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Revision and Exams: Revision strategies

Boost your exam revision and explore strategies for essay exams, online tests and MCQs with our online study guide and resources.

Getting started

Try to start preparing for your exams as early as possible. Check your exam timetable online, make a note of your exam dates and work backwards from there, creating a revision schedule, taking into account:

  • Other commitments, including coursework deadlines, employment and vacation time. For January exams, ensure you plan time off to relax.
  • Make a note of how closely exams are to each other - there will be periods of time where you are revising for multiple exams. Think about how you will divide your time to ensure all topics are covered equally.
  • You may need to start revising before teaching on your module has finished - this doesn't prevent you from going back over lecture and seminar notes from the start of the semester and beginning your revision on those early topics.


Read your module guidance carefully and make a note of exam dates and work back from there.  Identify how many weeks until the actual exam/s to create a revision schedule and stick to it! Review and update your schedule to keep track of any changes in your planning.

Sample schedule:

If you like to compartmentalise topics and focus on one thing at a time, assign full days or blocks of time to each exam:


If you prefer to study in short bursts and move between topics to keep things fresh or more interesting, split your days into a morning and afternoon, and cover content from multiple exams each day. This works best if you're completing the same type of revision task - for example, making revision cards or drafting mind maps - but for different topics. This way, you're only changing the content of your revision, not the task as well:

There are also numerous online planning tools available you might want to consider using, such as wall planners, timetables, or online tools such as GoConqr, Flipd or Exam Countdown Lite. 

Action points:

  • Remember to customise what is already out there to suit you as it is far less time consuming than creating something from scratch.
  • Try to organise your revision schedule into bitesize chunks of time and give yourself small breaks to help improve your concentration and motivation.
  • Add review sessions to help you commit what you have learnt to memory. For every full day of revision, give yourself 2-3 hours of review time.
  • Reward yourself in between or at the end of study periods, ie. a coffee break, time with friends or a gym session.
  • Try to maintain your routine as much as possible - stick to your regular wake up and sleep times, make time for meals, and try to get out of the house for a brief walk or some exercise each day.

What should I revise?

Exams are designed to test your knowledge and understanding of the material covered on your course - your first step should be to return to the module outline and topics of each lecture/block of teaching. This should give you a skeleton outline of content to cover. 

  1. Review your lecture notes and catch up on recordings of anything you have missed. 
  2. Rank your topics 1-3: 1 for topics where you're most confident, 2 for topics where you have a fair amount of knowledge with small gaps, and 3 for topics where you feel least confident/sure of the content.
  3. Make your notes more concise - focus on key themes, definitions of key terms, and examples/quotes from reading for each concept as a starting point. Also think about how you learn best - from visual formats like mindmaps, or by creating handwritten notes to process the information as you go.

Action points

  • Create a list of topics to revise and make notes about your current levels of comprehension. 
  • Identify areas for further reading and research
  • Establish whether or not you need a detailed understanding of certain topics since essay-based questions may require more in-depth knowledge than short multiple choice questions.

Revision techniques

Remembering a vast amount of course material may seem like a daunting task but with the right tools and techniques you can start to commit information to your long term memory. The trick is to do something with the information you are reading rather than simply re-reading your notes in the hope that something will eventually sink in.

Top tip: Get active and use a multisensory approach by: 
identifying key concepts;
making connections between ideas;
testing your understanding;
restating your knowledge in a different way;
explaining your knowledge out loud.

Condense your notes

Reduce notes to headings, make summary points and key words using highlighters:

Image of 4 blank pages, showing pages decrease in size as notes reduce with each step.

Use cards, coloured paper, coloured pens and symbols if they help you.  At each stage try to condense from memory without using the previous stage notes as this is the best way to ensure that you are ready to move to a briefer version and have committed information to memory. Try to fill in your gaps in knowledge beforehand. Ask yourself, 'is there anything that I don't know and what do I need to go back and read up on?'

You can also try creating visual representations using mindmaps like below:

Picture of a sample mindmap, showing different branches for main points and sub-points.

Sample mindmap for an essay plan, showing topic of UK youth employment and various branches with main points and sub-point included.

You don't need to be artistic to create a mindmap! You might want to investigate the software available for creating mindmaps through AppsAnywhere. The Assistive Technology team offer training sessions on how to use the Mindview software for creating mindmaps, and there are a range of how-to videos on their website.

Improving memory recall

To help you recall what you learn try experimenting with memory techniques.

Although not a universally useful technique, visual mnemonics can be helpful where a list has to be memorised. For example:

'SELECTDEP' could remind you to explore various factors in an exam question or a memorable picture may help to fix information that fits together in a model or theory in your mind:

mnemonic SELECTDEP: social economic legal environmental customers technological demographic ecological politicalDrawing of a house. Each window represents something to remember for the marketing mix 4ps place product promotion price