by Isla Williams
With under a month to go before GCSE and A Level exams start, finding a work-fun balance is becoming increasingly difficult for many pupils. Doing quality revision, prioritising mental and physical health and making the most of the preparation time we have is of utmost importance and can become quite overwhelming. This article brings together ideas for motivation, techniques for revision and time management.
A revision timetable. This can seem daunting as well as ‘pointless’ at this stage but it could really benefit your work ethic and visualise what your week will look like. First, list all of the topics across your subjects then fit them into your calendar. If you know you have something that will take your time and energy eg a sports club, don’t put as much to do on that day and move it to the next. Be realistic, you won’t be able to do hours and hours of work every day. If there are too many topics to fit into your days, prioritise things you know you aren’t good at. It will be a waste of time putting topics you’re confident with over topics that you need to work on. This same concept applies if you have excess space in your calendar: prioritise your weaknesses so that you can put them in the blank spaces if you are still unsure on the topic. Revisiting topics as many times as possible over a period of time will really help to consolidate your knowledge. With this method, it is important to understand that not completing everything you have scheduled in a day won’t be detrimental to your progress as everyday is a new day and you’re still doing a lot of revision. It is important to stay positive and trust the timetable as not covering everything previously determined could really demotivate a student.
Set revision timetables don’t work for every pupil as they can be intimidating. An alternative method is making two lists each day in order to structure your revision. The first list is titled ‘Must Do’ and the second ‘Great Day’. The first list will contain the specific things you have to get done that day, no questions and the second are other things that you would get done in an ideal day but you may find them easier than the topics in ‘Must Do’, they aren’t as urgent. This method means that you feel productive as you only need to tick off your ‘Must Do’ then anything on ‘Great Day’ is a bonus. The two lists approach highlights priorities and means you can add things to your future lists that you may not have thought of before.
Allocate time for things other than revision. Sports, instruments, hobbies and leisure time all benefit your learning time and can help you sustain it for longer periods of time.
Doing quality revision and actually making progress is very important. There is a huge array of methods but what is most beneficial?
Active recall. We hear those words a lot when talking about revision but what is it? Active recall is doing something. Passive revision is just reading over notes and highlighting and it has been proven to be ineffective. There are many active recall techniques that engage our brains and actually help us to consolidate knowledge and apply it to exam questions.
Past Paper questions are the most effective way of recalling information. Print the questions or use them digitally and write your answers or verbally answer them. Don’t just think of the answer as it will not benefit your ability to articulate your answers. Do as many questions as you can and then mark with the mark schemes. Don’t give yourself any excuses and be as harsh as possible in order to highlight weaknesses and understand where you need to improve. Make a note of the questions you get completely wrong in order to re-attempt them at a later stage. Search your subject and the specification and you should be able to find many to attempt.
Places to find free past paper questions:
WJEC Website (All Subjects)
Physicsandmathstutor (Sciences, Maths, English, Geography, History, Computer Science)
Revision World (All Subjects)
Use online quiz resources frequently in order to test yourself. HegartyMaths, BBC Bitesize and Quizziz are examples of easily accessible sites. WJEC blended learning resources are also available on their website.
Mind Maps. Mind Maps utilise ‘blurting’ and really help to display and add to previous knowledge. Write down a point or title in the middle of the page and without looking at resources, write as much as you can remember about the topic with different branches. Then, check what you’ve written and add anything you’ve forgotten in a different colour pen. Put this to the side then repeat the process until you can remember everything about your chosen topic. As well as knowing more information, you have a condensed summary visual of a topic that you can refer back to.
Making condensed notes from a resource is key to understanding information. As you read, make note of things you deem important as well as questions you can ask yourself later e.g. What is the overall meaning of the text? Or something more specific like definitions that can later be transferred to flashcards. If you don’t understand the information, don’t write it down and instead watch a video or research until you do understand. Go over the questions you noted at a later date to test your understanding.
Effective flashcards have single facts or definitions and are concise and clear. Flashcards may not work for every subject but have proven to be very useful for definitions when used frequently. Digital flashcards on Quizlet or Anki are an alternative to writing out the flashcards as this could take a long time (although writing is very good for memory!). Spaced repetition of flashcards means that you’re constantly going over specific points and can help to make you more confident with the knowledge you have.
Teaching other people has shown to be very beneficial. Teaching another person about your subject to a high understanding without your notes can help you to understand it yourself. Answering their questions will test you further.
Combining these methods and alternating which one you use each day will make your revision more interesting and you will be more likely to be motivated.
Keeping Momentum Up and Beginning in the First Place
There are a range of things that impact our ability to concentrate and stay away from distraction. Sometimes, starting the task is half the problem. There are a couple of simple things you can do that will help you to begin and stay focused during study periods.
Taking frequent breaks is very important. Step away from your workspace, talk to someone in your house, have a drink or a snack, go for a quick walk but try not to go on your phone as that can lead to your break period being extended and you becoming a lot more distracted!
The two minute rule: Picking a task to complete with a timer on for 2 minutes. Although you won’t complete the task in that time, it will help you to begin the task and you’ll be more likely to continue now that you’ve started
Reminding yourself that you can fully relax and have your free time once you have finished your revision can be very motivating. Thinking of small things you will do after finishing your work e.g. Watching a specific film can help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel!
A method of tracking your progress such as a phone app. An example of this is ‘Forest’. This can be highly motivating to continue your revision as well as keeping you away from the distraction of your phone.
If you’re finding it hard to stay away from digital distractions, people do live streams or make videos where they are studying (study with me) so although it sounds strange, having that open can keep you on track and keep you away from other digital distractions.
Make tasks more manageable, split them up or make them more low effort e.g. making a plan instead of writing the entire thing. This will make it easier to begin studying.
Hopefully this guide has given you a few ideas on how to approach revision and how to make it worthwhile. Your mental and physical health comes before any exam and it is important to take a break and talk to people when exam pressure becomes overwhelming. For further support, speak to your form Tutor, your Director of Wellbeing or your Subject Teachers.