How to Revise Effectively: The 20 Proven Revision Techniques That All Students Should Know

How to revise? Every student has been told how revising for exams is important, but so many young people are unsure of how to revise and struggle to find the revision techniques that are best for them.

Different subjects and types of exams may need different types of preparation and revision techniques, for example maths teachers and science teachers may say “the best way to revise for the exam is to do lots of questions”. 

This is all well and good, but without a revision plan and an organised set of notes and past exam questions, it can be hard to know where to start and can then lead to the enemy of success – procrastination!

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You don’t need to use a different process to revise for each exam. There are some universal study techniques that can work across a range of subjects.

Here we hope to provide a selection of the best revision techniques and strategies that will allow you to tailor an effective revision system that fits your learning needs and reduces exam anxiety.

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How to revise: where to start

First of all, create a safe comfortable space where you will do your revision at home. Trying to revise in a messy bedroom will cause too many distractions. Tidy an area where you can work and keep your notes and files organised. You won’t always be revising at home, so think about what you will take with you if you plan to revise in a library or at school.

Make sure you have some folders organised with the exam board and syllabus information for each subject, some past exam papers and any other relevant documents such as formula sheets or set texts.

The amount of organisation required will be very different depending if you are revising for GCSE exams The amount of organisation required will be very different depending if you are revising for GCSE exams or A level exams. Even though you study fewer A level subjects than GCSE subjects, the A level courses will cover a lot more content. The examinations may also be marked in very different ways, so ensure you understand the success criteria for all of your courses.

While planning your revision ask yourself these questions:
  • What grade do I want to achieve?
  • What grade am I currently working at?
  • What knowledge do I already have?
  • What do I need to learn to be able to achieve this grade? 

Ask these questions for every subject you are planning to revise for, before beginning your revision. The answers will likely vary for each exam you are sitting.

You may have already sat some practice exam papers and have a breakdown of your areas for development. Use this information to find resources that can help you in those areas. This could be a list of websites to research, links to revision videos, model answers for certain questions of examination papers.

Third Space Learning has a wealth of online GCSE revision resources such as online GCSE maths revision with detailed breakdowns of GCSE topics, GCSE revision mats, GCSE maths questions, multiple choice style questions as well as a comprehensive set of free GCSE maths worksheets to help you prepare for the GCSE maths exams.

You must also create a revision timetable. This is important so that you will have enough time to revise for all of the required topics. The earlier you start your revision the better.

Try our revision timetable template to get you started on organising your revision.

Third Space Learning revision timetable template
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Think about how many exams you have

You could have two months of exams, sometimes several in one week – you are not going to stop revising for the exams at the end of the examination period as soon as the first exams have started. Build in some revision time for these later exams. Make sure you know exactly when each exam is and plan around them carefully.

Revision Techniques

So you have created a revision timetable and have somewhere to revise – now how to revise in practice?

Before you start thinking of the physical act of revision you need to understand the best ways to do it.

There is something called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. 

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve
Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist who described how your brain would forget information over time if you made no effort to retain it. Every time you look back and revise something, you will strengthen your memory and the longer you will be able to retain those details.

The way we learn and revise information is very important.

There has been a lot of scientific research into the way we learn and remember information. You may have heard words and phrases such as retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving.

Here is a rough guide to what these terms mean:

  • Retrieval practice – testing your brain to see what it can remember. The act of trying to remember facts will actually strengthen your memory and increase your ability to apply that information in the future.
  • Spacing – spacing out the revision of topics over time. Slowly increasing the gaps between when you last looked at a topic can help strengthen your memory.
  • Interleaving – switching between topics over time and then coming back to old topics that haven’t been revised recently.
how to revise interleaving revision technique
Diagram of interleaving topics

There are lots of different ways to build these learning processes into your revision.

Here are some of the most popular and tested revision techniques to try. 

Mind maps

Mind maps are a great way to organise important information.

They could be used for a range of subjects, for example:

  • English literature – characters and important quotes from a set text
  • History – important figures involved events in famous battles 
  • Science – the differences between cell structure in plants and animals

There are many mind map examples available on the internet but it’s even better to create your own as the act of re-reading and summarising your notes will help embed the knowledge into your long term memory.

Flash cards

There are a lot of ready made flash cards available to purchase that have been created for your exact course specification. Of course, you can also create your own, focusing on your areas of weakness. 

One of the best uses of flash cards is to self quiz. You can even get a friend or family member to quiz you on different topics. A lot of ready made flash cards come with self quizzing questions on the front and the answers on the back, these are also easy to create yourself.

An important aspect of self quizzing yourself with flash cards is to change the order of the questions each time you do it. This means your brain won’t just learn the answers like learning the words to a song you hear regularly, it will need to think about connecting the correct answer to the question.

Past papers, questions and mark schemes

Try to get as many past exams as possible and the mark schemes to go with them. If you are finding the mark scheme hard to follow, ask a teacher to explain how it works. Some exam boards produce “student friendly” mark schemes that are easier to follow. 

