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Exam revision: less stress, more success!

Let’s be honest, very few of us enjoy revising for exams or assessments! However, it’s a necessary step to academic success that we can’t avoid, but there are some tried and tested methods that reduce the pain and promote progress, so here are the Global Geography Academy top tips to help you to revise successfully and smash those exams, while still enjoying life away from the textbooks and notes! This is a longer blog than usual, but that is because getting revision right is so important! Should you need additional support with your revision, do consider signing up for one of our geography tutoring packages, where your Global Geography Academy tutor will be able to effectively guide you through study and revision strategies to help you succeed!

Active revision; the key to success

We have all done it; reading page after page of notes or textbooks, hoping desperately that some of what we are reading will lodge in our brains and be accessible on exam day. The sad truth is that simply reading is one of the least effective ways to retain knowledge. You need to get active! This doesn’t mean reading a text book whilst out on a morning jog(!), it means doing something active with what you have learned. Active revision underpins virtually all of the top tips below. At a low level of effectiveness, this could be simply highlighting key points or themes in your notes. At a higher level of effectiveness, this could be answering an exam question in real time after a revision session.

So let’s dive in and look at some effective active revision strategies.

Tip 1 Get colourful

This is one of the most basic active revision techniques; grab yourself some highlighter pens and start colour coding key themes and content in your notes or, if you don’t mind devaluing your precious text books, do the same in your books. You need to ensure you are not just randomly colouring however, you need to have a system to highlight key points. This could mean for example, highlighting main topic areas in one colour, key themes within those topic areas in another colour and key takeaway points that you are likely to be assessed on in a third colour. This offers a clear visual indication of what is important on the page and can allow you to quickly scan to refresh knowledge, without having to read the whole page or pages again. Mind maps, which can also be colour coded, offer an even more effective way of summarising key points and themes and are even more visual than highlighted text, which all helps with knowledge retention.

Tip 2 Note taking the old-fashioned way

With all the high tech gadgets available to us today, it is tempting to use that technology for our note taking. However, the act of physically writing using a pen or pencil and a notebook has been shown to be more effective in knowledge retention than other methods, such as typing into a phone or laptop. When we write by hand, we are engaging our knowledge and perceptions via our motor skills and then backing this up with our vision. Of course this also happens when typing, but the physical actions associated with writing are more involved and so retention is deeper, most of us write quicker than we can type and most of us waste time correcting errors when typing on screen, with word processing packages pointing out spelling and grammar errors, distracting us from our progress. Grab a decent size notebook (A4 works well) and get writing. You can then also use tip 1 above to colour code your notes to reinforce content further.

Tip 3 Challenge yourself

When I was revising for UK Advanced level and university exams, my method of active learning combined the two tips above, with a third tip, namely sitting an exam on my own in real time. This worked extremely well for me and allowed me to gain strong grades even in subject areas where I was struggling. I would select a past paper and choose an exam question. I would then make go through my notes and using my colour-coded content (see tip 1 above) spend some time refreshing my memory. I would then close the notes, close the books and walk away from the desk for a few hours to replicate, for example, the time between going to bed the night before the examination and the exam itself the following morning. I would then come back to the desk, set a timer for the duration given to answer one question in the real exam and do just that, answer the exam question in real time, without looking at my notes. You have to be strict here; no cheating! Then when the time was up, I would ‘mark’ my work with reference to my notes and textbooks. Active revision all the way through and much more effective than looking at exam papers and then trying to leaf through notes reading relevant material hoping it will sink in!

Tip 4 teach others

Study after study have shown that knowledge retention is most effective when we teach others. Now you may be asking yourself ‘how can I teach others when I’m being taught myself?’, but the fact is that you know your subject matter at some level and you will know more about some areas than your fellow students. So why not get together with a small group of friends and teach each other? Pick a topic and allocate one of you to teach the others all you know about that topic. What you will find is that your fellow students will help fill in areas that you may have missed or not understood fully and between you, you will identify areas that you all need to work on if knowledge is not complete. If you have access in your school, use of a whiteboard or chalkboard can really help here (active revision again!) and I have seen students generate some superb levels of knowledge through this method of teaching others and learning from them. A cautionary note however! Choose your friends wisely; it is very easy to get distracted and start talking about topics other than geography and you can waste large amounts of time if the group doesn’t stay focussed, so only try this tip with friends who are serious about revising and being successful in their studies!

Tip 5 Self care

Moving away from active revision, it is important to attend to your wellbeing when revising. Inevitably, revision and looming exams causes stress to build and that is fine, because we all need a degree of stress and anxiety at a low level to perform well in exams. However, what we must avoid is that stress and anxiety getting out of hand. Put simply, you need to ensure you are getting enough rest, enough exercise, enough social activities and enough healthy food. You will not retain knowledge as well if you are tired and depriving yourself sleep by staying up late to revise, you will not retain knowledge as well if you are not engaging in social activities, you will not retain knowledge well if you are eating junk food that is not nourishing body and mind. It’s all about a healthy balance; yes you need to spend a substantial amount of time revising, but it is important to also take time to spend with friends and/or family. You just need to make sure the balance is right and the 80:20 rule works well here I find; in the run up to your exams spend 80% of your time revising and studying, and 20% of your time socialising, exercising or engaging in pursuits that relax you. When it comes to sleep, a regular routine is critical (go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends) and make sure you are not revising late into the evenings; you must give yourself time to unwind before sleep.

Tip 6 Focus on how good you are

Nobody likes arrogance, but whatever stage of education you are at, you should be proud of what you have achieved. Take pride in your work, take pride in the fact that you have made it through Key Stage 3 or through your iGCSEs and are now working on your Advanced levels or International Baccalaureate. Remember how good you are and adopt a mindset of ‘I’m going to show my teachers how good I am by smashing these exams and getting the best grades I have ever attained’. If you have done the work contained within the tips above, you have every reason to feel good; don’t get over confident, but do be confident, do get passionate about smashing your exams and assessments and do be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. When you work with a geography tutor from the Global Geography Academy, we will ensure you never forget this!

Finally a note to anyone who doesn’t take revision seriously and prioritises social life or other activities. When I was studying for my UK Advanced levels, one of my teachers gave us the following grim warning.

“When results day comes, you will forget about all the parties you attended, you will forget about all the times you sat and watched TV rather than revising, you will forget about all the time you wasted trying to find anything to do other than revise. All you will be focussed on is the grade on the piece of paper that lands on your doormat on results day, because that grade will dictate in no small measure, your future success and at that point in time, NOTHING else will matter to you”.

As you can imagine, that scared the living daylights out of me, and this was in the 1980s when we didn’t have the massive distractions of the internet, mobile phones and social media, but it rings true today as much as it did then. It galvanised me and my fellow students into action and it is fair to say that those who were given that sage advice in 1987 all took it seriously and the results from our cohort demonstrated that, as we attained some of the highest grades in the school.

If you could like support with your revision, consider signing up for one of our Geography tutoring packages or get in touch directly to discuss how we can support you in the run up to your exams.

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