Revision techniques: How to prepare for your exams

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It’s exam season. As we move out of the dark winter months and approach spring, it’s easy to get stressed by the thought of exams. Whether you’re a first-year, and these are your first university exams, or you’ve been through the exam process before, exams can be scary. As a first-year student, I know they are to me, even if they’re still a few months away. However, no matter how cliché it sounds; ‘practice makes perfect.’ If there is one thing I learnt doing the International Baccalaureate, it’s that the way you revise can affect your exam performance.

So, whether your course is film and design, biology or finance, here are some revision techniques to make you well-prepared for exam season.

You Can Never Start Revision Too Early

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I’m not saying you should have started revising in term one, but avoid cramming the day (and night!) before the exam. Studies have shown that spacing out your revision is more effective than cramming, so rather than pulling an all-nighter in the library the night before the exam, start revising sooner rather than later.

Make a Plan

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Sometimes it can be challenging to sit down and revise. When can I find the time? Where do I begin? Wouldn’t it be more fun to binge-watch Netflix? These are all questions that can end up demotivating us from revising. What I’ve found through planning and scheduling my revision for my International Baccalaureate exams is that making a plan makes revising a lot easier. You’re able to make your revision fit around your life, and breaking your revision down into smaller sections over an extended period, can make revising seem more manageable. Smaller parts to revise can enhance your motivation to do so. Also, if you’ve scheduled your revision around your life, you can enjoy taking breaks, being social, going out, and so on without feeling like you should be revising.

There are many ways you can plan your revision, and it might take some time to find the method that works for you. There are apps or websites where you can create a revision timetable, or you could do it yourself in a calendar or academic planner. What I did, was I broke my course into different topics, then planned which one to do each week up until the exam. Then on each Sunday, I used my academic planner to schedule when I would revise the topic of the following week, something which allowed me to plan around any social plans etc. I had made.

Find Out Which Way of Revising Works For You

Revision can be a very personal process. There is no one way of learning and revising that works equally well for everyone. Instead, try different ways of revising to find out which ones work for you.

Here are some ideas to try out!

Study Guides:

Something which helped me prepare for my exams was creating study guides for my modules. Instead of just reading textbooks or articles, condense the information into a notebook, PowerPoint presentation etc. Not only is writing a way of memorizing information but once your study guide is complete, you have something to read the days leading up to the exam which has most of the information you need in a condensed format.


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Flashcards are a great way of revising, either on your own or with friends. With a question or a word to define on one side, and the answer on the other, take turn quizzing each other, or try answering them on your own. If you quickly get bored of revision, try revising with friends to make it more fun. Flashcards are an excellent technique for people doing degrees where memorizing facts and definitions are essential, and in general, it’s a great way of practising explaining things in your own words.

Diagrams, Drawings etc:

While some people learn best by reading and copying for a study guide, others are more visual learners. If you learn better through visuals than text, try creating spider diagrams, illustrations or graphics for your notes. Even if you are doing a study guide, as a visual learner you might benefit from colour-coding your notes, adding pictures or doodles and keeping some white space in your notes for when you read through them before the exam.

Past Exams:

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No matter what kind of learner you are, if there’s something everyone should do in preparation for their exams, it’s doing previous ones. Past exams are a great way of seeing how the exam is structured, how they phrase questions, and which topics usually pop up. Doing past exams is also a great way of practising how to answer exam questions and solve problems. For essay-based exams particularly, making outlines for how to answer questions from previous exams is an excellent way of practising how to answer exam questions as well as revising the topics the questions are on.

Recreate Exam Conditions:

Imagine you’ve done all the things mentioned above. You’ve planned your revision, revised in the way that suits you as a learner, done a couple of past exams. Do you feel ready to go into the exam room? No? That might be because revising and doing the exam are very different things. When making study guides, reading over notes, using flashcards or making visual tools you’re revising the content on the exam, but you’re not preparing for the conditions of the exam. Try recreating the exam conditions to be ready for sitting the actual exam. Doing a past exam within the time allowed for the exam, and following the rules of the exam (no notes, phones etc.) gives you practice in time management, and can make you feel more confident when going into the exam room.

Think Positively

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It’s easy to get worried and stressed about exams. Hopefully, some of the techniques I’ve mentioned can help relieve some of this stress and help you feel more confident about your exams. However, even if you’re revising the best you can, the stress and anxiety of exams can still affect you. It’s essential to think positively. If the stress about exams is getting to you, talk to your academic tutor, staff on your course or college advisors. Remember to take breaks from revising and enjoy your university experience. Exams may be important, but they aren’t the end of the world.

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