Holidays Follow the VLE link, download the task and complete the listening activity
The arrival of school holidays is usually a cause to celebrate. When that holiday involves receiving improbable amounts of chocolate for no particular reason, even more so.
But the Easter break also comes with a dreaded catch. It marks the moment when revision gets serious.
Preparing for exams requires a big commitment. However, it often feels more daunting than it really needs to. Over the past few weeks we’ve been speaking to education and psychology experts to find the latest advice on revision techniques, and help turn that looming ogre of exam revision into something more approachable.
Last month (February 16) I explained why you won’t spend a more important couple of hours this year than the time you put aside to construct a detailed revision plan (visittelegraph.co.uk/revisiontechniques for this and other resources). True to that sentiment, here is our own 10-point action plan for revision success.
1 Allocate your time
As you read this article, most of you will be just two months from your first exam. If you work an average of three hours a day between now and then, that’s 180 hours – or just 20 per subject. You’ll need to use them wisely. There is no hard-and-fast formula on how to divide up your time, but feedback from teachers and results from your mock exams will give clear indications of which subjects need the most attention. You should also check which exams come first and plan accordingly, and enlist a parent, friend or tutor to help you draw up your timetable – or, more importantly, hold you to it. Deciding how long to spend on each subject is the most time-consuming aspect of revision planning, but it’s not until you do so that you’ll realise how precious every hour is.
2 Find out the format
Do you know exactly how you’re going to be tested by the examiners? After all, it’s no good memorising endless reams of quotations if the exam is going to be multiple choice. Similarly, essay questions require a broader, more interconnected focus than short answers. Mark schemes, as well as real exam transcripts complete with the original examiners’ marks, should be available on exam board websites.
3 Stick to short-term goals
For most exams you only get one attempt. By setting yourself methodical, short-term goals throughout the revision process, you can take away the risk of mistakenly omitting a key topic from your studies. Look up the course syllabus now if you’re in any doubt as to how the subject is broken up, then determine a specific goal for each session based on precisely what you need to learn in that sitting. Don’t put the books away until you’ve finished it.
4 Research memory techniques
Memory techniques may sound more like an elaborate party trick, but they are tremendously useful for learning more facts than you ever thought you could retain. Even if you don’t follow them dogmatically, they offer helpful insight into the way your brain works. Writer and co-founder of memrise.com, the online educational platform, and “Grandmaster of Memory” Ed Cooke has been writing an exclusive blog for Telegraph Education over the past weeks, explaining methods such as spider diagrams, word association and spatial techniques. Put the latest in memory science to good use.
5 Test and consolidate
Check you can remember everything you’ve just learnt not only at the end of the session, but again the next day, the next week and the next month. If you can’t, chances are you won’t remember it come May either. And once you’ve been over all the material for the first time, resist the temptation to relax. If anything, this is the moment to up the ante. Because the material is no longer new, it is less of a mental strain to cover, and you can work at it for longer. By the start of summer term you should be able to run quickly through entire subjects, in sessions of one or two hours of unbroken concentration. If that sounds like a lot in one go, remember it is no longer than many of your exams will be.
6 Do past papers
Many people use past papers from the start of revision to help master the course content. Don’t. Not only do curricula frequently change, but this is a waste of a finite bank of material which can be incredibly helpful in simulating the exam environment later on. Save them until the last few weeks, and then do them under real exam conditions. This will not only help to further consolidate your knowledge, but will also give you great practice at recalling and employing facts in a pressurised environment. Or, as it is sometimes known, exam technique.
7 Make mistakes
It may seem obvious to parents and teachers, but many teenagers need to be taught the importance of making mistakes. If you cheat and use your notes while revising, you’ll end up getting more practice questions right. But you’ll lose the invaluable opportunity to check what you didn’t know, why you made the mistake, and how you can amend it.
8 Stay fresh
A regular eight hours’ sleep and constant hydration are not the kind of things that teenagers typically worry about. But for the next couple of months, and especially during the final weeks, it is worth adding some discipline to your lifestyle. Regular exercise is a great way to switch off completely from revision, and ensure that you are quickly off to sleep when your head hits the pillow. Even more importantly, schedule regular breaks into your revision – and stick to the breaks every bit as rigorously as you would the work aspects.
The first facts that pop into your head when you turn over the exam paper are usually the ones that you have learnt immediately before entering the exam hall. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is a golden opportunity which should be used to maximum effect, particularly by A-level students whose exam dates are more spread out. By the day before an exam you should have the key points condensed down and written on cue cards. Take these cards everywhere with you, even the queue for the exam hall. But do put them away — well away — before you go in.
It might sound paradoxical, or downright impossible, but it is essential that you should relax as much as possible before a big exam. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be working. The morning or evening before an exam, try retaking a past paper that you have already done. This will help you gain confidence, and experience the momentum of breezing through a paper. By the time you sit down for the real thing, you’ll be in a positive mindset. Then all you have to do is get it down on paper.