Although this guide has been written with A-Level students in mind, much of it will be useful for GCSE students too.

I know youíve probably heard it all before, but here it is in writing (a key word). Forgive me if some of the following is rather obvious, but people who donít follow this advice tend to do less well than people who do.
Five Ways to success
  1. You canít re-vise unless you have first Ďvisedí.
  2. You need a plan to succeed.
  3. Are you sitting comfortably?
  4. Revision is not a synonym for Ďreadingí.
  5. Have a Kit-Kat.

You canít re-vise unless you have first Ďvisedí

Revision does not mean learning something for the first time. If youíve not done the work during the course, then it stands to reason that you wonít have anything to revise at the end of it. Ideally you should revise what you have learned after each lesson.
Make sure that you have all your notes up to date and that thereís nothing missing before you start to revise. Hereís a list of some things you might need:
A watch
Pen, pencil
Highlighter, coloured pencils
Ruler, protractor
Paper, cards
Post-It notes, selotape
A friend
A relative

You need a plan to succeed

One of my teachers once told me that you should always know what you will be doing in five years' time. At the time I thought "Huh!". I think what he meant was that you should always know where you are going - even if you change your mind from day to day. You need to have a sense of direction otherwise you'll never end up anywhere.
It's the same with revision - you must have a plan. Here's how to do it:

  1. Work out how much time you have to revise.

  2. Draw the plan - one week per A4 sheet of paper.

  3. On the plan enter the fixed events which you have to attend:
    e.g. birthday party, Youth Club, Saturday job etc.

  4. Divide the remaining time into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions of about 3 hours each, e.g. 9-12 a.m.; 2-4 p.m.; 7-9 p.m.

  5. On separate pieces of paper take each of your subjects and make a list of all the topics for each one.

  6. On another piece of paper re-list the topics in order of difficulty - most difficult at the top.

  7. On the plan enter 3 topics for each session, one from each subject, most difficult first.

This plan should not take you more than one session to construct. Seeing your task laid out like this should help to give you the confidence of knowing that everythingís in its place - remember you have control over what you do, not the work.
     By starting with the most difficult topics you should be able to get them out of the way at the beginning of the revision period. It means that you have an incentive in that it can only get easier as you work towards the examinations - light at the end of the tunnel.

  Donít try to do topics from the same subject in the same session.
     You are unlikely to be able to concentrate for longer than an hour on any one topic. By changing topics youíll be fresher than doing a long stint on the same thing. An hour will give you something to aim for. Knowing that a particular pain will end after an hour is better than feeling that itís going to go on for ever - then you can switch to a different subject and a different kind of pain; variety is the spice of revision.
     By the end of the first week you should have revised the most difficult of your topics, after which it can only get easier, and youíll have a sense of achievement - crossing the topics off the plan as you complete them can be very satisfying!


Are you sitting comfortably?

The environment where you are working must be appropriate for the task. As far as possible make sure that there are no distractions - no-one else should be in the room, no TV or other noise. Opinion is divided on whether background music is beneficial, but radio is definitely out (DJ interruptions might distract).

Donít Ďlounge aroundí. Lying on your bed with books propped up on pillows isnít going to work - you canít write properly like this anyway. Sit in a proper chair and use a desk or table. If you canít find an appropriate place at home, try the local library - or even come into school (!) and try to find a quiet space. Itís probably best not to go to a friendís house because the temptation to chat might be too distracting.

Revision is not a synonym for Ďreadingí

Whatever you do when you revise, donít just read through your notes. It is scientifically proven that active learning is much more effective than passive learning, so when you revise donít just sit there, do something.

Here are some suggestions:

First of all condense your notes by making shorter, more concise ones.
Use some of the ideas on the right with this new set of notes:

Give yourself a break

In fact, give yourself lots of breaks - at least one an hour - before carrying on with your revision. Breaking the work up like this will make it much more manageable, and give you an incentive at the same time - ten to fifteen minutes is about the right length.

The break need not simply be stopping work. You could have a cup of tea, plan to watch your favourite sit-com or soap (no longer than half an hour, though) or have what the Americans call some Ďquality timeí with a parent or other relative. You could pre-arrange this before you start revising, e.g. ďIím going to work for an hour, Mum, then perhaps we could have a short chat over some tea and biscuits.Ē Mum can make the tea! Try to chat about something unrelated to your work.

  • Bullet points

  • Highlighting

  • Underlining

  • Coloured pencils - a colour for each type of information perhaps

  • Put important terms onto Post-It notes - stick them around the house

  • Make up a rhyme, mnemonic, song or mime (!) to aid recall

  • Try teaching a particular topic to a relative or friend - (you have to understand it before you can teach it)

  • Make up index cards of important terms - carry them around with you

  • Tape-record yourself reciting information - (do a 'karaoke' with yourself, leave gaps for you to fill in)

  • Practice drawing a diagram

  • Draw a spiderís web of topic relationships

  Another possibility is to ring a friend, but pre-arrange it with them and donít talk for longer than 10-15 minutes. Itíll give you something to look forward to.

Within the hourís revision you could also give yourself a little reward such as a ĎSmartieí every twenty minutes or when youíve revised a particular section of a topic - anything which will make it all a bit more bearable.

And finally...

Donít panic. Be realistic about your plan and what you can achieve in the time available. Try to stick to the plan, but if (perhaps inevitably) you get out of step with it, then revise the plan and readjust it. Pay no attention to what your friends say they have or have not revised - itís not a competition.


Some trite clichťs which might also help!

Your teachers can open the door, but only you can go through it.

If you do your best, no-one can expect any more of you.

The very best of luck!
Mr. B.

© Mr. B at Farcaster Communications