As the daffodils start blooming, exam season is surely around the corner. Around this time, revision advice can be overwhelmingly vast in quantity, sometimes contradictory, and staggering difficult to pick through, especially when your time is short and the content is mounting up.
This article will talk a little bit about how to streamline your techniques so that they work for you. Not everything in the advice columns is going to work for everyone, so here are some tips on how to decide what you might want to try, and how to try it. Be aware this list is not exhaustive!
Now, full disclosure: I’m a humanities student. Specifically, I’m a student of foreign languages. This means that I’m revising for two certain types of skill: the first is sheer memory, because languages are known for all their words, after all; the second is fluid problem-solving: when asked to translate a passage or respond creatively to a question, I need to be confident enough in the problem-solving process to demonstrate my skills. In a word, technique.
It will look a little different for everyone depending on the subject you’re revising for, but the basic approach remains the same. Remembering things, applying them.
For remembering, techniques are simple. You’ve got the classics: flashcards, either physical or digital using sites like Quizlet or ANKI; and other types of sheer repetition, like writing things out again and again (and again and again). These can work wonders if you use them well.
Once you’ve done the fun bit of actually making your flashcards, get a little bit mean with yourself: don’t check the answers if you can’t get them straightaway. Try this: I’m going to try to recall this piece of vocab for at least thirty seconds, even if I’m pulling an absolute blank the entire time. Thirty seconds is quite a long time to sit there and feel stupid, but you’d be surprised how frequently the answer presents itself after a few seconds of thinking. If you can’t think of it, no worries; that’s what the flashcards are for. Try separating them into three piles: ones you get straight away, ones you have to think about for a moment, and ones you have no idea about. This will help you prioritise even more specifically, especially when you’re short on time.
So now you’ve got the know. What do you do with it?
Applying your knowledge
Past papers are the best – as long as you actually mark them.
You’ve heard it before: past papers are the best way to revise for the real thing. And I agree! But there are exactly two halves to the effectiveness of that: the doing, and the reflecting. Otherwise, the same mistakes go unnoticed over and over. Mark schemes often aren’t available, so consider asking a course mate to check over what you’ve done, and return the favour – you get a fresh pair of eyes to scan for errors, and you also get to compare exam technique with your peers. Win-win!
Use your strategies to make sure that you work better, not longer.
Studying for five hours straight means nothing if you can’t retain any of the information; your motivation can actually suffer if you work for hours on end and have nothing concrete to make you feel like you’ve achieved something.
Instead of going for timings – I’m going to study this chapter for two hours, or better yet, for as long as I can before I pass out! – aim for chunks of work. I’m going to make notes on the next ten pages, then I’m going to watch an episode of my comfort show, make dinner, and come back to it. As much as you might want to be, you are not a study machine. You need to take care of your basic needs, including physical and mental rest, to keep going at a sustainable pace. This applies even if you’re cramming.
There is plenty more advice around, and I certainly haven’t covered even half of the potential ways of maximising benefit in your studies, these are just my go – to ways of working. Take a look at Malaika’s recent post where she looked at recent viral study techniques, or Laura’s how to start prepping for exams. We all have different ways of working, and by sharing them all hopefully we can help you find what works for you!