how to revise for exams

When is the ‘right’ time to start revision?

You may not be aware of the origins of the word procrastination, so, without putting it off any further (see what we did there?), let us explain. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary , the etymology of the English verb ‘to procrastinate’ is as follows: “Latin procrastinatus, past participle of procrastinare, from pro- forward + crastinus of tomorrow, from cras tomorrow.” Sounds entirely logical!

Even if you didn’t know the etymological root of the term before, you’ll no doubt appreciate the concept only too well; it’s ‘moving or acting slowly [in such a way] as to fall behind, and it implies blameworthy delay, especially through laziness or apathy’ (again, that’s according to Merriam-Webster).

We’re possibly all guilty, on occasion, of putting off what could be done today until tomorrow or even later. And life can, of course, genuinely get in the way of “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men”, as Burns so quaintly phrased it in ‘To a Mouse’, so procrastination certainly isn’t always about apathy or laziness. But how does the concept apply to revision for exams?

Revise the way that works best for you

The reality is, of course, that one size most definitely doesn’t fit all. Ex-headteacher Barnaby Lenon made headlines when he suggested that exam candidates should revise seven hours daily during one Easter break. However, for some, trying to concentrate for that long and absorb information meaningfully could prove counterproductive. For many students, five hours’ revision spread over five days may well beat five hours in a single day.

Thus short, spread-out bursts might work best for some students, in which case they may want to start their revision earlier. Others prefer to work more intensively closer to the exam time, worrying that if they start too early, they will have forgotten what they have learned by the time exam day rolls around.

All of which means that only the students themselves can make the decision on when to kick off their revision. And while TLC tutors would recommend starting revision several weeks before the exams (or prelims/mocks), we appreciate that for many teens even the prospect of beginning the revision process can feel overwhelming – especially if an exam covers two years’ worth of work. Surprisingly (not!), the best way to dispel that worry is to actually make a start, however modest.

Even if you just set an initial target of consolidating the notes for one topic or learning the quotes for one poem, that can be enough to inspire you to feel you’ve made progress. The key thing is to overcome that psychological hurdle and start the process.

Revision tips for the teens in your household

Clearly, the earlier you begin revising, the more time you’ll have to work out your most successful revision techniques, whether that’s mind maps, revising notes, doing past papers, working with a friend, testing yourself or any other permutation (look it up!).

As a (very) general rule of thumb, ideally you’d probably want a good month before your first paper earmarked as revision time. BUT – and it’s a big but – that may not work best for everyone.

Not only that, but it’s important to remember that a couple of weeks of optimal focus and smart study in which you use your time effectively could still get you through your paper.

So even if you think you’ve left things too late, it’s important to understand that even a short burst of revision is always better than no revision at all. However little time remains, you can always put it to effective use and make a difference to your final exam grade. To channel our ancient Roman friends once more, ‘Nil desperandum!’

When revision time is in short supply …

If you know that time is indeed rather limited before your prelims or mocks, the need to prioritise will obviously be greater. Decide on the main topics you need to focus on – especially the ones which you suspect are your weakest areas – and concentrate on those, revising in short intense bursts of, say, 25 minutes (use the Pomodoro technique in one of our previous blog posts).

You may want to look at a smaller number of subject areas, ensuring you understand them in depth. That still doesn’t mean, however, that you should put off tackling any bits you find particularly challenging!

If you’re up against the clock, having helpful, clear revision notes and a realistic, targeted plan becomes more important than ever. And don’t worry, by the way, if your notes look nothing like your friends’ – as mentioned previously, everyone tackles revision differently.

As exam day creeps closer, it’s vital to ensure you eat well, stay hydrated, and carve out enough time for breaks, sleep and exercise among all the studying – that’s non-negotiable. A healthy body makes for a healthy mind (or, as the Romans would have put it, “Mens sana in corpore sano” …).

If you’re sitting Nat 5s in 2023, you could be facing prelims in the coming weeks or even days. So remember, you haven’t left it too late. Our advice is to start right now rather than burying your head in the sand any longer – and we wish you the very best of luck.

PS: Don’t forget that if you’re studying for the Scottish set text section of the Nat5 English critical reading paper, you’ll find a myriad of handy revision videos on The Learning Cauldron’s YouTube channel.







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