Revision Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide To Help Your Students Revise 

The right revision techniques help students fully realise their potential across a range of subjects, including maths and English. For revision strategies to work successfully, educators rely on both high-quality teaching and the effectiveness of the students’ own independent learning. Educators have significant control over the former, but the latter can be more elusive and passive approaches like reading or skimming notes can fall short.

In this comprehensive guide, we explore the most effective revision strategies. These are research based and tailored specifically for GCSE students. When teachers understand and implement these top tips, they can empower students to pass exams and equip them with a toolkit for learning applicable beyond school.

What are revision techniques?

Revision techniques provide a framework for students to structure their exam revision. This article discusses eight effective revision tips and methods to help teach students how to revise for GCSEs. 

Students know they should revise, but often struggle with knowing how to revise. This can be a particular issue in mathematics, as students resort to less effective, passive strategies like reading class notes or looking at a revision guide.  

To revise effectively, students need to use revision techniques that encourage doing.

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Ultimate guide to GCSE maths revision

Revision strategies and practical techniques for maths teachers and subject leaders to help students revise effectively. Includes a free downloadable poster detailing 10 top revision tips.

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The purpose of revision 

Learning can be defined as an alteration to long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing is learned. (Ofsted Inspection Handbook, 2023)

Reviewing and reinforcing new ideas and concepts is fundamental to learning. If a new concept is taught once and not revisited, the best instruction possible will not have a significant enough alteration to long-term memory to say meaningful learning has occurred. 

Scientific benefits of revision techniques

Hermann Ebbinghaus, developed a ‘forgetting curve’ that shows students rapidly forget most newly learned concepts if not reviewed regularly.

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

Regularly revisiting new ideas or concepts strengthens links in long-term memory. It ensures new pieces of information become persistent. 

Ebbinghaus believes that with each repetition, people forget concepts less quickly each time. While the first review should take place the next day, the material may then not need to be revisited for a few more days, then a week, and so on. 

A graph showing more knowledge retention through the spaced repetition revision technique

Revision is a workout for the brain. Humans strengthen and train the neural pathways needed in preparation for exam day. This helps prevent cognitive overload for students, unlike cramming. 

According to cognitive load theory, the more effective the revision techniques students use, the easier the cognitive load will be. John Sweller’s cognitive load theory concerns how information is efficiently and effectively encoded into learners’ long-term memory.

Effective revision techniques for GCSE

In 2013, John Dunlosky and his team reviewed a series of the best revision techniques and practices. They ranked them in terms of effectiveness and identified the top two strategies for effective revision as: 

  • Practice testing: Low-stakes testing of knowledge and understanding
  • Distributed practice: Short, regular study sessions over a longer period

Many of the revision techniques in the list below rely on one of these two principles.

While these strategies are selected as the best revision techniques for GCSEs, they are also applicable to KS3, A-level and higher-education. 

1. Note-Taking and Worked Examples

Dunlosky discusses note-taking as an important part of practice testing. But in order to be effective, notes should be structured to support planned practice testing. 

In secondary school, notes for subjects such as science and maths often include worked examples. These are generally copied or transferred to exercise books with the aim that students use them to aid revision. However, students can de-value these illustrative examples and often encounter difficulties in using them effectively for the following reasons: 

  • Disorganisation of examples
  • Copying errors in the examples themselves
  • Too many examples to choose from

To address this, ensure students have concise, meaningful examples which highlight the key features of the new learning. If providing more than one example, ensure there is a purpose for doing so. For example,  illustrating a different scenario or a variation on the idea being communicated. 

Choose the example carefully to ensure the process involved doesn’t significantly increase the cognitive overload of the problem. 

Digital examples 

Digital examples, such as videos, are also useful. Students often prefer being “talked through” a worked example that they can re-watch as part of their revision. Stick QR code links to videos into students’ books in the relevant place.

Provide students with a dedicated space for important worked examples to help them access and use examples while revising. This could be in: 

  • A separate section of their exercise book
  • A stand-alone smaller book
  • On flashcards
  • In a folder

2. Active Revision Techniques

When reading through notes or watching example videos, encourage students to engage in an activity related to practice testing rather than passively observing. They could create revision materials such as flashcards, mind maps, mnemonics or other summaries to be used for self-quizzing. Or they could complete shadow problems alongside worked examples. 


Flashcards are a particularly effective form of active revision for factual subjects. They help students memorise important facts and formulae for maths and science, or important dates in history. 

For example, a math flashcard may prompt the interior angle sum of a triangle on one side and the answer on another – 180॰. A history flashcard could prompt the year WW1 started on one side and the answer, 1914, on the other.   

Students work through the flashcards, sorting cards answered correctly the first time into one pile and incorrect answers into another. 

