Exams are, unfortunately, a vital and necessary part of every student’s school experience. Whether it’s low stakes spelling tests in primary school, or final exams after two years of preparation for GCSEs or A-Levels, we are tested throughout our education. With this comes the need for revision. We can all agree that there are a million things we’d rather be doing, but effective revision is your key to exam success.
It can often be daunting to start revising for an important test. This article will go through ten of the best revision methods to help you get the most out of your preparation time and might even help you enjoy it!
Flashcards are one of the most popular methods for revision. They are simple to make and use, but also incredibly useful and versatile.
Obviously, the first step in using flashcards as a revision technique is making the cards themselves. Make sure you know what content you are expected to revise. Looking at specifications for national exams like GCSEs is a great way to ensure you don’t miss anything important.
Once you know what you need to learn, break down each subject into smaller topics and sub-topics. This should leave you with ‘bitesize’ chunks of information for each card. For a full guide on making effective flashcards, have a look at this Think Student article.
One popular style of flashcard is having a question on one side and the answer on the other. Instead of simply reading information, you are actively recalling it, which is good practice for exam situations. This works especially well for fact-based subjects, such as the sciences.
Depending on the subject, your flashcards might look very different. It may be more useful to use flashcards for key terms or vocabulary in language subjects. In this case, you can write the word or phrase on one side and the definition or translation on the other.
The same technique applies if you are revising for a history exam and have lots of dates to remember. Try making flashcards with the key date on one side, and the event on the other.
Evidently, there are many ways to use flashcards. As with all methods of revision, try out different styles and see what works best for you. For more inventive ideas on how to use flashcards, check out this article by Think Student.
2. Past papers
Although knowing the required content for a test is important, a big part of preparing for an exam is getting used to the style of questions. For this, past papers and exam questions are the best resource. They allow you to both check your knowledge and familiarise yourself with the setup of the exam paper.
For example, some exams have separate question and answer sheets. Others have one booklet with both the questions and spaces to write answers underneath. Knowing how the paper will look will make you more confident in the final exam.
For most public exams, past papers are readily available, free of charge, on the exam board website. This page on the AQA website is an easy way to find past papers for GCSEs and A-Levels under the AQA exam board. However, if you are with a different exam board, look at their website instead for a similar past papers page.
After completing a past paper, marking it and making corrections is just as important. Corrections allow you to identify what you already know and then the areas you still need to work on. Mark schemes are available alongside all past papers on exam board websites. They are a great resource to see the specific wording that examiners are looking for. Key phrases are often bolded or underlined on mark schemes.
You could attempt some past questions at the start of your revision to check which topics need the most work. Alternatively, you may want to learn everything first. You can then sit down in exam conditions, and time yourself as you complete a full exam paper.
3. Mind maps
Mind maps are a quick way to condense a topic, making it much more manageable to revise. You can challenge yourself to fit all the key points of a topic onto a single piece of A4 paper, in the form of a mind map. This often makes revision less daunting. It narrows down the huge amount of content taught in lessons to a clear guide of the essential information to know for the test.
This Think Student article is a great guide on using mind maps for effective revision.
Making mind maps is, in itself, a form of revision. It helps to use different colours when creating a mind map to make it more visually appealing and to help the information stick. Colour can help your brain to remember information because it can associate certain colours with facts.
You could also make a mind map of all the information you can remember without looking at a textbook in black pen. You can then go over your mind map to add the information you missed in another colour. This way, when using the mind map to revise, you can see exactly which facts you need to focus on.
4. YouTube videos
There are a huge number of exam resources available on YouTube. You can find everything from short clips for a specific topic, to dedicated revision channels. They are a great option for students who prefer to learn by listening, rather than reading or writing. Watching videos is also one of the quicker revision techniques as it doesn’t involve making your own resources.
However, if you do want to make written resources, it is very easy to combine these two revision methods. You could make a mind map whilst watching a video, which sometimes works better than writing notes from a textbook. This is because you can’t copy word for word. You have to absorb the information as you hear it in order to write it down.
These mind maps can be a good resource to come back to later, instead of re-watching the video. Noting things down while watching is also a good way to make sure you don’t get too distracted. It can be all too easy to tune out the sound of the video. You might be tempted to click on an unrelated video and interesting as it may look, it probably won’t help you pass an exam!
A simple YouTube search will show just how many revision resources are available. To get you started, some popular revision channels include freesciencelessons, which you can find here for GCSE and A-Level science help. For revision videos about GCSE and A-Level English, check out Mr Bruff using this link.
