Revising should be, as it's name suggested, looking again at a topic. Reminding you - bringing it to mind again, revision - seeing again.

Revision time is not really the time to be learning new material - although for many of us it often is.

You might also like to read the section on active skills to try and implement the active reading skills discussed there as part of your revision. If you are going to do this, I would suggest starting earlier than normal on your revision, since you will, in part, be learning the skills of active learning rather than revising.

With all of that out of the way, how should you tackle the process of revising? There are a few tips that you should bear in mind:

  1. Set a timetable for a week ahead. Try to stick to it!
  2. Write breaks into your timetable. You won't learn well for hour after hour without breaks.
  3. Plan to revise both strong topics and weak ones - otherwise the strong ones may become weak.
  4. Plan rewards in to your revising. End with things you like, don't start with them!
  5. Tailor your revision to your exam style.

Let's look at these in a bit more detail.

Set a timetable for a week ahead. Try to stick to it!

Planning your revision like this makes sure you cover all the topics you need to over time. You may also want a list of everything you need to revise so you can tick things off as you go along to really make sure you cover it all. At first you will want to set it for only a week, so you can find a good routine for you, but once that is established you can plan further ahead. Everyone is different, so adjust the times I'm going to suggest for you as you get used to them.

Write breaks into your timetable. You won't learn well for hour after hour without breaks.

Most people can work reasonably well for 30 minutes. Then their attention wavers. You want to try and work for about the length of time that you can keep your attention working well, then take a short break before returning. If you find 30 minutes works for you, a short, ten minute, break is about right. If you can work for longer, you should take longer breaks - 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off, an hour on and 20 minutes off often works well. If you can't manage 30 minutes - and this is more common than you would expect - then make the breaks shorter, but don't get to less than 5 minute breaks, even if you find you can only work for 10 minutes at a time.

So, you work for some time on, some time off and at some point you get to a point where you've been working and breaking for between 90 minutes and two hours. With the 30 minutes on, 10 minutes off, this happens after 3 work sessions: 3 X 30 minutes + 2 X 10 minutes. With 45 minutes on, it happens after the second one : 2 X 45 + 1 X 15. At this point you should plan a longer break in. The normal length of break should be about one normal break, plus one work session. However, if you work for short bursts you might want to make this longer. In these breaks you can do things like go for a walk, have a meal or similar. You can even plan it so you can watch your favourite TV show.

Plan to revise both strong topics and weak ones - otherwise the strong ones may become weak.

Hopefully this is obvious, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking at your strong topics, at least briefly, as well as your weaker ones. You want to do well on your strong topics in the exams after all - whereas you will probably be making up marks on the weaker topics if you have little or no choice and only then.

Plan rewards in to your revising. End with things you like, don't start with them!

This is one I find works well for me. Knowing I'm going to finish looking over something I enjoy, but only when I've properly slogged through the rest of the stuff I must do, motivates me to do the work on the stuff I don't really want to do efficiently so I can enjoy the stuff at the end. If you find it makes you skimp and not do the work, you might like to change this around.

Tailor your revision to your exam style.

You know that if you are doing an MCQ, you don't need much depth of knowledge but lots of breadth. Short answer papers are similar, but with a bit more depth. Essays such as my finals papers: three 1 hour essays in a 3 hour exam for many subjects, will not require knowledge of every aspect of the course, but will require in depth knowledge. There are papers where you write for 3 hours or more on one exam - still more in depth knowledge is required here.

So, revise to match the exam structure. Of course, if you have an exam that is 50% MCQ and 50% one essay, you are in more trouble - you need breadth and depth of knowledge there (and yes I've had one of those).

If you are planning for a essay paper, then there is nothing wrong, as part of your revision, with creating essay plans to try and answer common questions or questions on topics you expect or hope to find on the paper. Some people find this a good method for revising anyway in fact, but even if you get the question slightly wrong you have some idea of a structure to write to and can adapt it. Structured essays get good marks, even in exams.

If you are revising for MCQs, then techniques such as flash cards, pop-up questions and the like might be more what you need. Anything to make it active and fun. You probably know the things that work best for you for this sort of revision, so use whatever you like. (If you would like to send suggestions to me, I will add them to the list. Personally I always had a good memory and found that I could just read over the topics and enough would stick.)

Final comments

There is no absolutely right way to revise. There is good for you, and what works for you may not work for others. For example, through three years of my undergraduate degree I was sharing accommodation with a good friend. I would tend to start revising early, keep it fairly low key and build in time to go and visit friends once or twice a week. For the week before the exams, unless I was feeling unsure of some topics, I would stop and let the knowledge settle in. This worked for me, and got me a first class honours degree. My friend, however, would usually start with about two weeks to go. She would study incredibly hard for just about every available minute, right up to the night before the exam. She succeeded in becoming a fully qualified veterinary surgeon. Very different approaches, quite obviously, but successful despite that.


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