How to revise: techniques and strategies that work

There's no magic way to revise, but these tips could help
14 Apr 2013 @ 9.46 pm
| Opinion

We’re in revision season. York headteacher John Tomsett offers his top tips for effective studying

It’s the time of year when our sons and daughters are revising for their summer examinations. It’s so hard to knuckle down and revise and the Easter sun hasn’t helped. What follows are some tips for parents and students on how to revise, with a few resources that might prove helpful.

Revision strategies

Firstly, students need to find which way of revising works for them; here are some strategies which keep students active and, importantly, work:

  • Be ACTIVE!
  • Take notes – use highlighter pens, colour coding, diagrams, whatever works for you to help memorise your notes
  • Get someone to test you
  • Key Word posters on your bedroom ceiling
  • Make mp3 recordings of key ideas/quotations
  • Mnemonics – Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
  • Five minute essay plans
  • Writing out notes again and again and again…
  • Condense your notes on cards in well organised files
  • Mind mapping
  • Endless lists, written out and learnt
  • Look Cover Say Write Check

Find out which method of revision works best for you, but remember – active revision is best!

Effective revision

Once you know which way to revise works for you, here are my general tips for revising effectively:

  • Know exactly what you need to revise for each paper;
  • Organise your notes into clearly defined sections;
  • Identify the most important sections for each subject;
  • Complete a revision timetable, and stick to it!
  • Create a place at home to study that is familiar, well-equipped and quiet;
  • Consult your teachers at all times, no matter how trivial the issue;
  • Focus your revision – keep in mind past questions;
  • Work in 25/30 minute sessions – any longer can be counter-productive;
  • Sleep sensibly and eat well;
  • Make time to relax and get away from it all – rewards are very important!
  • Enjoy it – learning at this level can and should be fun;
  • And REMEMBER – if, at any time, you feel you are struggling and things are getting too much, don’t suffer in silence; tell your tutor/teacher/year head – they can help!


Revision techniques

A couple of special revision techniques are worth explaining in more detail.

There is no learning without memory. Students need to be taught how to memorise information and one of my favourite techniques is the familiar journey method.

First, you choose a very familiar journey and then pick landmarks on that journey as a way of helping you remember what you need to recall.

Here’s my favourite example – memorising the Electro-magnetic Spectrum in the correct order. The journey I use is from my bed to my car in the morning.

I’m woken by the radio (radio waves); I put my porridge in the microwave oven (microwaves); I sit down at the kitchen table and read the paper which is a red top (infra-red waves); the sun comes up and it’s light (light waves); I leave and smell the violets growing in the back yard (ultra-violet waves); I get into my X-registration car (X rays) and go to the supermarket for some gammon steak (gamma rays).

I use that same journey for memorising a whole range of things, from the specials on a menu board to the to-do-list which pops up in my brain in the middle of the night.

Get under the table. If you find something impossible to remember no matter what you do, get under the table – literally – and revise it there. I promise you it will work!

15 minute chunks

Small is beautiful! As someone who likes to make the most of every available minute, I’m a big fan of the 15 Minute Book, which is a booklet which has four simple techniques for revising.

Each technique takes 15 minutes and helps structure small bus-journey/ cup-of-tea/ pre-breakfast revision sessions.

Click here to download a Word file of the 15 Minute Book.

Finally, I write this both as a headteacher with something like 600 students sitting exams this summer, and as a dad with one 16-year-old son working for his GCSEs.

And as a dad I know that examinations are important, but not everything. Our children’s well-being is the most important thing in the world – make revising fun and fill your house with laughter rather than tears…