Examination Revision Tips
Monday 4th March 2013
1. Sitting exams is a stressful experience. There are two responses to stress: emotional (crying, going out, ignoring the problem) or control (taking a problem solving approach). Those who adopt the problem solving approach (ie exams are a problem – how am I going to solve it?) and take control of their revision SUCCEED. The way to take control of revision and master the exams is to create a revision timetable. This needs to start no later than the first day of the Easter holidays for June exams holidays, so must be written before the holidays start.
To create your revision timetable go through every subject and divide it into bite size chunks of topics e.g. Biology = Plants (cells, diffusion, leaf, transpiration, photosynthesis, respiration, hormones); Human biology (nutrition, digestive system, circulatory system, heart, lungs, eye)….etc. Do this for every subject, listing all the topics. For each topic work out how long it will take you to create your revision notes (e.g. 2/3 hours). Then look at your diary, on a blank sheet of paper create a blank revision plan calendar, with each day divided into 3 parts (am/pm/eve). Remember to leave some days for fun – you need relaxation too. Aim to fill 2 slots per day for 5/6 days a week. Also leave a little slack, so if you get behind you don’t have to panic. Then slot all your topics into the revision time you have allocated. Type it up and pin it above your desk. Tick off each subject as you complete it. Now you have control over your revision. See below for example….
Day off – see family
2. Your brain can not cope with revising everything at once. It gets confused with the different subjects. Stick to revising one subject at a time.
3. At your age your brain can concentrate for a maximum of 40 minutes. So, revise for 40 minutes and then take a short five minute break. Then start again. Do not get distracted! It is easy in your break to get involved in something else and then the whole evening is gone. You must be strict with yourself! You should aim to achieve at least 5 hours of concentrated revision (excluding the breaks) each full day.
4. It is important to minimise distractions when revising – so clear your desk space, switch off your phone, explain to your family that you need peace and quiet during study time.
5. In your brain you have two types of memory: working memory and long term. Working memory lasts for about 20 seconds. Long term memory lasts forever! If you just read your notes you are only using your working memory, whichonly lasts for a few seconds. So, all you’ve read gets lost and you will not be able to remember it in the exams! To get the information into your long-term memory you have to work with it. Revision must be active! The easiest way of doing this is to create revision notes. Look through your class notes, firstly make sure you understand the topic (if not ask your teacher, check the textbook, ask a friend for help), organise the information and summarise each topic in a few words on a card/A4 sheet. You must write in short note form, there is no point rewriting your notes – you are not processing the information by copying nor is it possible to learn solid blocks of text. Use cards or A4/A3 sheets – whichever is better for you. Revision is actually about condensing and restructuring notes – this process transfers information into long term memory.
For most people, your visual memory is the most efficient, so draw pictures on your revision notes and write in different colours – use boxes and underlining to highlight key words. In the exam you will recall the pictures, shapes and colours first and these will act as a trigger for all the knowledge.
Once you have made your revision cards/notes the ‘look – cover – write –check’ technique is the best to check your memory. Also practise answering exam questions.
In summary, the process of restructuring your notes into colourful, meaningful summaries fixes the information into your long term memory. The more you process (through making the revision notes in the first place and then doing exercises to check your knowledge) the more accessible the information in the actual exam. Active revision is effective and less boring!
6. Research has shown that mnemonics and visual images improve memory recall significantly.
Mnemonics – if you need to remember all the different types of teeth (molars, canines, premolars, incisors), then make up a sentence using the initial letter of reach type eg. Maltesers can prevent illness. The more weird the sentence the better you’ll remember it. It also helps if you can visualise the sentence you have made up eg thinking about a really fit person eating Maltesers.
Visual images – called the Loci method – you close your eyes and imagine a place you know well, such as your house, garden or school corridor and then you place each piece of information in specific parts of that location e.g. you could put your knowledge of the causes of the Second World War in your house – Germany being cross about its treatment after the First World War goes into the kitchen; Democracy collapsing in Europe could be people arguing in your lounge; Hitler invading Austria in your bathroom…and so on. They key is that you visualise it in your head. It sounds weird, but it does work. It has been used as a technique to aid recall since the Ancient Greeks.
7. When you sleep your brain automatically revises all the things you have learnt the day before. BUT this only happens if you have over eight hours sleep. So, you need to get plenty of sleep.
8. The last thing you do before you go to sleep is the first thing that your brain revises. So, read through your revision cards carefully just before you put your light out on the night before your exam. Then go straight to sleep. If you can’t get to sleep, just lie there and rest your muscles, concentrate on relaxing.
9. When you panic your ‘thinking’ brain shuts down. So, if you panic in the exam, you will not be able to remember all that you knew! Not very helpful! To ‘switch your brain back on’ you need to take away the panic by relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing: Slowly breathe in through your nose to a count of 1-2-3, hold for 1-2-3, and then breathe out through your mouth for 1-2-3. Do this about 10 times and you’ll be relaxed enough for your brain to work. Don’t worry, everyone panics! It is normal.
10. Lastly, VERY GOOD LUCK!