How to revise for exams effectively

How to revise for exams effectively

Revision, that’s where you sit at a desk in your bedroom, or the dining room table, and you read. If you’re not reading you write out your notes, make pretty coloured cards with thousands of words of information, the TV is on in the background, or there is music playing, and the bustle of daily life goes on around you. Right? That’s the revision most of us recognise.

What if I told you most of that was slightly less help than doing nothing? That taking the dogs for a walk, or telling your goldfish about trigonometry would be far more useful? No, I’m not being sarcastic, they actually would. So, if writing everything down again, or reading your textbook cover to cover doesn’t work, what does?


It does not have to be in calligraphic script with colour coding for each topic. It’s about content not how pretty it is. Put aside times of the day when you are going to revise. 20-30 minute slots work best and leave some longer slots to do full past papers.

List the subjects you are taking exams in and the topics for each subject. Even if you just have the list and the time slots that can be enough. Tick off each topic as you do it. Are you confident? Add two ticks, if you still have major worries, don’t tick it. Focus on the topics that have the fewest ticks. Treat those times as being as important as lessons. You wouldn’t miss a lesson to watch rubbish TV, so don’t ignore revision time either.

Past Papers

SQA PasspapersWhilst you are being tested in your knowledge of a subject, what you are actually leading up to is an exam, and luckily there are plenty of practise papers and past papers available. Talk to your teachers to see if they have any printed off, or can point you in the direction of the ones you need.

For my students I suggest they sit down in as close to exam conditions as possible, complete the exam paper even if every question seems impossible, read through the question and see if there are any keywords or phrases that they can use to even attempt the questions. Do this first run through in black ink. Once that’s done put it to one side and take a break.

Next look up the topics they struggled with, grab the exam paper and write down the answers in a different coloured ink, say green or purple, anything so it’s clear which were the first and second set of answers.

Third, mark the exam paper using the official mark scheme. This does two major things. First, it shows them where they went wrong, and where they got things right. Secondly, it shows them what the exam boards are looking for. What seemed like the important facts may only take up one or two marks, whilst areas that they’d forgotten or seemed less important may have made up the bulk of the marks. An equally valid way is to do this in pairs or small groups. Swap papers to mark and discuss what was right and what was wrong.

Studies agree that if you can only do one form of revision past papers are it.

Small Group Revision

Revision why working with others can help

Many students benefit from revising in a small group, rather than alone. There will be lots of time when your teen needs to study independently, so providing them with structured opportunities to share the experience can be beneficial- as well as make revision less lonely! Sharing knowledge amongst peers is often one of the best ways to absorb information, too. By revising with like-minded individuals, teens can thrive.

We also really recommend revision courses for those who want to attain the highest grades. This is because we offer the scope in which to deepen your child’s learning and embed their study, especially as our revision courses begin as ‘early’ as October/November. The sooner your child revises (at a sensible level,) then the more time they will have to retain what they have studied.

Below are some of the courses we offer.

➡️ Prelim – December 2019
➡️ Easter – April 2020
➡️ Grade Booster – May 2020

Revision is great to reinforce topics that they already understand, and to memorise facts that they might have to regurgitate in the exam, but what if they don’t understand the topic at hand. Exams are testing learning and knowledge. A way for colleges, universities, and future employers to see that people are able to learn a topic and to use that information in a meaningful way. This is great if they understand the topics. Now is the time to find out that there are gaps in their knowledge, or that they’ve missed entire topics.

Not the day before the exam. Either raise this with their teacher or contact us now to arrange one to one tuition. Even short-term help can close huge gaps in knowledge. Most exam papers are around 80 marks. A single missed topic can account for a huge number of those marks, this can be the difference between resitting and getting the grades they want. Between getting their first choice in University, or spending another year in college. For younger students, this can be the difference between getting a grip on a topic now in the earlier years or struggling on until exam day, already far behind.

Don’t Read Do

Can they discuss the topic, or watch a YouTube video showing the theory in action? Can they argue the point with friends, or visit the zoo or a museum? Are any local universities giving free talks? All of these things present the information in a different way, allowing the brain to absorb it and form new patterns of memory, all ready to be remembered when it counts. Have them make notes as they do. Note-taking helps embed the information in their memory.

Oh, and if they are reading, making notes, or doing past papers, turn off the TV and the music, and try and keep the noise down for the 20-30 minutes they are studying. Exams are in silence, sadly that means revision is best done that way as well