Summer exam study skills

Words by Quintessentially Education

12 April 2022

Boy with glasses crossed legged on the sofa with his laptop in his lap in a study room writing in a notepad

Quintessentially Education shares their top tips on how students should approach their revision for upcoming exams.

With both A-levels and GCSE exams fast approaching, the Easter holidays are the ideal time for students to consolidate their learning, giving attention to problem areas and gearing up for the final revision push. Quintessentially Education is delighted to share their tips on how students should approach their revision to make the process more manageable to be best prepared for what’s ahead.

Pre-revision steps

Knowing where to start with your revision can seem like an overwhelming task. First of all, it is essential to make sure all of your notes are up to speed, checking off all of the topics for each subject. The most effective way students can check this is by looking at the subject specification on their exam board websites – you can look at the courses syllabus and reference the topics with your notes.

Whilst cross-referencing your notes with the curriculum, you should also make sure you have all of the relevant textbooks and revision guides – it is vital to make use of the available tools. That way, when it comes to the revision process, you will be fully prepared.

It is also helpful to review what your goals are going into the revision process. What do you want to achieve, and how will you do this? Once you have set your goals and what you need to prioritise, you can then start working on your revision timetable.

How do you build a revision timetable?

The revision timetable can seem overwhelming, so it often helps to work backwards from the exams themselves. What timeline are you working towards? Which weeks are in-school weeks, and which weeks are holiday/revision weeks? What time of the day do you revise best? You can then start to devise a plan from that.

We would recommend working for at least four hours minimum each day – anything less than that could mean that you’re not doing enough, and much more than that could mean you burn out. Make sure to pace yourself – the revision period is lengthy, and you don’t want to overdo it too early.

It is also helpful to section out the day – look at what times you work best. We would usually recommend working between 9am–6pm (unless you’re a major night owl!), so use this time wisely and make sure you plan in enough breaks.

As mentioned above, the key to being effective and productive with your revision is to take regular breaks. However, we would suggest doing something completely different at this time – try to avoid technology if you can.

Instead of spending an hour watching Netflix or on social media, your revision will become even more productive if you manage to get outside and get some fresh air. Exercise is also a critical factor in boosting your productivity!

Which revision techniques are available to make it as structured and effective as possible?

There are many different revision techniques available – it is important to find what works for you as everyone learns differently.

Flashcards are a highly effective revision tool to use to learn the information you need. They provide bite-size chunks of information per topic in a structured way – you can also easily pass them on to family members or friends who can test you.

Spider diagrams are a great tool to use if you are a visual learner, as it allows you to present a topic on one piece of A3 or A4 paper. Our top tip: stick them on the walls around your room, level with your eye-line.

Whichever tool you use, it is helpful to work out the key events, key people and key processes around each topic and think about the questions typically asked around this topic in the exam.

An active revision process is much more effective than the passive one. For example, reading over your notes is passive. An active one is where you are learning and taking in the information. You should manipulate the information and do something with it. An example of this includes the most basic revision technique – read over something and cover it with a piece of paper – then write out your response to the question you’ve just read. You could also apply this method by asking friends or family members to test you.

How can you see if you're making progress?

It is important to keep constantly assessing yourself – the most obvious example is using past papers. These will likely be provided by your teachers and can be found on the exam board websites.

Start by using the papers to identify the gaps in your topics, and as you get closer to the exam itself, complete the past papers under timed conditions. This means that you will know what to expect when it comes to the exam.

Worksheets are another effective method of testing yourself and seeing your progress.

It’s also practical to frequently go over topics. Once you’ve learnt a section, make sure to come back to it in a few days and ensure that information has been retained in your mind.

Our advice would be to build an ‘assessment hour’ within your day where you are testing yourself in a range of different subjects.

Study groups are another fantastic method to use if used appropriately. You can test your friends/get your friends to test you on the topics you’ve learnt. This will refresh the subject in your mind and help you remember it better.

How do you build exam techniques into your revision?

It is crucial that you understand the examiner and what is being asked of you in the question. You can do this by looking at mark schemes, as this clearly lays out the information on what the examiner is looking for. The mark scheme will often be looking for the student to use key terminology in their answer – and you will automatically get marks for using specific key terms. Examiner reports are another valuable tool to see where previous students have gained and lost marks.

It’s also important to understand what the question is asking of you – make sure you read it carefully, twice through, and underline the key verbs and commands it’s asking. Make sure you understand what they mean – for example, there is a big difference between a question asking you to describe something or explain it. Some students might find it helpful to write out the question underneath in basic English – what is it exactly that the question is asking you to do?

As you approach the exam, you will need to be able to work under timed conditions. When thinking about how much time you should allow answering the question, the number of marks the question is often indicates the amount of time you should spend answering it. For example, if the question is six marks, you should spend six minutes on it. However, don’t forget to plan your answer before answering it and leave time to review at the end. Practice, practice, practice!

And finally – whilst it’s easier said than done, try not to get overwhelmed by the process! As mentioned above, it’s a long period to be working intensely, and you want to avoid burnout. Break each day down task by task, and allow yourself adequate breaks and downtime!

For further information on how to make the most of your revision schedules, with one-to-one tutoring and guidance, please reach out to our educational specialists at: [email protected]

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