Revision Techniques

It’s the start of GCSE and A Level exam season, so I thought I’d make a post about how I revise for exams, and how I survive exam seasons. These techniques may not work for you as revision is quite personal, but this is how I personally did a lot of my revision for exams

First of all, for more creative subjects, or subjects that require memorising information. This was my technique for A Level English and Psychology, and my university English exams. I write up notes onto A4 paper of pretty much everything I want to know for the exam. I use coloured pens for headings, and matching highlighter colours to highlight key points. I might do an A4 sheet dedicated to key terms, or to quotes, or simply facts. For A Level I tried to make these note sheets as I went through the year so when it came to revising, I had a ready made set of notes to revise from, but it’s not the end of the world if you have’t done so yet – as I’ve found out during my first year university exams, you can remember a surprising amount of information in a surprisingly short period of time.

Once you have your notes drawn up, you should have everything you need to know in one nice set of notes. The next point is to make sure you understand everything you need to know. Ask a teacher of any things you’re unsure of, and note down your weaknesses. Look at alternative ways for looking at points you’re unsure of – if you don’t understand a word’s definition, you might be able to find another definition that makes more sense. There’s no point in memorising information you won’t be able to use in the exam because you don’t actually know how to use it.

The next step is remembering your notes. Personally, I like to use flashcards. I’ll write key terms on one side, and definitions on the other, or themes on one side, and quotes matching the theme on the other. Depending on how you learn, you might want to try making mind-maps, or posters to help you memorise the information, but it’s important to be writing out things you want to remember for the exam. Writing things down commits them to memory a lot quicker than you might expect. Once you’ve made these resources, you can look them over to revise or cover parts of them to test yourself. I like to rewrite as much information as I can remember for a particular topic as I can and then check my revision materials to see how much of it I’ve remembered, and how accurate my recall is. It took me about a week to memorise about 6 sides of A4 paper in this way.

Once you have your notes committed to memory, the most important thing is keeping them fresh in your mind, so keep testing yourself on recall up until the exam. The other important thing to be doing once you have information memorised is to be doing past papers, or example questions. If you can get a teacher to mark these and give you feedback, you’ll know where you need to improve, and get an idea of what grades you can expect to receive in the exam.


However, some subjects, like Maths, don’t lend themselves to these styles of revision. For maths, the first step is to look over all the topics covered, and check you understand them all. Any techniques, topics, or methods you struggle to understand or apply should be brought up with your teacher (or anyone who understands them – a family member or friend, perhaps) and keep going over them. As Maths is less about remembering information than Psychology or English, the most important thing to do is practice questions and exam papers. Look in text books for your course for questions, which generally increase in difficulty throughout the chapters. If you begin to struggle, take an example question to someone and ask them to help you work through it. Past exam papers are generally available online for GCSE and A Level, so you can search for your exam board and module and print out some practice papers.

It’s a good idea to time yourself doing papers once you’ve got used to the style questions you’re likely to be asked so you’re not shocked in the exam when time is suddenly up and you’ve not even had a chance to look at the big mark question that usually lurks at the back of GCSE and A Level maths papers. The mark schemes for these papers are also usually available online, so you can mark them without needing to bother your teachers too much. If there’s any you have wrong, try to do it again, or work out where you went wrong, but if you’re still unsure of how to get to the right answer, take it to someone who can work it through with you, though the mark schemes often provide a reasonable amount of steps that might help you to work out how to solve the question.


One of the most important things about exam season is organisation. Decide what you’re going to revise and set yourself reasonable targets. Take regular breaks to get up and move, get a drink, have a healthy snack. Don’t get angry at yourself if you don’t get as much done as you’d like to on one day, because you can always catch up tomorrow, and in the end, exams are not an accurate way to measure intelligence. A lot of pressure is placed on students to achieve highly in exams, but it is not the be all and end all. There might be a chance to resit an exam if necessary, but generally, much more emphasis is placed on doing well in exams than is actually necessary. It depends on what you want to do as a career as to how essential exams are, so work out which ones are the most important, and whether there’s any that aren’t as important to your future, and focus on those that will be the most important to you in the long run.

When it comes down to it, GCSE results are only really needed to get you onto the A Level or BTEC course(s), or apprenticeship you want to take, and A Levels and BTECs are only really to get you into university. Most employers will pay little notice to GCSE results once you have A Levels/BTECs/completed an apprenticeship, and a degree is more important than A Levels or BTECs to employers. Getting good results is amazing, and something to be celebrated because they’re the result of hard work and dedication, but if you don’t quite get the results you wanted in exams, try not to be upset. Exam season is stressful, and scary, and it can be easy for an exam to fall on a day when you’re feeling unwell and impact your results, or just for stress to cause you not to do as well as you could. In the end, as long as you worked hard (but don’t overwork yourself) and tried your best, that’s all anyone can ask. Take a breath, have some water, get an early night.

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