how to step up your exam revision in 90 days

What do a puma and English exam revision have in common?

Did you know that it takes just 90 days to grow a puma? No? Well, to be honest neither did I – until last night, when I consulted Google specifically to find examples of amazing things that can be achieved in 90 days. This somewhat bizarre mission was inspired by the sudden realisation that the Higher English exam takes place 90 days from yesterday, and the National 5 English 90 days from today…

For most pupils across the UK, the prelims (as they’re called here in Scotland) and mocks (in other parts of the UK) have been taking place over the past month, and most pupils will by now have had their results back. So how did that go for you?

With the odd exception that proves the rule, results tend to reflect a combination of factors including how challenging you find a particular subject, whether the exam questions were fair (although that is often subjective) …. and, most importantly, how well prepared you were for the exam.

If you were perfectly happy with your results and feel they genuinely reflect your academic aptitude and aspirations, you should feel justifiably proud of yourself. The revision strategy you adopted for your prelims would appear to be sound, although of course there is no room for complacency, so don’t take your foot off the pedal until after the exams. And keep on doing whatever you’ve been doing meanwhile.

However, if you feel that any or all of your prelim results do not reflect he considerable effort you put in and/or your ability, then it would be wise to think right now about how you can make changes before the ‘real thing’ in three months’ time.

 Exam revision plan for next 90 days

You should also give some thought as to whether the revision methods you used last time round are working. For example, if you spent long hours revising topics by reading and rereading your notes diligently, yet didn’t achieve the marks that you feel all your hours of slog merited, it’s possible that this technique alone isn’t enough.

Why not identify key points for each topic and write them on to revision or flash cards? Or record some of your notes on your phone to play back while you’re sitting on the bus or out for a walk. Finally, if any of your friends are also serious about their revision, why not meet them for a coffee and test each other on any subjects you have in common?

Here are three other tips to help you with planning your comeback and proving to your parents, to your teachers and especially to yourself what you’re really capable of:


  1. Identify your enemies
  • By enemies I mean the types of question that caught you out in the mock exam. When you get your prelim papers back, it’s fine to feel pretty chuffed with yourself when you see questions where you achieved 4 out of 4, but of course those are not the ones you need to focus on!
  • Instead, look for the questions where you got 0/4, 1/3 or 2/4. When your teacher is going through the papers in class, listen carefully to what you should have done to secure those runaway marks, and then write a list of all the things that caught you out.


  1. Hatch a revenge plan
  • Having identified the enemies, whether they be evil ‘in your own words’ and ‘link’ questions in the RUAE (close reading) paper or insidious language analysis questions in the set Scottish texts, sit down this February half-term and write a revision plan for these specific problem areas. Then you can be sure that if/when those bad boys raise their ugly heads again in the final exams, you’ll be ready for them.
  • Recognising the gaps in your knowledge of the exam syllabus and/or any issues with the way you’ve approached certain types of questions (or indeed anything else that brought you down in the prelim) will help you make the best use of the coming 90 days to ensure you’re fully armed with the necessary facts and techniques next time round.
  • Of course, all this advice doesn’t just apply to English revision. Draw up a similar plan for any subject in which you feel you could improve your results. Sorry to have to say it, but it’s a good idea to put together your plan and start implementing it during (or, at latest, immediately after) the imminent mid-term break.
  • If timing was your issue in the prelims, keep completing practice papers under timed conditions until you find the speed you need to work at to get through all the questions by the time the invigilator tells you to stop writing.


  1. Finalise and execute the plan
  • Implement your exam revision strategy with military precision – there’s no time to lose now that the real exams are on the horizon. Having compiled a detailed list of the topics/techniques that didn’t go too well in the trial exams, you’re perfectly placed to start tackling your weak spots.
  • Draw up a calendar on a large sheet of paper (or whiteboard or wall planner), with a box for each day of the week, and then write what you’re going to work on each day over the next month (mid-February through to mid-March). Use these next four weeks to target the topics or techniques that let you down in your prelims or mocks.
  • For example, you might decide to set aside one hour (in addition to normal homework) each weekday night specifically for this ‘targeted emergency revision’, plus a couple of hours at some point over each weekend.
  • Seek out questions in past papers/textbooks or on the SQA (or the website of the appropriate exam board elsewhere in the UK) that are similar to the ones you found difficult in the prelims, and keep practising them until you’re confident you are retaining the requisite information or have nailed that tricky technique.

getting teenagers to do homework

Depending on how much work you need to cover, the above ‘targeted’ revision process will probably take you through to early/mid-March. At that point, it would be wise to start working through your notes for the entire syllabus in preparation for the ‘real’ exams, but thanks to the ‘spot’ revision you’ve done based on your post-prelim analysis, any gaps that the mock exams flagged up should be well and truly plugged – which means you’ll be better armed for your next skirmish with the examiners this summer.

If you have the right attitude and the necessary self-discipline to wrench yourself away from the temptations of social media, TV, etc., you could really make a difference to your results in the next three months.

However, you do need to hit the ground running this half-term break and keep going. In previous years, I’ve seen tutees who were utterly determined not to be defined by their poor prelim results raise their game significantly in the final sprint to the exams (through sheer hard graft) and achieve impressive turnarounds in their academic performance. If they were able to do it then you can, too.

So no matter how disappointed you were with your recent results, remember that 90 days can make a huge difference in the course of anyone’s life. If nature can create a puma from scratch in that time – a creature that can run at 80 km per hour and jump more than four metres high – just think what you could achieve over the next three months if you really put your mind to it!

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