If you’re a student, the chances are you’ll be tucked away in your student accommodation the next few weeks, studying for end of year exams.
However, revision is no simple business – it involves time; self-discipline; organisation; persistence, determination…and also a positive attitude. It can take weeks to get into a stride and then weeks more to grasp a particular topic.
How can you be sure you’re making best use of your time?
Well, we’ve scouted out eight of the best revision and study techniques, all proven to help you consolidate and recall information without the mental struggle (or as much of it).
Here are eight revision techniques that’ll help you nail your end of year exams.
1. The Past Paper Technique
Perhaps not so new, but the use of past papers is something so many students overlook or don’t make enough use of.
Past papers are your closest bet to seeing what’s going to be on the REAL paper, and can be acquired easily through your tutor, uni intranet or online study sites.
Here’s how to use a past paper thoroughly to your advantage.
- Sit down with the exam paper, a pen, spare notepad and maybe a highlighter.
- Work your way through the paper as you would in the exam, attempting to answer each question in the best way you can. If there’s a topic you haven’t covered or question you don’t understand, highlight, circle or underline it.
- Once the paper is finished, check your answers against the accompanying marking scheme (these should come with all past papers). Alternatively you could always get your tutor to mark it for you.
- Look at where you fell short in your answers and note down how each one could be improved. Also note what you did well on – these are your strongest areas.
- Go back to the questions you did not answer. These highlight where you need to apply further study or practice. If it’s a topic you haven’t covered yet, note it down. If the question confused you, take time to analyse it. Underline the key words in the question; say it out loud and also in your own words to get to the bottom of what it’s asking you to do.
- You could also take a look at the marking scheme to see what kinds of answers are expected for these types of questions.
- Try new past papers often, noting gaps in your knowledge as you go and ticking them off once you’ve got a better understanding. You will soon start to see recurring patterns and questions within each one.
2. The Timetable Approach
There are those that like to bust through their revision ad hoc, moving on to a new topic as and when it suits them.
However, once of the most thorough ways to approach your studying is by creating a timetable for yourself. It sounds so basic it almost may not be a strategy, but it’s a useful tip many students neglect.
- Grab a brand new wall planner or desk calendar (yes, brand new so it’s for revision only).
- Identify the modules you need to revise for, and the key topics within them. Don’t neglect topics you find easy or difficult.
- Create blocks of time within your calendar dedicated to each topic. This can be done with differently coloured pens, highlighters or post-it notes.
- Try to get in around three topics each day, and vary it up throughout the week. Be realistic about what can be achieved in the time you have, and remember to leave gaps for breaks.
3. The Reduction Method
You will have been taking lots of notes throughout the semester – in lectures, seminars, and in your own personal study time.
The reduction method is essentially about taking those notes and making them even more memorable, by condensing them down into easy, manageable chunks.
- First, physically organise all of your notes in a logical order. This can be by topic or theme.
- Read through your notes, underlining or highlighting the keywords relating to different themes.
- Choose a colour to associate each theme with. This will help to absorb the information and aid memory.
- Now, begin rewriting your notes in a more concise format, narrowing the content down into manageable, digestible ‘nuggets’. This may feel hard at first, but keep doing it until the topic becomes more reduced and simplified. Aim to fit each one onto an index card (and bonus points if your index cards match your colour scheme).
- These index cards will now be your aide memoir for recalling the key facts, ideas and arguments for each topic. Remember that when it comes to taking notes, less is more!
4. The Cornell Note-Taking System
This way of taking notes was devised for Cornell University students in the states, but has since been publicised as a valuable technique.
It involves structuring your notes in a way that helps you engage with them actively, produce summaries of key ideas and aid recall. It’s most useful to use during lectures, podcasts or videos, but could be applied to written material too.
- Before beginning your note-taking, divide your page into three segments. Rule a small section at the bottom for a summary, then split the rest into a left-hand column and a right-hand column. The left column should be about a third of the page wide, and the right-hand the remaining two thirds.
- Label the left column ‘Key words & questions’; the right hand ‘Notes’ and the bottom section ‘Summary’.
- Record your notes in the right-hand column, aiming to only capture the general ideas and facts. Use your own words and abbreviations where possible.
- Immediately after the lecture, podcast or video has finished, go over your notes and make any additions or amendments from memory. Summarise the main points in the bottom section of the page.
- In the left column, note down key words or phrases from the notes on the right. Form these into questions.
- Next, cover the right side and see how well you can answer your own questions from memory.
- Reformat your notes based on your performance, expanding, clarifying, and making connections where relevant.
5. The Visual Aid Technique
Some people memorise information better not by using linear notes, but through visual aids instead.
Spidergrams, mind maps and concept maps can be useful ways of organising information in a clear, accessible way. They are most useful during the revision period, when you’re aware of the structure of a topic and have all of your existing material to hand.
To create a mind map:
- Grab a clean page (A3 is better than A4) and start in the centre. Write the name of a topic or theme and draw a bubble around it.
- From this, draw lines that lead to other sub-topics that sit under the main topic.
- Continue to create lines that stem from the sub-topics to the key ideas and facts that make up those topics. Keep going until you’re sure you’ve covered the whole topic in detail. Some students like to annotate the lines, or add decoration or illustrations to make it more visual.
- Draw connections between the individual granular ideas by drawing lines connecting them to each other.
6. The Tutoring Technique
The tutoring technique may work best if you’re an auditory learner, or if you prefer to study as part of a group.
However, even if that’s not your preferred way of studying, tutoring someone else on what you’ve learned really helps your brain to organise and make sense of the information. It’s even even better if you can explain your subject so simply a child or grandparent can understand it.
- Once you feel confident you have a certain topic down, ask a friend, study group or family member if you can explain it to them. Start with what it is and the key ideas; then move onto the counter-arguments, explanations, evidence and anything else that’s relevant.
- Allow the person or group to ask questions and answer them in as much detail as you can. Ask them about what they did and didn’t understand, and what you maybe didn’t explain so clearly.
- Make a note of anything you didn’t cover or that you found difficult to explain. If you covered the topic in depth, however, and your pupil understood it, that’s a sure sign you’ve nailed that topic.
7. The Mock Exam Approach
The mock exam approach is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: do a past paper…but in legitimate exam conditions.
This will not only help you by testing your knowledge; it’ll also help you learn to manage your time effectively when you’re in the real exam.
- Go to a quiet place, one where you won’t be disturbed. Politely ask your family or housemates don’t disturb you for the duration of the paper (however long that might be).
- Ensure you have everything you need – spare pens pencils; some water, and any additional materials like a dictionary or calculator.
- By the same token, ensure you don’t have anything that wouldn’t be allowed during exam conditions – such as your phone.
- Set a timer for how long the paper will be (1.5, 2 or 3 hours). If you need your phone for this, put it on flight mode and leave it on the other side of the room.
- Work through the paper, distributing your time accordingly. It helps if you have a way to keep your eye on the time throughout, such as a clock. Remember not to spend too long on each question and to try to answer all the questions in the paper to maximise your marks.
- At the end, give your paper to a friend or tutor to mark (or mark it yourself with the accompanying marking scheme).
When studying, it always helps to have the right environment. Take a look at Caro’s range of student properties for 2017 and set yourself up for success.