Students sometimes take years to devise an effective revision strategy which truly reflects the amount of hard work they have been putting in throughout the year. It is no secret that the most successful students aren’t necessarily the ones who study the longest hours or sacrifice a personal and social life; rather, the lucky few tend to be no less than great time managers, planners, and strategists.
Follow these tips and make every second count; during the exam period, time is simply too precious to waste.
- Don’t Cram: A recent study undertaken by Professor Tom Stafford and his team at the University of Sheffield, has proven that what our teachers always told us was right: it doesn’t pay to cram. Stafford and his team conducted a study of over 850,000 subjects, finding that they performed better at online games when they left a day between practice sessions, than those who left no gaps between sessions. The researchers concluded that when it comes to learning, the quantity of time spent on tasks is not as important as how we structure study time. This makes a strong case for planning regular study sessions throughout the year, always ensuring we have enough time left over for fruitful pursuits like sport and leisure.
- Don’t take notes in class with a laptop: The laptop and tablet boom means that for many, taking notes in class with these devices is a good way to have neat, legible notes they do not need to rewrite at home. Yet psychological researchers from Princeton and UCLA universities in the USA have found that this type of note taking can be detrimental to academic performance, since it encourages ‘mindless transcription’. When we take notes with a pen and paper, we remember more facts and concepts shared by the lecturer/teacher, and we tend to express what we hear in our own words. Writing by hand also improves our writing in the long term, which is important, considering that many exams still require students to answer essay-style questions by hand.
- Don’t go into too much detail: Some students can feel that in order to obtain excellent marks, they need to go beyond the reading list provided by teachers. Researching above and beyond the call of duty is always a positive thing; it shows that you have a genuine interest in a subject and allows you to back your assertions with more facts and authoritative opinions. However, if you find that you cannot process and understand the core material provided by your teacher in class, chances are, you spending too much time on the wrong tasks. Extra reading a luxury you can afford only if you have understood key concepts at the required level. Successful students know how to skim through tiny details and focus on what counts – if you are not sure that you are doing this, consider talking to your teacher to ensure your learning strategies are well aimed.
- Don’t stick to the same strategy if it isn’t working: If you find that despite putting in a fair few hours of study, your marks aren’t reflecting your work, you need to question your study strategies and start making changes. During a typical study session, what do you do? Do you summarise your notes? Take a highlighter pen and fill your notes with yellow underlining? Do you rewrite your notes? Work out what works for you and what is a waste of time.
- Do test yourself: A recent study carried out by Professor Dunlovsky and his team at Kent State University showed that while many supposedly ‘tried-and-tested’ study techniques are not quite as useful as we would have assumed, a couple of strategies tend to be infallible. These include testing yourself regularly – i.e. while reading a book or article, make it a point to write down little questions on key concepts and try to answer these questions at the end of your study session. This is actually far more useful than making long summaries of notes, which probably contain too much information to actually retain.
- Do plan ahead: Study all subjects consistently throughout they year; this will develop a deep knowledge of each subject and will help you think critically about key issues during revision time. This well help you avoid cramming, which has long been proven to be a negative habit. Professor Dunlovsky defines long-term, consistent study as a ‘distributed practice’, comparing it to a dance recital – one simply cannot excel by practicing a dance (or studying) a few hours before the exam.
- Do create weekly learning maps: Instead of summarising your notes in a written format, rely on visual aids like learning maps on a regular basis to summarise core concepts and facts learned. Use print-outs, pictures and magazine cut-outs to make your map as visually appealing as possible. As your course progresses, consider making a larger map which connects various subjects.
- Do use mock exams during revision time: Mock exams are one of the most effective ways to test your knowledge and teach you how to manage your time, even when you are under the greatest pressure. Learn to divide the number of minutes you have by the number of questions you will be called upon to answer; ask a teacher to correct your mock exams so you can pinpoint weak areas; use mock exams during group study sessions – mark the exams of your study friends and ask them to do the same for you. If your exams are essay-based, read past essays that have been awarded excellent marks and analyse what they have in common. Usually, it is a combination of structure, authoritative content to back up main points, and wise lexical choices.
- Do plan your study sessions: To make the most of your time, you should know at the outset exactly what you need to achieve from every study period. List down all your aims for the day (e.g. write an essay, make a mind map, read set articles) and allocate a specific number of minutes for each task.
We hope that you have found this article useful in helping you with your revision.
With exam season looming, you may also be interested to read some of the following articles on revision:
Top tips: making the most of study leave
Cramming: is it ever a good idea ahead of exams?
Top revision tips: using Mind Maps
My top 5 favourite revision techniques
How to get the results without the stress
Exam tips: 10 ways to ensure that you don’t make silly mistakes
Exam tips: beating the blues
9 ways to mange exam stress
Exam motivation: 12 tips to get you started
Excellent apps and techy tools to aid exams and revision – Part 1
Excellent apps and techy tools to aid exams and revision – Part 2
University exams and revision – 5 secrets guaranteed to make your life so much easier