At some point in our lives we will have to take an exam. Exams mean revision; but how can we get the most from our revision so that we have the best chance of acing those exams?
The aim of the revision period is to make your time and brain work at an optimum level to get the best quality revision you can.To help you put in your best, I have listed 12 actionable things you can do to prepare for efficient and productive revision.
1. Schedule revision into 25-30 minute tasks
The brain can only focus for certain amounts of time, and it takes practice to build it up. On average we focus best for 30-52 minutes. When we are preparing for exams, you need to think long term. DON’T say to yourself you’re going to stay up 4 days a week and study for 6 hours. It won’t work because you won’t sustain your concentration. Instead divide your revision in 25-30 minute tasks and then take a break for 5/10/15 minutes. Actively acknowledge that your break is your reward, and use your break for something fun liking giving a friend a call, grab a drink and have chat in the kitchen, or try out a handstand. This is anything that will make you smile or laugh, remember break = reward for your 30 minutes of studying. It recharges your brain and refreshes your focus. (I should mention staring at your phone screen is not a break, even if you’re watching random funny videos that come up on your news feed.)
2. Turn the brightness down on your screen (and/or work on paper)
A computer screen’s brightness is designed to be like the sun. This means your brain is going to think it’s daytime all the time you are staring at your screen. This disrupts your circadian rhythms and will stop you from sleeping properly.
Staring at a computer screen on full brightness will also make your eyes more tired quicker than looking at paper. Change the tools you use to revise: try to split your revision to half paper and half computer if possible; or if you need a computer the whole time, make sure you stop looking at computer/phone/TV screens at least an hour before bed so your eyes and brain can have a proper rest.
I highly recommend using the free computer app f.lux will change the blue light on your computer as the time of day changes so that your eyes aren’t being stressed as much and your brain kept awake at the wrong hour.
3. Focus on quality NOT quantity
Just because someone says they’ve revised all night doesn’t mean they’ve actually learned anything! Revision is about go back over material to help you further understand it and confirm that you know how to use it. You want your exam topics to go into long term memory rather than short term. For long term memory you need to actively engage with material over a a number of weeks. Design your revision to be quality not quantity work; be aware of over-complicating material.
4. Have & use a revision plan
You’ve made a plan so that you know what you have to revise in how much time and planned it accordingly. It’s there to help you and keep you on track, so make sure you follow it. If you find it’s not working or you are starting to panic, take 30 minutes out to go back over your plan. Review it, if it’s working stick with it; if it’s not, adapt and making changes so that it works better for you. Follow it and test again.
5. Make your revision actively engaging
In order to remember information, one has to embody it. What this means is one has to use it to understand it, and you need to test that you’ve understood it. The best way to do this is to speak it out loud to yourself, do practise questions, discuss concepts with classmates, friends, or family. Get creative with your revision such as making videos, powerpoint, voice notes you can listen to on the bus or train, colourful diagrams, making and using cue cards, teach your friends and family what you’re learning. The aim is to remember, so the more interesting you make it for yourself the better you will remember it.
6. Keep yourself well: eat and sleep!
This may seem like “duh! Of course!” But it is surprising just how little we take care of ourselves when exams roll round. If you are to make your revision efficient and productive you need to keep yourself efficient and productive: that means eating and sleeping properly. Your brain is a muscle, and like your body, it needs food and sleep to keep it energised enough for the task at hand.
Make sure you take a break, eat proper meals that fill you up. Make sure your meals have protein such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables as these will give you more energy over a longer period of time rather than just a bowl of pasta. Stick to your bedtime to make sure you get a full 8 hours of sleep in a dark (preferably pitch black) room.
7. Take a break outside
Your body needs Vitamin D, this comes from sunshine. Sit by a window while you’re studying so that you and see the light at the very least. Ideally, during a break go for a walk. The sunshine will also energise your body and make you more awake and able to study. It should also be said, DON’T stick your face in your phone and look at your snapchat or instagram the whole time. This will not rest your brain!
8. Don’t gorge yourself on sugar
Although I’ve already mentioned eating well, I believe sugar needs a point all of it’s own. When we get tired we crave sugar and carbs, but this just messes up your bodily rhythms. Sugar and carbs give you short term bursts of energy, then you crash and the cravings begin again. Have high protein meals such as eggs, chicken, beef and other meats, and or snacks of nuts, cheese or cold meats. Avoid having a bag of sweets or biscuits on your desk as you study. This will avoid over-eating, energy crashes, sugar rushes at bedtime, feeling lethargic during study time. When you have a break go to the kitchen for a snack and drink, a little conversation, and go outside in the sun to refresh you.
9. Don’t drink caffeine before bed
Caffeine takes 4-6 hours to leave your system. If you’re drinking caffeinated drinks before bed, you will disrupt your sleep which will make you tired the next day. Not good for revising or exam taking. Avoid coffee, tea and fizzy (or high sugar such as fruit juice) drinks during the afternoon and evening, instead you could treat yourself to sparkling water, herbal tea or decaf coffee. (If you are very sensitive to caffeine, decaf coffee isn’t completely caffeine free, so best to avoid.)
10. Give yourself time
For your sanity and energy levels it is advisable that you don’t leave your revision to the night before or even the week before the exam. You need time to get through the material and to make sure that you actually understand the material rather than just recall it. Get started with your revision sooner rather than later to reduce stress levels and boost your confidence. Take a few hours to go through what you need to learn and make a plan in the run up to your exams.
11. Have a specific place dedicated to studying (or use a study lamp)
Our moods and emotions are affected by our environment. To give yourself the best ability to focus, you need to have a specific place you sit to study. This place should not be a kitchen table or sofa, it should not be your bed. These places are where you relax and have social time, don’t confuse your brain by studying in them because you won’t be able to focus well. If your study desk is in your bedroom, make sure that your back is to your bed. A way to improve your concentration is also to have a study lamp. Put a label on your lamp, “study lamp,” put it on your desk and when you study turn the lamp on. When you finish, even at the end of your 25-30 minute session, turn it off. This will train your brain that when that lamp goes on, it is time to focus on the study task in front of you. In order for this to work properly however, you cannot use this lamp at any other time.
12. Turn your phone off (or at least silence those notifications)
Having irregularly timed buzzing from your phone will destroy your focus. Don’t set yourself up to fail by failing to silence your phone. Turn it off or at least silence those notifications. Save it for after you finish, I promise most things in life can wait an hour.