relationship like at this moment?
- When does Macbeth become the serpent?
- How can I link this to the themes of the play?
- Which other quotation has a similar idea?
There’s a lot of different questions here – some quite basic, plot and character driven, but some more interpretive. By asking the questions, you’re thinking about the quote more- and of course then you also start to think about the answers!
What is it good for? Quotations, essay planning, mini-concept maps.
Kind of like spaced practice, but within a subject you should also try to vary your topics. So if you’re studying English for an hour, spend half an hour on your unseen poetry then half an hour on creative writing. It keeps you fresh and focused, but the connections are also really important and help develop your memory.
What is it good for? Everything
Dual-coding works by transforming information into another format or style – in most cases, writing to images. You don’t have to be a great artist, but draw sketches that help jog your memory. The Learning Scientists poster is really useful
What is it good for? Longer responses, quotations or mind-maps.
10.Explaining to someone else
Being able to explain to someone out loud is a great way to clarify your ideas and make sure you really can explain on paper. Again, it’s easy to think something in your head and then realise you don’t quite know, actually, how to write it down or that there’s a gap missing. Work in pairs on questions and explain your answer – get your partner to ask you questions about it. It doesn’t have to be someone who understands the subject and question – sometimes working with a friend who doesn’t do the subject or a parent is good because they’ll ask questions that you hadn’t thought of. Make sure you tell them to ask!
What is it good for? Everything