Revision tips and tricks

Text books on a desk

Keep calm and read on

It's exam season and stress levels are high. But it doesn't have to be hard! You just need to know how to crack revision. We've been chatting with current Essex students to share with you some of their tried and tested tips and tricks. Hopefully these little nuggets will help you feel prepared so you can stay as cool as a cucumber.

1. Plan and get organised

Create a revision planner and schedule in time for each exam. Stick this on your walls so that you can refer to it whenever you need to. Not only is this a great way to keep track of your progress, but it'll help kick-start your revision by making you organise and break down areas of study into manageable chunks.

Prioritise and give yourself enough time to get to grips with anything you really struggle with. Make sure your timetable is simple and realistic. Don't kid yourself: are you honestly going to wake up at 6.30am on a Sunday morning to brush up on algebra?! No, we don't believe you either, and whilst ambition is great, it's important not to be hard on yourself – you're only human after all, and you'll need rest in order to make the most of your time.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "Make sure to go back to topics frequently so you don’t forget them." 
  • "During your lessons, make your notes as organised as possible and easy to follow, so when you revisit them, you'll be more effective."
  • "Give yourself enough time to grasp concepts. If you first skim through a text and go over it again in depth afterwards, it is likely that your understanding of the subject will exponentially increase."
  • "Revise in 15-minute blocks and have small breaks of five minutes."
  • "Put your revision notes on your walls."

2. Experiment and get creative

Let's face it, revision can be tough, so it's important to make it as fun as possible.

"Fun? Are you kidding?" we hear you say. Ok, so whilst we aren’t going to pretend you’ll want to swap your salsa classes/online gaming/bird watching for revision, there are ways you can inject some fun into your studies and maximise your learning.

Think about how you learn best, and try to use your five senses. You might remember things easier by listening, so why not record some sound bites, questions, and revision tips on your phone and play them back. Then you can listen to them on the go as well. Just make sure they don't get mixed up with your favourite playlist – nothing will clear a dance floor like your recital of Newton’s three laws of motion!

If you’re more of a visual learner, you might want to draw a quick illustration or comic strip to help memorise a point, or cover your entire room in posters and mind maps, which will catch your eye even when you’re not actually revising.

Some find working in a group really beneficial, as you can discuss ideas, quiz each other, and help with any problems. Be careful not to get distracted though, it’s important you keep on track.

Whether it’s through song, mnemonics, different accents, interpretive dance or just plain old notes, find a medium that works for you and go for it.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "Work in groups – teach one person a topic you understand, and someone can teach you a topic they understand." 
  • "Take advantage of your teacher's support, and your peers too. Sit down and revise together by answering past papers as a team so eventually you are all at the same level."
  • "Draw pictures next to your notes, which will help you remember."
  • "Record yourself reading your revision notes out loud and play them back frequently."
  • "If you don’t understand a topic, use YouTube videos to help, then write it out in a way you would understand best."

3. Relax and take a break

A little bit of stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’ll give you the push you need to work hard.

However, sleeplessness, panicking, and nightmares of turning up to your exam naked and the paper being written in an alien language, really aren’t going to help. If you find yourself getting too worked up, there are plenty of ways to avoid getting the dreaded revision blues.

  • Don’t spend all your time studying – life goes on, so take time out to do things you enjoy.
  • Avoid other stress-heads – hanging out with your friends is a great way to unwind but comparing how much revision you’ve done, particularly the morning before the exam, will only make you paranoid, so try and avoid all exam-related chat.
  • Exercise. We really can’t emphasise enough how much this will help. Release some aggression with some kickboxing or find your inner calm with a spot of yoga – you’ll feel better.
  • Check out – it speaks for itself really.

Think of the light at the end of the tunnel – it’s not all doom and gloom, and it won’t be long until you’re free to enjoy the summer. And just imagine how brilliant you’ll feel when all your hard work pays off.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "Have regular breaks after certain amounts of time studying. Have some fun during the breaks: go out, watch a movie, do some sport; you won’t be so stressed, and you will have more energy when you get back to studying."
  • "99% of you will recoil at this but a quick run, I find, really helps to clear the mind, especially during stressful periods."

4. Revise and learn your stuff

At the risk of sounding like your nan, the art of penmanship is rapidly becoming extinct, and that, my dear, is a great shame. She might have a point, you know.

Back in the good ol' days, before all these new-fangled computers and mobile phones, your nan had to write everything with a pen and paper/quill and parchment/chisel and rock (I guess it depends how old she is), and while this sounds terribly long-winded and time-consuming, good handwriting is actually a pretty useful skill to have.

