“But revision is SOO boring!”….. “Oh, Sir, I wish I’d revised better”

If I had a pie for every time I’ve heard both of these, I’d be the size of a whale and arteries filled with slow cooked steak.

If your idea of revision is sitting in a darkened room, desk lamp on and piles of books and notes in front of you for endless hours the week before an exam, then yes, it is mind numbingly boring – and frankly, for most people, a complete waste of time (either that or you have been arrested by the KGB). Revision for the human brain is not like programming a computer – basically, your brain does not want to learn things – it is a struggle to learn new stuff. You need, quite literally, to engrave it in your brain in the form of what are called engrams, and this takes time and patience. The people who tell you “Well, I only ever revised the night before and I passed!” are probably either:

  1. people who had spent hours and hours over the course of the exam learning everything as they went along or
  2. probably not being totally honest with themselves (or you).

Have a guess which is the best of those two for  learning….

Step 1: START EARLY

Do not leave revision until just before the exam – the easiest thing in the world is to put things off to the last minute (tax forms, writing reports, Christmas shopping etc…) and by ‘just before’, I mean weeks! You should really be starting your revision for the May/June exams NOW!

Step 2: WHICH EXAM? GCSE, YEAH?

Not really helpful – you need to find out some important bits of information if you do not already know:

  1. The exam board – AQA? OCR? EDEXCEL? IGCSE?
  2. The code – Most of the exams have a variety of options at this level e.g. History can be A or B for AQA.
  3. Find the correct syllabus online – ask you teacher or exam sec. at school for the codes for the syllabi. Download the content that you need to know for your examination, but at the moment only that. Syllabi are often over 100 pages long, and only a few are relevant to you as the student.
  4. Make sure you are totally clear on which parts you are studying – if your syllabus has “The First World War” as an option and you are not studying it, don’t have a meltdown – look through the options in that section – you’ll find the part you are studying. If you’re really not sure, ask your teacher to highlight the parts you need to know. If they highlight an area you have not studied, don’t panic – you’ve probably not reached that part yet! It’s key you are clear with this – in the pressure of an exam, you may well end up answering questions on the wrong part in a panic – yes, every year people do this, and no, they are not stupid, just stressed.
  5. When you have all this, get three highlighters:

(i) Yellow – highlight the bits you are REALLY unsure on;

(ii) Orange – highlight the parts you are fairly secure on;

(iii) Blue/Purple – highlight the parts you know really well and are secure in.

These colours are best, as the orange will cover the yellow as you begin to master the content and the purple will likewise cover the orange and yellow.

Step 3: TIMETABLES, TIMETABLES, MY KINGDOM FOR TIMETABLES

Yeah, okay – not quite Shakespeare, but these are really important in effective revision.

There is little so easy as having all your books and papers all over the bedroom and going from pile to pile, shifting books around, organising your notes according to the pen in which you wrote them on a wet weekend in March…. At the end of the evening you have spent hours in this, are absolutely shattered and have achieved nothing. Equally galling…

“Right – Pythagoras and triangles…” (opens book) “Oh, but what about the Perfect of irregular Latin verbs?” (closes maths book, opens Latin verb tables) “Ah no, the Rise of the Nazi Party!! Must do that!”…. by the end of the evening’s session… “So, the sum of the two perfect verbs is vici, fui on January 30th 1933 – oh hang on….”

This is why we all need revision timetables!! There are plenty of examples online – find one which suits you and use it. Word of warning – you need one for the term time revision and one for the holiday/study leave periods. (https://www.cgpbooks.co.uk/ gives a link to a download of really good revision timetables)

When you have this done – you need to stick to it. That means even when you don’t want to do so. Think about it this way – how well would Andy Murray play tennis or Jessica Ennis Hill have done in the pentathlon had they looked outside and though “Naah – can’t be bothered today” when it came to training? The exam is your place in the final event – how well you train will determine where you finish!! Give your parents or guardians a copy of the timetable – and DO NOT MOAN AT THEM WHEN THEY MAKE YOU FOLLOW IT!!! YOU are the one who is going to benefit!

So, finally you are there with your timetable, the books and notes for that session in front of you – what do you do.

“Oh, let’s colour code everything!” – Okay, IF that serves a purpose – just making your notes and diagrams into works of graffiti art achieves NOTHING on its own! Don’t waste the time, and don’t kid yourself – there really is no-one easier to kid than yourself!!!

You MUST take regular breaks – at least 10 mins an hour or 5 mins per half hour. Go downstairs, get a breath of air at the back door – you need oxygen for your brain. Drink water and eat something like a banana that give slow release energy. Energy drinks, sweets, caffeine only give very short bursts of energy and then often act as suppressants, not stimulants!! Some research suggests chewing a piece of chewing gum may help by getting oxygen to the brain. Stretch and give your eyes a good rest of you’ve been at the computer screen all the time.

Step 4: DRIVE THE FAMILY WILD!

Post its – use them by the thousands!!! Stick them everywhere and explain why so nobody removes them. Put related pieces of post-it revision together – Quadratic equations on the ceiling above your bed (everyone needs a good nightmare or two…), French irregular verbs on the back of the toilet door (what better way to use the time sitting there?), History dates all over the fridge – make your own breakfast and learn at the same time (Mummy will be pleased…) etc. It works!!

Step 5: MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE CRACKERS!

Read things out loud! Not super fast mumbling, but slowly and deliberately. And NOT just once!! Do warn the family, though – either you’ll be told off for chatting on the phone or your siblings will fold you into a straight jacket (though they might do that anyway…)

Step 6: GOOD OLD-FASHIONED….

Pen and paper!! Do not type everything. It has been proven time and again that you learn things better if you physically write them down and say them as you do so. Simply reading things through and making them pretty in fluorescent pink 18pt Comic Sans achieves…well, zilch, really other than another lost evening!!

Step 7: WHERE OH WHERE…?

Find where you learn best. It may be your bedroom, but often not. There are too many distractions – lads painting their nails, anything to put off the dread moment!! Loud music, TVs etc are rarely any help – gentle classical music if you have tinnitus or silence really are best – you will be talking to yourself anyway!!! Find out if you can use the school library out of hours, too.

Step 8: I’M SOOOO ALONE!

For certain things, revising in a pair or a group is a much better idea, but ONLY if you are going to revise – again, be honest!!!

Step 9: “GOOD GRIEF, YOU LOOK LIKE THE LIVING DEAD!”

You MUST take time out. Over revision can be as dangerous as anything else. You must carry on with your hobbies, see your friends, get exercise and down time. And you are human – that requires sleep… You really are unlikely to learn anything new at 2.30 am on a school night.

Step 10: ‘DON’T PANIC, MR MAINWARING! DON’T PANIC!!”

If you are unsure of things, you will hopefully have given yourself time to cover them. If you are totally lost, politely ask your teacher to go over it again, or a friend who does get it.

Step 11: “YOU, THERE! PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS!”

Believe it or not, the best way to make sure you have mastered something is to teach it!! Subject granny to Plate Tectonics, make the neighbour learn the Preterite in Spanish and all its uses or whatever needs be!

Step 12: MAKE IT FUN

Revision is only boring if you make it that way – play games, Skype each other, do the work in a way that is meaningful to YOU – not your friends, parents or the goldfish!!!

Try these and see how it goes, and GOOD LUCK in your revision! And the saying goes <ÜBUNG MACHT DEN MEISTER!!> (Practice makes the expert!!!)

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