The key is to review the unfamiliar revision cards again, repeating the process until all material is recalled from memory at least once. 

3. Practice and Application

Once students review notes or worked examples, they must put these ideas into practice. This relies on the principle of practice testing to ensure revision is effective. 

Encourage students to complete practice questions from memory where possible. It is very easy for students to follow a worked example and convince themselves they understand the concept without demonstrating this!

Shadow problems are particularly effective in the early stages; once students review or watch a model solution, they attempt a similar problem with different values or perhaps a different context. 

Exercises should include a mixture of: 

  • Skills practice
  • Applied questions
  • Exam-style problems

It is perfectly fine for a student to build up gradually to exam questions at a pace appropriate for them. Students may wish to work independently or could form small study groups to complete practice sets.

4. Time management and planning 

Revision timetables are helpful for students to structure their revision time. However, students tend to need support with the organisation of this. 

Prompt students to set a goal for each session and vary their revision methods throughout the week. For a given topic, the progression might be:

  • Read notes and worked examples, employing active revision techniques
  • Create flashcards for key facts and formulae to support practice testing from memory
  • Work through skills-based practice problems, using worked examples or videos to support
  • Tackle applied questions, wordier problems or exam-style questions

Download Third Space Learning’s revision timetable template to guide students or complete with them.

5. Distributed Practice

Distributed practice, also known as spaced repetition, is the second of Dunlosky’s most effective revision strategies. Instead of cramming content in one long revision session, distribute the practice in shorter chunks over a longer period. 

For example, it is more beneficial for students to revise in 20-minute chunks over a week rather than a single two-hour session at the weekend. When practice is distributed in this way, material is accessed in long-term memory far more frequently and retention is much better. 

6. Interleaving

Interleaved practice involves coverage of multiple topics or concepts within a subject. This is opposed to massed practice, where questions are of the same type and typically focus on only one concept. 

Interleaving significantly boosts retention but slows initial learning. Students may need more time to complete interleaved practice tasks than they would the equivalent amount of massed practice.

Example of using interleaving as a revision technique

Interleaving works well as a summary activity, particularly with retrieval practice. For example, in geography revise three different topics, such as tectonics, urbanisation and river processes, in class with your students over a fortnight then give them a set of questions which alternate between these topics. 

If there is a commonality between the topics, also include some questions requiring the selection and application of ideas from different topics.

7. Retrieval practice

According to Dunlosky, almost any kind of practice testing benefits learning. But students benefit most when the test requires only memory recall, as opposed to a multiple choice bank. 

Regular retrieval practice is built into many schemes of work and can extend to revision strategies as well.

Examples of retrieval practice within revision include:

  • Complete past paper questions or sections of an exam paper
  • Reproduce a worked example from memory
  • Write a model answer to a shadow question
  • Jot down the keywords for a topic and brief definitions
  • Create a mindmap of all relevant information 
  • Work through a set of flashcards.

8. Elaborative interrogation and self-explanation 

These two linked strategies encourage students to engage actively with read material, theoretically increasing the amount of information retained.

  • Elaborative interrogation is when a student asks themselves “how?” and “why?” questions about what they have read.
  • Self-explanation is when a student links new knowledge or information to something that they already know.

Dunlosky points out that these techniques are ineffective when working on practice questions, but have significant benefits with non-standard or unfamiliar problems. 

It is likely that self-explanation is more effective than elaborative interrogation in subjects such as maths, simply due to the foundational nature of the subject compared to other subjects.

Self-explanation prompts are a useful way to encourage students to think about: 

  • Why they are working in a certain way
  • Direct attention to important parts of a worked example 
  •  Think about generalisations across the subject

For example, ask:

  • What could we try first in this problem?
  • Could we write here? Why/why not?
  • Explain how we know that is an unreasonable answer.
  • How does this step in the problem tie in with what we learned last lesson?

All Third Space Learning Tutors receive high-quality training so they understand the correct questions to ask students. Our team of academic experts ensure every session is complete with questions and prompts for tutors to ask students if they are struggling. 

Each maths intervention pack is complete with teacher and tutor prompts to aske students during revision sessions. 

Tutor question prompts
Third space learning GCSE revision lesson

9. Dual-coding

Dual-coding involves presenting information both verbally and visually. Cognitive load theory suggests that, because the brain processes visual and verbal stimuli separately, presenting both stimuli simultaneously improves the rate of learning. 

This is unlike the now-debunked theory of learning styles, which suggested that students have a single preferred way of learning such as auditory, visual, kinesthetic etc.   

Dual coding suggests that all students benefit from the two different forms of stimuli.