5. Teach someone else
It can be hard to maintain focus when you’re revising alone, particularly with distractions like phones nearby. This Think Student article has some ideas to improve your concentration. One revision method that provides a different approach if you’re tired of studying on your own is to try to explain a topic to someone else. This could be a parent, a sibling, or a friend who doesn’t take that subject.
In an exam, most examiners are looking for you to explain your answers in lots of detail. Being able to teach someone else a topic means you’ll definitely understand it well enough for the exam.
If you prefer to have resources to revise from, you can try recording yourself teaching someone the topic. You could listen back to the recording to see if you missed anything out. You can then play it back closer to the exam as a recap of the essential information. It can help consolidate what you already know.
6. Study groups
Another thing to try if you want a break from studying alone is to organise a study group with your friends. Having friends around, all of whom are also revising for similar exams, can be a great way to motivate yourself to study. We can all agree that finding the motivation to get started can be one of the hardest parts of revision. For more ideas on this, see this article from Think Student.
Group revision can be as intense as you choose. If the exam is coming up soon, you should really be working individually in silence. Although this doesn’t sound particularly fun, it is surprisingly easy to get some good work done when everyone around you is doing the same thing. It also means you can’t get too distracted. Your job as part of a study group is to keep those around you on track.
If you have a bit more time, there are plenty of ways to make your revision session interactive and fun. Ask each other questions to test your knowledge, read over your friend’s essays for extra ideas or work through difficult maths questions together. Any activities that help you prepare for the exam are useful.
If you’re feeling particularly creative, you could even try subject-specific games. Pictionary with parts of a cell, for example, would work great for a biology test. It would certainly make revision more entertaining!
7. Post-it notes
This technique is very similar to the use of flashcards. Post-It notes are best used for the most important bits of a topic or sections you are finding most difficult to remember. If you have too many post-it notes stuck on a wall, your brain will have an information overload and you won’t remember anything.
Post-it notes can be easily kept in areas you will see every day, which really helps the information stick in your memory. Perhaps you could write common maths formulas on post-it notes. Then you could stick them to the front cover of your maths textbook, as a quick reminder to go over them.
The hardcore post-it note fan might even stick the notes on objects they use every day. This could be as simple as a mirror or the door to your wardrobe. This makes it easier to do a little bit of revision every day, as it’s unavoidable to look at them!
Additionally, taking post-it notes off once you have learned them is a great way to measure progress. You can gain so much job satisfaction motivation from watching the notes disappear over time.
8. Online resources
Google is often the first resource we think to check if we have a question in our daily lives. It is sometimes easy to forget that it also contains endless revision resources. As with YouTube, you can find quick answers, or websites with full exam guides.
In this list, you’ll find some popular websites to have a look at, all of which can be used for free. Each site contains detailed guides arranged by qualification and exam board:
- Physics and Maths Tutor – this has guides for GCSEs and A-Levels in Chemistry, Geography and more, not limited to Physics and Maths as the name suggests! There are a variety of resources available, including summary notes, practice questions, and flashcards.
- Seneca – this has revision courses from KS2 all the way up to A-Level. It is very interactive, with questions to answer between chunks of content to check your understanding. You can also create a free account to save your progress on topics.
- BBC Bitesize – this has revision guides for KS3 and GCSE, as well as the equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has clear explanations arranged by topic in a variety of subjects, as well as videos and quick multiple-choice tests to check your knowledge.
Obviously, there are many more resources available on the internet. Some contain both GCSE and A-Level content, so remember to look for the right difficulty level and exam board. It’s worth doing some research to find which websites are best for the exam or topic you are revising for. You’ll discover in time which work best for your learning style.
9. School notes
Your school notes and other resources from your lessons are revision resources that are often overlooked. These will have all the information you need, specifically taught to prepare you for a test on that topic. Often, students use their class notes when making condensed resources such as flash cards. Even after you have made revision resources, your original notes are still useful.
Something that can make your notes even more helpful is the work you do as you go through the school year. Something as simple as putting a sticker next to the lessons you found difficult can help you focus your revision when exam season gets closer.
While they may not be your main resource, it is always helpful to remember that you have schoolbooks full of useful, relevant information.
10. Plan your revision
All of the above revision methods will work best if you plan your revision beforehand. You need to decide which subjects need the most revision and when you have time. This Think Student article has a full guide to creating an effective revision timetable.
To get the most out of your revision time, make sure to have a clear study space, and drink plenty of water. These may seem like small, irrelevant habits to have. However, picking up these mannerisms can make a surprising difference when it comes completing effective revision sessions.
Most importantly, remember to give yourself breaks in your revision schedule. Revise little and often, starting as early as possible. Doing this will mean that, once the test or exam day comes, you’ll be fully prepared. Most importantly, celebrate when you reach the end of revision!