How to Revise for your Exams

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.
– Clifford  Stoll

Sometimes it can be difficult for us to start revising, it could be because we procrastinate: we put it off for as long as possible or because we aren’t exactly sure how to process and absorb the mass of information. Don’t fret!

Below are some tips to help you get through it all.

1. The Specification is your best friend

This is the most valuable piece of advice that I can give you. Do not underestimate the power of the specification. Learn the specification if you can. Why? Because the examiner can’t ask anything that isn’t mentioned on the specification, but he is well within his limits to expect you to know what is in it, so get yourself a copy of the specification as early as possible. This helps you get through your course as well as revise because you’ll know which direction you are going. You can find a copy of your specification on the exam board websites: AQA, OCR, WJEC, Edexcel, if you don’t know which exam boards you are doing, ask your teacher, you need to know these things.

Tip: It’s not a bad idea to find out the dates of your exams in advance just so you can plan ahead and see if there are any exam clashes etc.

2. Make a list of key terms and definitions

Often in the specification, they will say something along the lines of: candidates must be able to define atom, molecule, relative atomic mass…  What I recommend you do is when you go through the specification, open up a Microsoft Word Document and make a table with two columns. The first column is the word that you need to be able to define, and the second is the definition. You can then print it out and take this wherever you go and learn the definitions. This is something that is really easy to do, and can get you those extra few marks that could make a big difference if you are on the boundary between two grades.

3. Make your own notes

When you first start a course making your own notes helps you consolidate what you have learnt in lessons and you can condense the information whilst putting them into your own words. Use the textbook, and read your class notes first, if you think you don’t have excellent notes, you can always go on sites like the student room where kind souls have uploaded their own class notes which you might find helpful.

As it gets closer to exam time, you then want to condense your own notes even further, what I do is have the specification right next to me when I do this, and then make sure I have notes for each bullet point, key term, concept that I am expected to know to make sure that nothing has been missed off, and that I’m revising the right thing.

If you want, you can make little revision cards with a question on one side and the answer on the other, this way you can test yourself or get family and friends to test you.

4. Don’t start revision too late

Don’t start too late, but don’t start too early either because you’ll end up forgetting the information that you’ve learnt altogether. However, after each lesson, it’s quite useful to read over your notes again just to make sure you understand it, and again before your next lesson so that it’s fresh in your mind when you start learning things that add on to the previous knowledge. Proper, solid revision for each individual varies depending on what type of person they are, but starting early means that you can pick out anything you don’t understand before it’s too late.

5. Ask your teacher if there is anything you don’t understand

Don’t be afraid or reluctant to ask your teacher for help if you find that you are stuck on something or something isn’t quite making sense. They should be glad to help you. Get everything cleared up before you take the exam, because understanding rather than just memorising will get you a better grade.

6. Plan your revision

Make a revision timetable, it doesn’t have to be really detailed, it just needs to state what subjects you are going to revise on what day, and then stick to it. Colour code it if you must, make it as pretty as possible, just don’t spend ages on it.

7. Find a place where you are away from distractions

When it comes to the point when you need to start doing serious revision, find an nice isolated place in the house, or go to the library. Make sure you have lots of space to sprawl your notes and books everywhere. Have lots of black pens, sharpened pencils, a ruler, calculator and all your stationery ready and at hand and have a bottle of water with you because it’s important to stay hydrated whilst revising.

I don’t recommend revising for ages without any breaks at all, but the advice of taking a 5 minute break and then going back to revision never works for me. I do 2 – 3 hours solid revision, then take a toilet break, go eat something, talk, not stress or worry for 40 minutes before going back to revision.

8. Turn off your mobile phone.

If you have your mobile phone with you, it is just so tempting to text your friends and ask them about how their revision is going and then that’s the end of your revision. You’ll constantly be interrupted and your revision will end up being a waste of time. Concentrate for a set amount of time with no distractions at all, process the information, absorb it, make sure you understand it. Don’t even think about your mobile phone.

9. Say goodbye to all social networking sites.

When seriously revising, it’s a good idea to do it away from a laptop or computer where you can access sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the list goes on. These are great ways to procrastinate, but that’s not your goal. You can tweet people as much as you like once your exams are over, but when revising, it’s just not worth it.

10. Do Past Papers Questions

This is such an important piece of advice, I can’t stress it enough. Doing past paper questions is the key to success. Not only will you get a feel for what your exam will be like, you’ll also be using the information that you have learnt and then your brain will remember all of the information easier. You’ll come across most if not all of the tricks that examiners have come up with to basically ask the same question, and you’ll get a feel for what exactly you need to focus your revision on, what’s important and what’s not. You can find past papers on the exam board websites and also from the studentroom, as well as other websites such as

11. Do More Past Papers

If you run out of past papers for your own exam board, do other exam board papers just for practice, they won’t be exactly the same but they are really good practice anyway and basically test the same subject matter, if you come across a question that you completely don’t understand, it’s likely that it’s because that part isn’t part of your specification and you haven’t learnt about it.

12. Read Examiner’s Reports

Reading examiner’s reports enlightens you to the common mistakes that students make every year when doing their exams, and you can be in a position where you are able to avoid doing the same thing. You don’t have to read the reports from 1996 or something like that, the most recent ones will do.

13. Practice, Practice, Practice

Memorising facts is one thing, understanding is another. Constantly practicing questions kills two birds with one stone. It’s the best way to revise. Period.

14. Practice under timed conditions.

Don’t let the actual exam be the first time you have ever done that under timed conditions. Sometimes, in an exam you can understand everything, but timing issues will let you down. To avoid this, practice doing questions under timed conditions and in exam conditions so that you don’t find the exam experience as patronising as if it was all completely new to you. Have a timer or alarm that is set to the amount of time that you are allowed and use that to practice getting faster and faster at answering questions.

Later on, I will write a post about the different revision techniques that you could try, but hopefully this post has covered the most important aspects of making your revision as efficient and worthwhile as possible. Good luck!

If this has helped you in any way, or if you have any other suggestions: leave a comment below.


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