Allan Paivio's dual coding learning strategy

Oliver Caviglioli came up with four key principles for dual coding:

  1. Cut: be selective about the content that is included
  2. Chunk: split content into related groups
  3. Align: order things on a page so that words and pictures are easy to read
  4. Restrain: use moderation with colour, font and styling

Students should include drawings and diagrams in their revision, rather than just text. 

For example, in maths, other than the obvious use of diagrams to help with geometry problems, students could use bar modelling or algebra tiles to visualise concepts.

fractions of amounts revision diagram
Using text, diagrams and colour coding increases the rate of learning for all students.

10. Graphic organisers

Graphic organisers and revision mats are helpful when organising revision notes. Rather than just producing a page of text, students can note how different parts of a topic link together. 

Using different colours to organise information is a great revision tool to help students to visually group key terms and information. 

Such organisers are effective in combination with retrieval practice. For example, in physical education ask students to complete missing bones and muscles labels on a diagram of the human body.

11. Past papers 

No matter the subject, past papers are a valuable resource for students revising for GCSEs and can help in many ways. 

Past papers build familiarity with the exam format, types of questions asked. Building this familarity helps increase confidence and reduce exam anxiety as students know what to expect.

Practice of past papers under exam conditions helps students pace themselves to ensure they can complete all sections of the paper within the allotted time. Students can also identify areas of weakness they need to focus on through other revision methods.  

Technology aided revision 

In a world that is ever-moving online, try to incorporate revision via technology where possible to keep students engaged and reduce procrastination. 

Students can carry out revision strategies such as mind maps and note-taking computers or apps. Not only does this peak students’ interest but keeps all of their revision in one place. 

Other forms of revision support such as tutoring also have the potential to be more engaging online in an interactive classroom. 

Third Space Learning provides online one-to-one maths tutoring for students struggling in KS3 and the run up to exam season in KS4.

Students log on to an interactive classroom and communicate with tutors via and interactive tools and verbally through high-quality headsets. Every student enrolled in one-to-one tutoring receives a headset to ensure the best experience. 

The use of typing, drawing and verbally communicating encourages students to actively participate in extra revision sessions moving concepts into long-term memory.  

Third space learning GCSE Example Lesson - Let's learn

How to improve students’ revision techniques

In addition to selecting effective revision strategies, support students with exam techniques and best practices. Students should revise using material specific to their GCSE exam board. There are minor content and stylistic differences between Edexcel, AQA and OCR exams. 

Incorporating mark schemes and examiners’ reports into past exam paperwork is an effective way to ensure that students are familiar with the exam board’s particular requirements. Occasionally working through questions in exam conditions is a great way to get students used to time management.

Students may develop their own revision methods and select preferred strategies. This is fine if this is truly helping them to learn, However, remember the principles discussed above are applicable to the vast majority of learners. Significant deviation means that a student will not learn as effectively. 

Watch out for students choosing only passive strategies such as reading notes or watching tutorials, particularly if they are using this “visible revision” to satisfy parents or carers that enough time is being spent working. 

Revision advice to give to your students 

In addition to teaching students revision strategies, ensure they are equipped to use them independently.  Download the following advice on the GCSE revision tips poster to give to students. 

  • Test from memory, either by covering up notes and writing down key points, working through examples, or using flash cards;
  • Use exam papers to identify areas or topics for improvement, working through papers independently and checking answers using the mark scheme;
  • When working on practice questions, don’t just answer 20 of the same question – vary it up with a mixed set of problems incorporating two or three different topics;
  • Make sure your revision includes lots of opportunities for doing maths (rather than just re-reading notes or watching tutorials).
  • Don’t leave revision until the last minute – it’s important to begin at least a few months before the start of the exam period.

Share this GCSE revision tips poster with students to help them embed effective revision techniques.


While an effective revision programme and GCSE revision techniques should be personalised to a student’s particular needs, there are some core revision activities applicable for all learners. 

Each explored method offers a unique way of helping students solidify their understanding. 

Explicitly teach these strategies and explain the reasoning behind why they’re so effective, empowers students to select effective ways to best use their revision time. 

These revision techniques also tap into lifelong benefits in developing self-aware, independent learners who can use these transferable skills in further education and life after school.

Revision techniques FAQs

What are the best revision techniques?

Different people will find that different revision techniques work best for them. However, a few of the best revision techniques include: flashcards, past papers, mind maps and spaced repetition.

What is the 2 3 5 7 revision rule?

The 2, 3, 5, 7, revision rule means students revise their initial set of notes on day one, take a second look on day two and day three, then revisit them on day five and day seven. Each time they revise their notes, they should identify and expand upon concepts and topics they need to remember.

Is 20 minutes of revision good?

Research shows that 20-30 minute revision sessions work better than longer revision sessions and help maintain concentration. The research suggests taking short frequent breaks and mixing up the order of the subjects.

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