Our final article covering revision draws comments from our former pupils who kindly answered a few questions set by freelance journalist Russ Thorne when he was researching an article for the i paper earlier this year.
Revision and the run up to exams can be stressful. How can students manage their stress?
Roya Ziaie said: ‘Don't sacrifice sleep to revise because you won't actually take any of that information in! I found I worked better in the evenings, so I would sleep a little later in the mornings and study until later at night, but I still always got my 8 hours.’
There was a lot of debate over the right time to work and this was so individual. Clare Barry advised: ‘Just do it your own way and don't let the 'I've been revising for five hours a day for eight weeks straight' people freak you out. I'm convinced some people actually had mind-game strategies like it was a gameshow where they had to knock out the competition.’
Roya agreed: ‘I think it's a subconscious thing that people do to make themselves feel better about what they've studied. I just turn my phone off to avoid it. A strategy of mine is I never compare my progress or hours with anyone else. I just make an initial checklist of topics and as long as I'm doing fine by my own schedule I'm happy. Comparing with others always causes panic in my opinion.'
Matt Clements and Colin Littlewood are both advocates of ensuring revision is broken up by the distraction of regular activity. Matt said: ‘Make sure you do other things apart from revision to get a proper break (sport etc...), but don’t buy Football Manager!’ Colin agreed: ‘I'd also recommend scheduling fun activities into every day. Playing cricket got me into a good positive mindset. Getting back to work when you are feeling pumped up can really help you to have a productive revision session.’
If they’re struggling, what should they do?
Brendan Jennings reassuringly said: ‘Don't be nervous about this, everyone you know does actually want to help you as much as they can.’
Roya added: ‘The real trick to studying well though is you actually have to want to sit down and study well. That means no distractions (phones, music) and lots of little breaks.’
Cassie Leedham-Lewis offered a very workable suggestion: ‘Work with a couple of study buddies, take a section of the subject each and make a short presentation on it, then "teach" each other your bits. This always made it so much easier for me to retain knowledge and focus.’
Rhys Edwards added his agreement: ‘I agree with Cassie! I've also always worked better with a study partner. I think having a few hours a day to discuss topics on a whiteboard or flipchart together is a great way to mix it up. I also find that peers reviewing essays is really helpful as often if you're not careful you could be memorising material that you have misunderstood. I think going to the library with a buddy every day also just helps the motivation, even if you're side by side doing silent or independent study.’
What are your tips for revising effectively in the final long break before exams?
Emma Walden said: ‘I used to note down lists of questions with one word answers to test myself... to remember dates etc for History; quite good too for when you have a few minutes on the bus! And who could forget the essay plans that we did in Classics......?!'
Brendan added: ‘Only do very high level revision plans, otherwise they are prevarication tools and timewasters. If you can't explain it to your friends or family, you don't know it. Practise telling other people what the answers to the exam questions would be.'
Roya commented: ‘Once I finished a topic, I made a quick A4 fact sheet with the vital info, and then I'd use that as a skeleton to scribble down any extra information in my head... over and over and over again.’
Aaran Patel agreed with Roya: ‘I have found that testing myself after revising a topic is a really good way of seeing whether I have understood the material. There are many ways to do this and one is asking yourself questions and seeing whether you can answer them. The learning objectives and specification points are a great starting point for generating questions to ask yourself as they are the ideas you will be examined on. You can also get friends to ask you questions and then discuss the answer together afterwards. This can help revision for all of you, if you take it in turns, and makes revision a lot more interactive.
The best way to test yourself in my opinion is past paper questions, they are an invaluable resource and looking at the mark scheme afterwards can tell you the exact answers the examiners are looking for! However be wary about using past paper questions too early for revision as you may run out of questions to practise closer to the exam. Also ensure that you do save some whole past papers to practise under timed conditions, as it is important you get used to answering these questions under the time constraints of an exam situation.’
Andy Hodgekins agreed: ‘We all learn differently, so what works for one person won't necessarily help another. It's a long time since my exams now, but I recall that the thing that worked best for me was past papers or practice questions to find out what I already knew and what I needed to re-learn. As someone who's very easily distracted, forcing myself to do a paper under exam conditions was the best way to cover the whole syllabus in the shortest amount of time. I also spent time going through my detailed notes to make concise summaries. Writing it down helped it go in, and the resulting few pages of key points made it seem like I had less to learn before the exams.’
Rachel Hollinrake added: ‘Strategic revision is vital. Learning the mark scheme and giving in practice answers to understand the format of the answer needed to get those top grades are crucial!’
Colin said: ‘Quality of revision always trumps quantity. I cannot remember ever revising for more than 4 hours in one day or 1 hour at a time, but when I was revising, there were no distractions. I could enjoy music or play games once I was done.’
Any words of encouragement you’d like to pass on to anxious students?
Brendan said: ‘Stop talking about stress, it's a self fulfilling prophecy. If you're nervous, be nervous, if you’re downright terrified, be terrified. Then acknowledge that these are feelings that will pass as you become more comfortable. And the way to get comfortable is to crack on with the work and get the knowledge in your head.’
Colin spoke about the exam too: ‘Once I was in the exam room, I told myself that I was the smartest person in the room. If there was a question I was struggling with, then that meant that everyone else was struggling much more than me, so not writing the perfect answer wasn't a disaster. It didn't matter whether that was true because that attitude helped me to stay calm and focused on the task at hand, and as a result I always matched or bettered how I'd performed in coursework in exams.’
And do you have to revise everything?!
Rhys Edwards said: ‘I think too many people sit exams without 'playing the game'. If the exam has 5 topics, and the exam format is pick 2 questions out of 5, I would never study all 5 topics. I would study 3 (just in case one question caught me off guard) and study them thoroughly by doing lots of practice essays and, if possible, getting constant feedback from teachers. I know this sounds obvious, but I see a lot of people at university studying all 5 topics and as a result not having time to study them in depth. Step one of my revision is to look at past exam papers and make a strategy that cuts out as much revision as possible and lets me study the topics I choose in great depth.’
The above needs careful teacher advice of course but we can see the sense!
Thank you to all the former pupils who gave us so much advice to give to our current pupils. We also hope the whole series of articles on revision has been beneficial for those preparing for public examinations after the Easter break.