How to revise well

Exams have always been something I am good at.  Is it because I am super-crazily-intelligent and don't have to work hard for it? No.  In fact I have often done better than people who are more intelligent than me and appear to have worked at least as hard if not harder.  Why?  Because I was better at revising than them.  Simple as that.

So what are my oh-so-special secrets?  Well unfortunately, the biggest secret is hard work.  Boo hiss that is not what I want to have to say, and I am sure it is not what anyone wants to hear.  But lets dig a little deeper.

  1. Do you get the results you need?  The results you want? If the answer is yes, then do not change how you revise.  No matter how many people lecture you on the latest technique or revision guide or make one of those "If only you would listen to me..." sighs, have the conviction to do it your way.  Because it works for you.
  2. If you do not get the results you want or need, take all the advice you can get.  There are great techniques and knowledgeable people out there, try new stuff out.  There will be a way which works for you.
  3. Make a decision then commit.  Do you want or need to do well...or not?  If the answer is yes, work hard from the start, do not pretend things will be ok if you wait until the night before the exam to start revising.  If the answer is no, do not do less work and then panic last minute because you suddenly decided you wanted to get that A*.  It is your choice.  Choose.  And commit.
  4. One hour of good quality revision is better than three hours of poor quality revision.  If you are in the right mood to revise, make it really good quality revision.  Just because you are in such a workaholic mood that you can cope with watching Scrubs while revising, doesn't mean you should.  Put yourself into the environment in which you revise best.
  5. One hour of poor quality revision is better than no revision at all.  If you are in that mood which means that being in your best revision environment is intolerable, do revise while watching Scrubs.  That distraction from your poor work ethic will enable you to remain partially on task.
  6. Accept that during your revision period, you will have to change your normal routine.  Normally spend all weekend with friends?  Two hours a day in the gym?  Only sleep for five hours a night?  It's not going to happen.  Something has to give.  It is not forever, and you committed to this exam, so it is ok to let something else slide.  Explain and apologise to those around you who are affected,they want you to do well and they will understand.
  7. Accept that during your revision period, you are going to change.  You are under a lot of pressure, your normal routine has changed, you will be tired, and this is going to impact on your mood.  Again, this is not going to be forever, observe it, accept it and cut yourself some slack.  Explain and apologise to those around you who are affected, they still love you, still want you to do well guessed it...they will still understand.
  8. On exam day, have confidence in yourself.  And (controversially), enjoy it.  You have worked for this and this is the culmination of your efforts, so be present and remember just how soon it will be over.  Enjoy writing.  I am sure that those exam markers much prefer marking a paper which has been written with passion than one that has been written by a terrified angry nervous wreck.  And I like to think that if they like it, they will probably mark it more favourably.  They are only human after all.
 So how do I implement these seven principles?

  1.    I get the results I want.  I cannot count the number of times I have ignored well-meaning and great advice, simply because I know what works for me already.  Arrogance? Sure.  Do I care? No...because I get the grades I want.
  2. Not applicable because I answered yes to item 1.  So what do I actually do?  Well the photo above shows how I manage my materials, and then basically all I do is write out my A3 sheets and lists of studies...until I know them.  I always run through the sheets in the same order and I make sure everything is divided into small titled sections so each section acts as a trigger to remembering the next section.  I like to use A3 paper because I also remember where things are positioned in relation to each other.
  3. I choose to do well.  I like to start revision about five weeks before an exam.  I spend approximately two hours a day revising.  I am typically studying for one 3-hour exam in which I will have to write essays on three different topics, but I also work full time.  I would alter my revision schedule accordingly based on the number of exams and the amount of other commitments there are in my life.
  4. My best revision environment is sitting on the couch or lying on the floor, listening to the radio.  I find it hard to focus in complete silence.  My radio station preference is Chill because there are no adverts, no DJ talk, few lyrics to tempt me into singing and a beat which is uptempo enough to keep me awake while relaxed enough to keep me calm.  I typically revise for up to an hour, then take a quarter of an hour break, then start again.  As a maximum I would do three hours in an evening, or five hours across a whole day.
  5. When I am feeling too irritated by revising to submit to it fully, I cannot focus with only the radio to keep me on-task.  So I revise with the TV on.  Something mindless that doesnt have to be watched 100% in order to be understood - like Simpsons, Friends, Scrubs etc.  I take slightly longer breaks, maybe half an hour.
  6. I'm not going to lie, I hate changing my routine.  But I do.  I go to bed an hour earlier.  I'm not so strict with myself about what I eat and I double the amount of coffee I drink.  I only have a single night a week revision-free, whereas when I'm not in revision mode I typically have two nights a week when I dont study.
  7. I am a nightmare to live with when I am preparing for an exam.  I am really irritable and completely disorganised and forgetful, characteristics which are completely out of character for me.  I am mindful of this difference and try and keep myself present in the negative emotion so that it doesn't become too consuming.  But to an extent, I just go with it.
  8. On exam day, I always make an effort.  I dress nicely, I put makeup on.  It is tempting to spend every last second revising, but if I feel like I cant look anyone in the eye in that exam room, that lack of confidence has the potential to impact my performance.  I enjoy writing as many pages as I possibly can, and that agonising hand-ache at the end?  To me, that means it was a job well done.

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