Revision techniques to support you when preparing for exams

Exam time is soon looming. Not that any student ever needs reminding. Exercise books are nearly full and the textbook chapters winding down. The dates on calendars ringed fiercely in pen. The business end of the school year is fast approaching, and writing these lines as emotive as they seem, are representative of every student’s right of passage, from SATS all the way through to A Levels. But what are the best ways to prepare for those infernal appointments with the exam hall? As daunting as they can seem, is there a tangible and realistic series of steps to help make exams that ever-little bit less like a penalty shootout after extra time?

Girl revising

Here are a list of manageable revision techniques to help students prepare for exams in the coming weeks and months.

1. Listen. Read. Take note.

It goes without saying, but to make good revision notes you need a solid grasp of the topic you will be writing notes on first.

It is stressful looking back through your own notes and not feeling like they will give you the goods come exam day. Maybe you missed something in class? Or your mind was simply elsewhere? You are allowed to be human, and with the right approach, there’s no reason why you can’t soak up information like SpongeBob SquarePants!

If for whatever reason it didn’t sink in the first time around then find someone you trust to talk it through with you again.

After reading up again on a topic, watching YouTube videos, or listening to a knowledgeable classmate, try and articulate back what you have heard. Even if you are by yourself, try recording your own voice explaining it. It is empowering listening to yourself verbalise something new, and with so much pressure mounting, you should grab anything that gives you more confidence with both hands.

To help you with writing your notes, read up on the subject again or answer some practice questions to make sure you’ve grasped the key concepts.

But always be very selective on what needs to be in your notes rather than just copying directly out of a book.

So, to recap:

  • Listen or read about the topic again.
  • Select the most useful information.
  • Write it up in your own words.


2. Find your style

Everyone is different when it comes to preparing for an exam and writing their revision notes; everyone learns in different ways. Your stomach may turn at the sight of your own writing, or you may simply much prefer typing up notes on your phone. So, consider which you prefer.

When it comes to note taking, bullet points are usually the way to go, but don’t limit yourself to one style, make flow charts, labelled diagrams, mind maps and tables! The process of creating them will help you break down big topics into manageable chunks and cement the knowledge in your head.


3. Mind Palace

If you struggle to recall lots of information, and you want to try something new and a lot of fun, then why not take yourself out of the physical world and into your own head through visualisation? In the BBC series Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes stores information in his ‘mind palace’. And you can do the same. Here’s how it works:

  1. Think of what you’re going to remember, i.e. the wives of Henry VIII, the order in which they reigned and the dates in which they were queen.
  2. Visualise a house. A house you know well. Clear out all of the rooms of that house to make way for the information you want to recall.
  3. When the house is empty, open the door and visualize the fact you want to remember in each room. For example, in the terraced house where I was born I can see an ornate stained glass window with Catherine of Aragon staring down at me and above her head is the date 1509. Catherine is the door to my house, and in each room I can visit Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr.
  4. With the above list of queens, you’ll notice that Henry married three Catherines. Well, in my house Catherine Aragon comes first alphabetically hence why she’s on the front door, Catherine Howard is having a dance in the lounge with Howard from pop group Take That, and Catherine Parr is having a ‘parrty’ in the back garden. Basically, the more visual and silly you can make it the quicker you can recall it.

So whenever you need to recall information, you can visit and walk around your house. As a revision technique you can also draw your house map on paper, or you can take yourself through your own house. You can’t fake a good memory, if you do have an exceptional ability to recall information then this method will help you do that even more so. Interestingly, associating facts with each card in a deck of cards can also work.


4. Manage your time

There is an adrenaline kick to last minute cramming which for some students may ramp up their level of concentration through 11th hour necessity, but the fact of the matter is that it is high risk and is killing an enormous ally in the build up to an exam. SLEEP. A red bull fuelled night when the stakes are high just screams chest burning levels of anxiety, and for the sake of your mental wellbeing, you will thank yourself a thousand times over if you manage your time well. To combat procrastination you can break up your time with regular breaks and walks round the block.


5. If you want to know it better, teach it.

The theoretical knowledge I know best, is not from sitting down for hours from reading, though that is unquestionably where a lot started from, but it actually came from teaching it. So, get hold of your brothers, sisters, mums, dads, or a household pet for that matter…stand in front of a flipchart, grab yourself a marker pen and teach it! This will help support your recall ability and solidify a deeper understanding of the content as your students ask questions. If you can teach your subject to someone new, then committing that quality of thought in an exam hall will come so much easier, because you will have already owned it because you’ve taught it.

Boy and Girl preparing for exams

To sum up, there’s no exact science to preparing for an exam. We all learn differently. But what matters is not toiling away with something that’s not working. Find what revision techniques work for you, and have the dedication to see it through.

For further support with any of your exams, at SBC we’ve got your back. Click on the link below for more information about our 1:1 online tuition service.