Whether we like it or not, revision is a key part of every student’s experience. Most people are aware that preparing for exams is important, but knowing exactly how to start this practice can be difficult. One particular aspect many people struggle with is knowing how long to revise for. How long before the test do you start revision? How many hours should you revise each day?
The main rule of thumb when it comes to revision is ‘little and often’. Start with plenty of time before the test, instead of trying to cram for hours the night before. Planning your revision is really helpful – set aside a little time each day to revise a specific topic, and remember to include breaks! Class tests may only need about half an hour each day for the week before the assessment. On the other hand, for major end-of-year exams you may feel like you need an hour or more each day, for several weeks before the exam, to feel fully prepared.
This article will discuss in more detail how to work out how much revision time you need, in order to feel ready for your exams.
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How much should you revise each day?
There are a huge variety of opinions on how many hours you need to revise before a big exam. If you look at 5 different websites, or ask 5 different people, you will likely get 5 different answers. This Think Student article has some suggestions about revising in the lead up to GCSE exams. Ultimately, you should decide how long to revise based on two main factors: the importance of the exam, and your personal confidence with the subject.
Generally, the more comfortable you are with a topic, the less time it will take to revise. For shorter, low-stakes class tests, this could mean as little as 20 minutes of revision a day leading up to the test. For larger tests, or topics you are less confident in, revision can take longer – perhaps an hour a day. Remember, these are just guides – your revision plan is unique to you. All your classmates will have slightly different approaches to studying for a test. Experiment with timings and revision methods, to find what suits your learning style best.
Another thing to consider is how many subjects you are revising for. Qualifications like GCSEs mean students take a considerable number of exams in the span of a couple of months, so you will often be revising for multiple exams at the same time. Some students are preparing for up to 10 or even 11 GCSEs at once – clearly, it is unrealistic to study each of these subjects for an hour a day. Instead, you would be focussing on a couple of subjects per day.
It is always useful to make a revision timetable to ensure you get everything done. When juggling multiple subjects, having a clear plan can make your workload seem a lot more manageable, as you can see exactly what you need to do, and when.
How do you make a revision timetable?
Being told to simply ‘revise for an exam’ can be overwhelming. Revision timetables help to break subjects down into smaller chunks, which are allocated to a day or time. This means you can clearly see how much revision time you need, fitted around your normal schedule of school, clubs, downtime, and anything else you have going on.
This Think Student article has a full guide on how to make a great revision timetable. In short, you first break down the content you need to revise into smaller subtopics. Then plan which of these topics to revise each day before the test. (This doesn’t have to be the same amount each day. You are likely to have more time on weekends, or the Easter holidays before end-of-year exams, than after school.) Make sure to add in breaks and rewards, which can be really motivating. It can also help to have a set time for revision each day, as routines are easier to stick to.
Another thing to be aware of is that you may not need to be revising every single day. Where possible, incorporate day breaks into your revision timetable. If you are feeling burnt out, or have a busy day out planned, it’s perfectly all right to take the day off! It can even help reset your mind, so you are ready and motivated to revise the following day.
When should you start revising?
Another common question is how many days or weeks before a test you need to start revising. Once again, this depends on the exam, and how prepared you already feel. Class tests may just require a week of regular, short revision sessions. National qualifications such as A-Levels tend to take much longer, with many students starting revision over a month before the exam.
As with all revision, having a timetable is incredibly useful. Check out the Think Student link above for more information on making one. It may be that, having planned out your revision for a test in a month’s time, you only need a week or two to prepare fully. Another factor to bear in mind is that, for smaller school tests, you may only get a few days’ notice. Overall, the best advice as to when to start revision is to use a timetable to visualise how much study you have to do.
What is the Pomodoro technique?
One popular revision method that helps you stay focussed and motivated is the Pomodoro technique. While ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for ‘tomato’, this has nothing to do with the technique! Essentially, it involves working at a task for a set amount of time (usually 25 minutes), then taking a short break (usually 5 minutes). Every time you complete 4 of these cycles, or ‘pomodoros’, take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.
This method works best if, during the 25 minutes of work, you focus entirely on the task. That means no checking texts, or having the TV on in the background. Additionally, using a timer can help you stick to the schedule, meaning you don’t get behind with your work or spend too long on a certain task. For more tips and information about the Pomodoro technique, see this page from todoist.com.
The Pomodoro technique is often used and praised by students as it helps them plan how long to revise for. The system means you keep a healthy balance between study and downtime, while still getting everything done that you need to.
How should you revise?
Even once you have a plan of when to study each topic, there are many ways to go about this revision. Every student has their own preferred method, which can be anything from flashcards to online quizzes. How you choose to revise will also affect how long it takes you. If you want to complete a past paper in test conditions before an A-Level exam, you may need to set aside a full two hours where you can work interrupted.
If you are struggling with where to start, there is a common three step process that you may find helpful. First, focus on consolidating your knowledge by making revision materials such as flashcards. The second step involves revising the content you need to know, using the revision materials you have made, as well as class notes, online resources, and anything else you find helpful. Finally, put this knowledge into practice by completing questions on the topic, which may include full past papers for national exams.
For more ideas on how to revise, check out this article by Think Student. Try using a variety of study methods, along with planning your revision with a timetable. This should allow you to productively spend the right amount of time for you to feel prepared for your exam. Most of all, remember that every student is different, and with a little time, you will find the revision schedule that works best for you!