Exams are looming and it's time to get your head down. Read these ten top tips to help you get the most out of your revision time, leaving you plenty of opportunity to relax and see your friends too…
By Lisa Botwright
1. GET PLANNING
Before you do anything, sit down and work out a realistic revision timetable, with plenty of breaks and time for social stuff too. One way you can do this is divide however long you have until your exams by how many subjects you study. Then break down each subject further, dividing all the topics and areas you need to cover. This has two advantages – it’ll give you an overview of what you need to learn, and more importantly, it’ll mean that when you start to study, you’ll know exactly what you need to tackle in that session and you won’t be wasting any valuable time.
Revise in short bursts and keep absolutely focused during that time. Treat revision time like a gym session, where you get everything ready beforehand (bottle of water, the right stationery, the books you need etc) and then push yourself as hard as you can for maximum results. Only you know how long you can concentrate for; but be realistic. Just like with exercise, it’s much better to work hard for twenty minutes, than spend an hour pretending to work – but actually daydreaming and playing on your phone. Reward yourself with short breaks in between sessions, and then a much longer break after a few sessions.
2. REVISE ACTIVELY
Studies show that just reading through your notes is the least effective way to remember stuff. You need to actively engage with what you need to learn, whether this means drawing mindmaps, sticking post-it notes around your room, or making cue cards. Other ideas include designing key word posters and sticking them on your ceiling, making recordings of key ideas/quotations, inventing your own mnemonics (a memory technique ie. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain tells you the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), condensing your notes on cards in well organised files and using the Look Cover Say Write Check method. Regularly testing yourself is particularly important since what you think you’re remembering may not be what you actually are remembering. This is where past papers come in handy – or challenge yourself with the exercises at the end of the chapters of your text books or revision guides. Even talking through ideas out loud is helpful, with a revision buddy perhaps, or with your parents.
3. VISUALISE SUCCESS
Here’s an exercise. Take a few minutes to think about why you want to pass your exams and what success means to you – then write it down on a piece of paper. Every time you feel your motivation flagging, take that piece of paper out and read it again. Success means different things to different people, so rather than putting pressure on yourself to gain all A*s or grade 9s, set yourself a realistic target linked to your next goal. You might be good at maths, but need English to get onto that engineering apprenticeship. So next time you want to throw your copy of Frankenstein across the room, imagine how you’ll feel when you pass English and you’re accepted on that course. Visualise how you’ll feel on results day. Remember why you’re putting in all this hard work.
4. STRIKE A BALANCE
What are your favourite hobbies… Do you love sport? Or meeting up with your friends to go shopping or for a coffee? It’s important to keep a balance and to relax as well as revise. The last thing you should do is give up what you love. If you’ve started your revision early enough and are sticking to your timetable you should have plenty of time for other interests.
5. MUSIC FOR FOCUS
Listening to music while you're revising may make the process more fun, but the lyrics in the songs you're singing are getting in the way of your brain coding and processing the information you're trying to absorb. If you absolutely love listening to music while you work, stream something without lyrics, like ‘mellow beats’ or ‘electronic concentration’ from the Focus section of Spotify. There are some great revision playlists on Youtube too - be open-minded about giving them a try.
6. EAT WELL
While it's great to reward a successful study session with a tasty treat, just remember to go easy on the sugar. Sugar is a very addictive substance that gives you an initial high, followed by a big crash, leaving you with a craving for the next 'fix'. Although there's nothing wrong with the odd chocolate bar, try to choose foods that give you a steady release of energy such as a wholegrain bread sandwich, or some chopped fruit and nuts, or vegetables dipped in hummus. Likewise, choose water over fizzy drinks and caffeine. Remember that your brain works best when fully hydrated; by the time you feel thirsty, you may already dehydrated enough to have lost up to 10% of your brain function - that's a lot of power right when you need it most!
7. SLEEP SOUNDLY
You need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night for optimum health and for your brain to process everything you've learned that day, but you find it difficult to fall asleep until late. This isn't your fault, it's because when puberty hits, physiological changes in the brain mean that the hormone responsible for sleep (melatonin) is released later than in early childhood and later adulthood, around 9pm or 10pm. “This shift often makes many teenagers incapable of falling asleep before 11 at night,” says teen sleep expert Professor Mary A Carskadon. Unfortunately, until schools catch on to later starts for the exams, you've got to be ready and raring to go by 9am. Help yourself by having a regular bedtime routine and allow 30 minutes to wind down without screens before sleep. The screen embargo may sound harsh, but every-time your phone lights up with a social media update, you receive a dopamine hit that gives your brain a high and accelerates your heart-rate. There's plenty of time to keep up with your Snap-streaks in your revision breaks.
8. DON'T LET NERVES GET THE BETTER OF YOU
It’s normal to be nervous. A little bit of stress is actually good for us, and helps stir us into action. Too much anxiety, though, is not good for our mental health. Some people might experience panic attacks, which are actually very common. They can make you feel breathless, or even like you're going to pass out or choke. Some people feel sick or sweaty when they have a panic attack. The best way to deal with these is by taking long, slow deep breaths. Count up to four or five as you breathe in, and do the same as you breathe out. If you feel things are really getting on top of you, please, please speak to your parents or a teacher. There are also lots of helplines you can call, such as Childline 0800 1111 or Family Lives on 0808 800 2222.
9. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SCHOOL RESOURCES
Your school wants you to do well just as much as you want to do well. When students get good grades it reflects well on the school and the teaching staff. Since its in their best interests too, the teaching staff will all be working hard to provide you with what you need to do well. Use the resources they give you; they may suggest text books and revision guides you can buy, they’ll certainly be loads of information uploaded to your school portal. Hopefully they’ll be running extra revision classes on top of normal lessons. Take advantage of everything they offer. It’s a no-brainer, really.
10. BE NICE TO YOUR PARENTS
They’re not nagging, they love you and just want you to do well. It may sound funny, since you’re the one doing the exams, but they’re nervous too. Give them jobs to do to keep them busy, they’ll love that. Ask them to stock the fridge with yummy, healthy snacks and buy you some lovely, colourful stationery. They’ll want to help you revise – get them to ask you questions each night about what you’ve worked on that day. Plan something with them that you can all look forward to after your exams. Now’s the time to ask them to book a fancy restaurant, perhaps, or a day trip to a theme park. They’ll be on board with the idea of wanting to help to motivate you. Remember – they’re on your side.