Because most of us now tap or type rather than write, we’re used to using different muscles in our hands. In an exam, you could be writing frantically for up to four hours(!), which, if you’re not used to, can actually be rather difficult. If you’re out of practice, you might experience hand cramp and wrist fatigue (a serious ailment during exam period), so it’s definitely worth getting used to writing in timed conditions, and for longer periods of time to build up your stamina.

Planning becomes even more important – you can’t just cut and paste paragraphs and edit and re-edit as you write like you’re able to with a keyboard, so it’s vital you get your ideas sorted before you start scribbling away. If your handwriting looks like something your cat might have scrawled, it’s worth trying to neaten it up. It might not seem like an important factor, but if the examiner simply can’t read your perfect answer, the chances are you won’t get the marks you deserve.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "The biggest lie I tell myself is 'don’t write that down, I’ll remember it'. You won't."
  • "Put your notes in a format which helps you to make sense of the topics and the connections between each of them."
  • "Do readings before each class and make notes afterwards when the information is fresh."
  • "Do lots of past-papers (if you have access to them)."
  • "Continuously write essays. The only way to get better at them is to practice them."
  • "It is not about memorising, it is about understanding. Perhaps you need to repeat yourself over and over again, but it's easier to remember the information by putting it into context with a broader understanding."
  • "Make sure to go back to topics frequently so you don’t forget them."
  • "Make detailed notes on A3 paper then shorten these notes to A4 paper and finally shorten them again to a small flashcard using several trigger words."

5. Eat and get energised

A healthy body means a healthy mind. Exam period can be stressful, but it's important not to let it get the best of you – you've got to be top of your game and that means getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthily.

Whilst you might just plan on hiding yourself away with your notes and a month's supply of energy drinks and fast food, you run the serious risk of turning into a revision zombie. Here's how to keep yourself sane during the study period.

  • Take regular breaks (but five minutes of reading does not warrant a rest).
  • Catch some Z's – get as many early nights as you can. If you're working well into the night but not getting anywhere, it's far better to stop, sleep and start again refreshed the next day.
  • Move your body – exercise is proven to help studies, so rather than lazying around the house, go for a run – it'll clear your head, energise you and relieve any revision stress.
  • Fill up on brain food – whole grains, oily fish, blueberries and broccoli are all thought to be brilliant for boosting your concentration and energy levels.
  • Kick the energy drinks – a decent night’s sleep, plenty of water and a banana will provide you all the energy and brainpower you need, without the sugar rush and caffeine shake.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "Good sleeping and eating habits are essential. Feed the hardware for the software to run smoothly."
  • "Snacking (moderately) whilst revising helps – but choose healthy snacks: fruit, seeds, and vegetables."

6. Sleep well and recharge

If you’ve followed the rest of the tips on this list, then this point should, in theory, be totally irrelevant.

Pulling an all-nighter might seem like a viable option, and yes, you may have got through your mock exams, bleary eyed and by the skin of your teeth by cramming the night before, but is it really worth the risk?

Revising over a longer period of time means that more is ingrained into your long-term memory, as well as giving you plenty of time to get to grips with anything you really don’t understand.

Here are some top tips from Essex students:

  • "Get enough sleep before the exam; you will have more energy and be more focused."
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If you have your own revision tips, share them with us on Twitter or Instagram.

Here are some of the super-helpful tips that have been shared with us.

  • “Revise by teaching a (even fake!) lesson on your subject! If you can teach it, it means you can explain it, and if you can explain it, it means you understand it!”
  • “Look at past papers and identify recurring themes.”
  • “Study hard but rest the full eight hours every night and DO NOT stay up all night revising for an exam the next day. Sleeping helps register memories, which is essential if you hope to learn something!”
  • “Record yourself on your phone and play it back. Activating more of the senses – speaking, listening – helps your brain remember, and frequent re-listening will aid long-term memory rather than relying on working memory.”
  • “Flash cards are the way to go. Learn ten then have a bar of choc as a reward!”
  • “Use different colours in notes. Colours help us retain more information!”
  • “Coloured mind maps of key info are great for those quick refresh sessions. Pin them up next to your bed so you can have a last look over before and after you sleep, and lock that info down!”
  • “Get someone to listen to you – like a family member or friend – while you teach them the stuff you are revising. Make some fun facts. It forces you to process and really think about what you’re learning.”
  • “Work throughout the day, eat properly and sleep at night for eight hours.”

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