Have you ever wondered how you can improve your revision technique? Do you sometimes find that you spend a long time revising and still don’t get the results you expect? Do you tend to get overwhelmed and cram just before your exams? If you can identify with these questions, you are not on your own. Even though we dedicate a large portion of our time into studying, especially as students, there’s a lot we can do to learn more effectively. In this blog post, we will address revision tips that will hopefully help you to manage your time better and perform well in your exams.
- Procrastination and motivation
You may find that you sometimes waste time procrastinating, even if you have a clear deadline such as an exam coming up. Why do we do this when we know we should be revising? At the moment, it might feel a lot easier to say ‘I’ll do it later’ because us humans are programmed to prefer instant rewards rather than the promise of a reward that may perhaps happen in the future.
Recently, I came across a piece of advice that resonated with me: you do not need to be motivated to start working. While it might sound counterintuitive, starting makes you motivated. Once you have overcome the initial resistance that may keep you from revising, carrying on working tends to feel easier.
A technique you can use to avoid procrastinating is the two-minute rule. This rule consists of setting a timer for two minutes and making yourself start that chunk of revision or piece of homework you have been putting off. You will probably find that after the timer goes off, you will want to carry on working.
Another technique that helps me keep focused while revising is using the Pomodoro technique. This technique consists of working on a specific task you set yourself for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. After four rounds of 25 minutes of work, you can allow yourself a longer break like 15 minutes. The aim is that you only focus on your work and cut out all distractions. If you think about something you would like to do, instead of standing up and stopping your timer, you should write it down so that you can do it later. This can help you clear your mind and allow you to concentrate on your work again. You can choose to modify how long you spend working and having breaks to suit you, but definitely give yourself time to stand up from your desk so that you can come back ready to continue revising.
We often procrastinate doing tasks that seem too difficult because we would much rather avoid the discomfort of struggling through the content we are unsure about. However, tackling the more challenging content, one step at a time, is what helps us learn more and make the most out of our revision.
Do you plan your revision? If so, do you find it hard to stick to your plans? It’s easy to underestimate how much time you will need to get your work done. So, in order to make sure you get the most returns out of the time you spend revising, you should tackle the subjects you are less confident with first. You can draw up a list with all the topics you have to cover as this can help you visualise how much work you need to do. Personally, this helps me avoid spending an unnecessarily long amount of time studying a topic I enjoy because I am good at it when I could benefit from moving on to a more challenging topic.
Knowing how much time I have left before my exams, I set myself a minimum number of tasks that I need to complete per day. Also, I make sure to review and actively recall topics more than once in an iterative process. This not only gives me flexibility because some things might take me longer to do than others, but it also ensures I do enough to cover all of the material and am aware of when I have invested enough time on a subject and need to move on. You don’t want only to know a portion of your course really well, and then run out of time and don’t cover the rest of the material, so keeping track of your progress is key!
- Optimise your study environment
It would be best if you tried to create an environment where you find it easy to study. Just before you start, gather everything you will need for your study session so that you don’t have to stand up and get distracted half-way through. If your phone tends to stop you from concentrating, you could try turning the notifications off and putting it in another room. You can also try letting your friends and family know the times when you are going to be busy revising so that they know when they shouldn’t pop in and distract you, unless it’s something important and urgent.
- Active recall
Active recall consists of testing yourself which makes you actively retrieve information from your brain. This is an efficient revision technique because in order to learn and memorise information better, you need to stimulate your brain as this helps consolidate material into your long-term memory. So, instead of trying to cram facts into your mind, you should try and draw the information out, because, even if you make a mistake after you have checked what the right answer is, you are a lot more likely to remember the content.
You can introduce active recall in your revision in three ways. Firstly, you practise active recall by writing everything you know about a topic into a mind-map and then filling in your knowledge gaps with another colour with the help of your textbooks or the internet, so then you are more aware of what you really know and don’t. Secondly, you can make revision cards with questions (either paper or online-based – though I prefer to use online ones on apps such as Anki to make sure I don’t lose them), and then test yourself. Thirdly, doing past papers can also help you draw information from your mind.
Even though reading through your notes or highlighting a textbook might seem like the easier and quicker option to revise, these techniques are passive, which means that you are not engaging with the content as much as you would with active recall. The more cognitively challenging you make your revision, the more likely the information will stick. And, because your exams will consist of you having to actively recall information, revising mimicking that format will help you perform better in them.
- Spaced repetition
Spaced repetition is a technique in which you repeat a topic with increasing time intervals. So, you could space your revision of a specific topic over several weeks rather than a day. This revision technique is useful because it offsets ‘the forgetting curve’, which means that the content that you learn stays for longer in your short term memory until it goes into your long term memory. This makes it easier for you to remember content for your exams, and to avoid the stress that comes from leaving revision to the last minute. Even if you manage to cram, you will have probably realised that a few days after your exams, you will have forgotten a large portion of the information, which is not useful for your learning in the long-term.
Figure 1: see appendix
The way I incorporate active recall and spaced repetition into my revision is by setting myself dates as to when I will review the material. I keep track of my progress on a spreadsheet which helps me keep on top of my work because it helps me see what’s coming ahead.
- Build good habits
Last but not least, it is vital that you build good habits while you are revising. What this means is that you should have all of the ‘house-keeping’ activities covered: sleeping enough, exercising regularly, eating well, doing something you enjoy, such as a hobby, etc. Although you might think that neglecting engaging in these ‘house-keeping’ activities will give you more time and allow you to get better results, there’s evidence to say this is not true. For you to perform at your best, you need to take care of yourself because this will help you focus and keep a good-work life balance.
In this blog post, we covered a range of revision tips, which will hopefully motivate you and get your work done more efficiently and effectively. Don’t feel pressured to change your revision habits from one day to the next! Instead, feel free to try out some of the revision tips I mentioned because that will help you incorporate them into your study habits. Different revision techniques suit different people, so it is worth you spending some time finding out what works best for you. All the best with your studies! 🙂
Written By Laura Stirling
- Chun, B. and Heo, H., 2018. The Effect of Flipped Learning on Academic Performance as an Innovative Method for Overcoming Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve | Proceedings of the 6Th International Conference on Information and Education Technology. [online] Dl.acm.org. Available at: <https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3178158.3178206> [Accessed 3 January 2021].
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