It can also be useful to look at examiners’ reports for past examinations, as they can highlight common errors and also help explain what was done well and how.

But just having lots of past papers is not enough. It’s important that they are used well to prepare for the actual day of the exam.

Read more:
revision question
Example of a practice exam question in a Third Space Learning online GCSE revision lesson

Here are a few different effective ways of using past exam papers and questions:

  • Timed exam practice – sitting the exam paper under timed conditions can be a good way to prepare for the actual exam day. But don’t be too hard on yourself if in the first few attempts, the more revision you do, the better you’ll get.
  • Doing a little bit everyday! – finding the time to sit down to do a whole paper can be hard. Plan to do just one or two questions each day. Over time you will complete several exam papers and will remember lots of different aspects of knowledge, strengthening your long term memory.
  • Grouping – grouping similar questions together into individual topics to create topic packs can be useful. If you know that you need to improve on trigonometry, you can create a bank or questions to work through.
  • Make a perfect exam paper – you can use the mark scheme and past paper questions to create a set of model answers to refer to. These could then be put on flash cards and used for self quizzing.
  • Attend organised study sessions – these may be organised by your school or could be live webinars in the evenings. Look out for online revision events, or modelled exam paper solutions from YouTube.

Third Space Learning offers one-to-one, online GCSE Maths revision tuition. Spanning the entire GCSE Maths curriculum, our tutors tailor the sessions to each student’s individual needs to plug gaps in knowledge and assist in their preparation for the exams. Using examples, explanations and practice exam questions our online GCSE revision sessions help students to feel more confident entering the exam hall.

So we’ve seen lots of Do’s but what about the Don’ts

Things to avoid when you’re revising

  • Cramming – don’t leave revision to the last minute. The night before you can briefly use some flash cards or read some notes to refresh your memory but don’t use up too much energy!
  • Spending too long working without taking a break – it is important to build short breaks into your revision. When planning your day, ensure you have gaps to rest, eat and stay hydrated. Have a planned treat either during the day or at the end as a reward for working hard.
  • Think that buying a revision guide is enough – owning a guide is not the same as using it effectively. If you find a really good revision guide, make sure you build it into your revision timetable to get the most out of it.
  • Planning to revise at your least productive time of the day – everyone has a time in the day when they are at their best. For some it’s early in the morning, others it’s later in the evening. You know best what will work for you!

Read more: How to revise for maths

What to do on the day of your exam

Hopefully, you have planned your revision well, will be feeling confident about the topics and will be ready for exam success. You can help yourself on the day of the exam by being ultra prepared.

  • Don’t stay up too late the night before – ensure you get a good night’s sleep, even if you are normally a night owl!
  • Make sure you have a good breakfast and are hydrated – your brain requires energy, feed it!
  • Make sure you have all the correct equipment. The last thing you need on the day of the exam is to find that your only pen has run out of ink or that the battery in your calculator has run out of charge. 
  • Plan your journey and be on time – it might be somewhere you go every day, but traffic jams or road closures could make you late if you don’t give yourself plenty of time to get there.
  • See if your school is running any pre-exam revision sessions. These can be very useful for picking up last minute tips on exam techniques or just remind you of a fact you may have overlooked.
  • Do you know your seat number? Be sure that you know where you should be sitting in the exam room. If there is more than one exam room make sure you know which one you should be in.

If you have prepared thoroughly and followed your study system using an array of revision techniques, hopefully the exam went well.

Do you have an exam the next day?

If you do, clear your mind of what happened in the exam you just sat – you may need to do some exercise, go for a walk, take a bath – then go back to your revision timetable and follow the plan.

In summary…

How to revise: the 20 revision techniques that work

  1. Make a plan 
  2. Create a calm study space
  3. Prepare a folder for each subject / topic
  4. Be clear about your goals and grades
  5. Find out exactly how long you’ve got
  6. Understand your gaps
  7. Draw up a revision timetable
  8. Test yourself
  9. Space out your revision 
  10. Switch topics regularly
  11. Use mind maps
  12. Self quiz with flash cards
  13. Use practise exam papers
  14. Time yourself answering questions
  15. Do some revision every day
  16. Take regular breaks
  17. Know your most productive time of day
  18. Sleep well
  19. Turn up on time 
  20. Do your best

Good luck!

What is the best way to revise?

The best way is the way that is best for you. Some people may like to revise in the morning or in the evening, at home or in the library. Some may study for one large bloc whereas other may prefer to do shorter periods broken up. Know what is most conducive for your own learning.

How do I revise for GCSE?

Give yourself plenty of time. Create a study plan and divide up the topics you need to revise. Use mind maps, practice papers, flash cards and other techniques to revise the topics of your GCSE exams.

How do I start revising?

First, prepare a tidy area where you can do your revision. Secondly, create a revision timetable. These are essential steps to begin your revision.

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