As a tutor I have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of students, but despite the differences between them I often encounter some of the same issues over and over again. One of the problems that seems to crop up repeatedly is a lack of understanding of how to organise revision, so having spent time helping a large number of students develop tactics to improve the effectiveness of their revision I have collected together the advice (mostly applicable to all subjects) that I find myself dishing out regularly – I hope that it is useful!
Firstly, students can often feel completely overwhelmed by the volume of material there is to study, and as a consequence they can sometimes be defeated before they have even started. Divide and conquer is the order of the day! A thorough knowledge of the syllabus is essential for effective and focused revision (these are usually available from the website of the exam boards, and sometimes condensed by some teachers into summary sheets that are handed out in class). Gaining a clear understanding of what they need to know is the first step towards students feeling confident enough to tackle revision and should prevent that uneasy feeling of not knowing exactly what it is they need to do, which can make students reluctant to start. In addition, if students can clearly see their progress through the topics as they cross things off it can be very motivating watching the number of topics still to be covered reducing steadily!
Once you know what you need to do, the next thing is to decide where to start. An efficient way to revise the sciences, for example, is to select a chapter that you are reasonably confident with from the relevant textbook, scan the pages to make sure you know what is involved (reading more carefully and making brief notes on anything that you can’t remember well) and then try some questions on that small chunk of material, usually to be found at the end of the chapter. It can be very tempting for some students to copy out all of the information in the textbook as they feel they don’t want to “miss anything out”, but there is no point in writing out things you already know; your revision notes should get shorter and shorter each time you go over a topic.
Choose the best time of the day for you to do the bulk of your revision – if you’re a morning person, try to schedule the majority of your revision for the first part of the day and plan exercise and relaxation for later on; on the other hand if you’re not an early bird don’t assume you’ll magically transform into one close to exam time! Instead, create a schedule with most of your work time later on in the day when you’re at your peak. It can be motivating to schedule small “treats” into your day, for example, set yourself a specific target (perhaps completing a certain number of maths past paper questions) and then allow yourself fifteen minutes of screen time or a chat with a friend once you’ve reached your target.
A clear workspace with a desk, good lighting, a comfortable (but not too comfortable!) seat and a quiet atmosphere will help to prevent procrastination. Similarly, a good supply of lined, square and graph paper, pens and pencils, rulers and erasers, sharpeners, highlighters and calculators can reduce “faffing” time. Buy yourself a large supply of stationary at the earliest opportunity so that it’s impossible to procrastinate because you’re missing something “vital” (a particular item of stationary rarely is vital but it’s amazing how much time can be used up in its pursuit!).
In my experience these general points can help students to take control of their revision and make a start with things, after which everything seems to get a bit easier! The earlier the process is started the better, so if you’ve got exams coming up this year there’s no time like the present…