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March is marching on… time to get a revision plan in place!

Did you know that the word cauldron comes from the Latin word ‘calidus’, meaning ‘hot’? Here are a few hot study tips to help you prepare effectively for your exams – whether you’re sitting Nat. 4, Nat. 5, Higher, Advanced Highers, GCSEs or A Levels.

This is the oldest one in the book but we’re going to say it anyway: don’t leave it all till the last minute! At least one month (preferably two…) before the start of the exam diet, make up a detailed study timetable or plan – comprising a list of the units/topics to cover in each subject, plus an estimate of how many hours it will take you to learn the information in that unit/paper. In the case of English, this list might look a bit like this:


RUAE (close reading):

  • Practise doing past RUAE papers – e.g. 4 past papers @ 1.5 hours each = 6 hours (you could do more if you have a book of sample papers, such as the Leckie and Leckie ones).
  • Write down any unknown vocabulary (words/expressions) from the past papers that you work through, as often similar words crop up year after year. Look them up and learn their meanings – you’d be surprised how often after you’ve learned a new word, you’ll hear or read it somewhere within a week or two.


Scottish Set Text (drama, prose or poetry) and Critical Essay

6 poems @ 1 hour intensive revision per poem = 6 hours

  • Learn several quotes for each of the poems (demonstrating a variety of poetic techniques including word choice, imagery, tone, structure and sound). Know the themes of each poem and the areas of commonality between all 6 poems.


Play – 5 hours revising themes/characters/setting/key incidents/quotes and planning potential question responses.

  • Be sure to learn several useful quotes for each main character and several for each of the themes. That way, whatever the question is, you’ll have evidence to back up your points.


Short story/novel – 5 hours (less for a short story) revising themes (e.g. good vs evil) and techniques (e.g. characterisation/setting/key incidents, narrative technique, etc. – in other words, the terms you’ll see in the ‘box of tricks’ above the questions in the critical essay part of the exam paper).

For all the above, it’s useful to practise writing whole 8-mark (Nat. 5) or 10-mark (Higher) responses for the final question in the textual analysis section, but it’s also important to practise simply writing bullet-point plans for these responses, as you need to be able to do this quickly in the actual exam.


In the case of French, German or Spanish, your list may look more like this:

Vocabulary – Aim to do 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Learning vocab (and set phrases) little and often is far better than trying to mug up on 400 faintly familiar words the week/night before the exam!

  • Make vocabulary learning part of your regular routine, e.g. the last thing you do before you finish your homework/get up/go to bed, or perhaps even when you’re sitting on the bus en route to or on the way back from school (if you get it out of the way then you’ll free up your home time for other things!). A good plan is to cover at least one new topic each week.


Listening – In the age of the internet, it’s a piece of cake to access recordings of French and other foreign languages being spoken online.

  • Why not tune into French radio or download a version of Harry Potter (or any other book you know really well in English) and listen to it in German or Spanish?
  • It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to understand everything (if you do, respect!), but because your ear is tuning into the intonation of the language by listening to it regularly, this will almost certainly help you understand more when it comes to the listening exam.
  • Aim to listen to French/German/Spanish for 15 minutes or so several times a week. You can easily listen to it while you’re doing sit-ups or painting your nails or scratching the dog’s tummy. As long as you’re hearing French (or whichever language you’re learning) for a period of time, you’re training your ears (and brain) to recognise speech patterns.


Grammar – Trying to master a new language without understanding its basic grammar would be an uphill struggle for anyone.

  • The solution? Once a week, sweet-talk yourself into sitting down and spending 15 minutes or so revising anything new you’ve done in class (such as a new French or Spanish tense, or the lists of prepositions in German that take the dative, etc.).


Writing Download past examples of directed writing and follow-up writing questions from the SQA website [LINK] or invest in a book of past papers [LINK TO AMAZON]. If you’ve followed the advice above about revising/learning new vocabulary and phrases most days, this is where you’ll appreciate having all these words and phrases at your finger-tips 🙂


Drawing up your revision schedule

Once you’ve worked out how many hours in total (approximately, at least!) you’ll need to cover all your topics/areas in each exam subject, it’s time to make your revision plan.

  • Calculate how many weeks you have till the exams so you can schedule the necessary number of hours of revision into each day.
  • Everyone studies at a different pace, so the following are only generalised figures, but for example, if you’ve estimated that you require around 15 hours per subject and you’re doing 8 Nat. 5 or GSCE subjects, that means – roughly speaking – 120 hours of revision time needs to be found before the exams.
  • If you’re planning to start your intensive revision six weeks before the date of the first exam that means you’d be aiming to fit in about 20 hours per week. If you aim to revise six days out of seven, that means just under 3.5 hours of revision on each of those six days.


The above is just one example of how to make up a study schedule. If you happen to have a photographic memory (lucky you!), you probably won’t require as much as 15 hours per subject. If you know that it takes you more time to absorb information and you need to read things several times, you may require to allocate more hours per subject.


We’re all different, so we all learn differently

Don’t worry if your friends seem to need less or more time than you to take things in. What’s important is to estimate how much revision will make you, personally, feel confident you’ve covered the whole syllabus for each subject then make a plan that works for you – and stick to it!

Remember that even when the exams get closer you should keep occasional evenings or afternoons free for relaxing, as you’ll study all the more effectively if you’ve had a break.

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