How To Plan Your Exam Revision

Revision is the process of going over what you have already learned in class in preparation for your exams. 

However, for many of us throughout school and university life, exam preparation is a “vision” process.  We didn’t really learn it in the first place so we aren’t doing revision, instead doing, what my friends and I like to call vision-ing. The only problem is vision is harder and takes more effort to than revision. You have a lot of information to cram into your brains in a fairly short amount of time.

As I saw this problem repeating with my students, I decided to write this quick guide to revision.

Who Needs to Know How to Plan Exam Revision?

This quick guide is for people who:

  • Are sitting GCSE, A-Level, International Baccalaureate, or University exams
  • Want to know how to structure their revision
  • Don’t know where to start with their revision
  • Have a lot to learn in a short space of time


The Aim of This Guide

The aim of this guide is to give you a quick run down of how to get prepared for your exams so that you feel less overwhelmed and more in control of your revision.

What You Will Learn

Whether you are getting started in advance or at the last moment, the process for revision is the same. In this guide I will walk you through the step-by-step process to feeling in control of your revision. You will:

  1. Determine when your exams are
  2. Determine how much time you have for revision
  3. Determine what subjects and topics you have to revise
  4. Do revision preparation 
  5. Make revision schedule
  6. Start revising

Steps 1 to 5 are about planning. Taking the time to plan may feel like a waste of time; that it will take time away from your revision, but without it how will you know you have done the revision you need to achieve the mark you want?

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

The Aim of Revision

The aim of revision is to put the knowledge you have learned in class from your short term memory into your long term memory.

Having information in your long term memory means that it will be easier to call upon in an exam situation. You are not having to work to recall it nor hold on to it just before you go into the exam room.


How to Make Revision Not Suck (Completely)

Let’s be honest, the idea of revision sucks because we know exams are coming and there’s a lot to learn. The enormity of the task at hand seems too big. So in order to make it not suck, we have to make it more enjoyable.

The important question is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Albert Einstein

If you are able to make it always fun, brilliant! But I’m afraid I can’t promise this for everyone. I have found fun largely comes down to being interested to ask why something is the way it is. However, whether you want to ask why or not, the way to make revision not suck completely is to break the revision into bitesized chunks and to find something that will interest you. The more interested you are, the more likely you will be able to remember it easily too.

Break each topic down into manageable tasks that you can do in 45 minute sessions or less and keep checking off the checklist. If you feel like you are moving forward the better you’ll feel about getting nearer to finishing.

What You Will Need:

So let’s move on with getting your revision started, you will need:

  • A month view calendar from today until your last exam
  • Coloured pens
  • Plain paper
  • Cue cards
  • Your phone with voice and or video recording
  • Text books
  • Class notes
  • Course guide/syllabus (if you have one, ask your teacher for on if you don’t)

Step 1: Determine When Your Exams Are

As simple as the step suggests. 

➡️ First get a list of all your exams and the dates and times they are happening.  Now mark them on your month view calendar. Here’s a snapshot example:

Mark your exams on a month view calendar so that you know what order you should revise in.
Mark on a calendar when you’re exams are.

Step 2: Determine How Much Revision Time You Have

➡️ Again, simply, count back from the first day of your exams to today to determine how many days you have for revision.

For example if today is April 8th 2019 and your exams start on May 7th 2019, you have 5 weeks until your exams start. 

5 weeks = 35 days. Therefore, you have 35 days to revise before exams start.

Step 3: Determine What Subjects & Topics You Need To Revise

Next step is to determine what you must allocate time to. If you have a course guide this is the time to get it out and any of the information you have from your teachers (including exam topic notes, textbooks, exam specifications etc). You will need these materials to make a list for each of your different exam papers and what topics you will be expected to know.

➡️ On paper, Microsoft Excel or Mac Numbers, make up a checklist like the example below to help you organise what topics you need to revise.

Make a list of topics to revise so that you know what you've done, and what you have yet to revise for your exams.
Make a checklist of revision topics so you can keep track of what you’ve done.

Step 4: Do Revision Preparation

Revision preparation will take longer than you think but is worth the time spent on it. I usually suggest spending a morning or afternoon on this for each subject. 

Revision preparation is when you go through your exam paper checklist and gather together all the materials and information you will need and then organise into a file so that you can grab it at a moments notice when are revising or find yourself with a spare 5 or 10 minutes.

➡️ Revision preparation includes but is not limited to:

  • Gathering past papers
  • Determining subjects which need more attention
  • Making cue cards for each topic
  • Selecting past paper questions to revise and practice
  • Determining where you have missing notes
  • Make a list of questions you have on the different topics to research or ask your teacher about.
  • Filling the gaps in your notes from when you were absent from class

The aim of revision preparation is to find out where the gaps in your knowledge and notes are well in time of the exams so that you can fill the gap with enough time to learn the material. This is the starting point so that you know exactly how much revision you need to do and can plan it in affectively.

Step 5: Make a Revision Schedule

A revision schedule is there to keep you on track and save brain power for the actual revision (rather than spending it on remembering what have to have to revise on what day). This is why the planning is important, so you can take on one task at a time. It’s easier on the brain; revision can be tough enough on its own!

To make a revision schedule, look at what order your exams are in. I prefer to revise in order of the exams. This is because as soon as one exam is over you can drop that revision and spend the time on the next subject.

Use your month calendar to set out what topics you will revise on what day. Ideally I prefer to revise 2 subjects a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, depending how much time you have, you will need to allocate it accordingly.

For example, if you were to assign equal time for each subject, work it out like this:

5 weeks until exams = 35 days until exams

1 day off a week = 5 days off in total (you need at least 1 day off a week to rest and recuperate!)

35 – 5 = 30 days of revision available

2 sessions per day = 30 days x 2 sessions = 60 revision sessions 

If I have 6 papers each with 2 topics each = 12 topics to revise in total

Therefore, 60 revision sessions divided by 12 topics = 5 sessions per topic

5 sessions per topic = 2.5 days per topic

Now that you know how much time you can allocate you can start arranging your revision schedule.

  • ➡️ Start filling you month view calendar with the topic you will revise each session in preparation for your exams.

Step 6: Start Revising

Now that you have a plan it’s time to start following it and do the revision.



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