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Exam Revision and Strategy

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

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Exam revision and strategy banner. Black text on blue background.

 

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What should I revise?

Revising for exams can be a challenge therefore the best approach you could adopt is to establish good study habits as early as possible.  This study guide is intended to give you tips and ideas to help you learn to plan more effectively for your exams.  It will give you some practical tips and strategies you can use to plan a revision schedule, make better revision notes and guide you through a variety of techniques you can try to help you commit information to memory.

Start to think ahead as you work through your course modules and make a note of the key topics covered and organise your lecture notes so they are readily accessible for when it is time to start revising. Try to understand the module concepts as you go along and ask questions in seminars and tutorials if you don't understand something as understanding is the key to helping you remember significant theories, formulas, and models.  This allows you to fill gaps in your knowledge as you go along, rather than once the module is over.

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.

Plan ahead

Try to start preparing for your exams as early as possible.  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:

December organise notes, check exam information and find past papers January identify kep topic areas, check the modules learning outcomes and identifygaps in knowledge February find journals or text books for further reading, make notes on key theories and concepts, and make lists of key references or quotations March try timed past papers, refine and develop your notes and create visual mindmaps or othermnemonics April checl rules about exam equipment , etc. start memorising and self-testing on a weekly basis and revise for key areas in detail May exam


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

Screenshot of a GoConqr calendar page, showing colour coded modules and break down of hours allocated for each. With a calendar view organising a weekly schedule

 

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;
  • Give yourself a small reward in between or at the end of study periods, ie. a coffee break, time with friends or a gym session.

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

Preparing for the exam

The day before

Whilst it may be tempting to try and cram in an all-day revision session the day before your exam, this is not advisable as its unlikely you'll learn anything new properly. Instead try to relax, remain calm and prepare yourself mentally for being fresh and alert for the exam itself. Aim to:

  • review your note cards, mind maps or summary posters;
  • practise going through past papers and test your knowledge to aid recall;
  • ensure that you eat a nutritious meal and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water;
  • try to get a decent night's sleep rather than staying up late doing last minute revision;
  • pack everything you need for the exam the night before:
    • several pens and pencils, ruler, eraser, etc.
    • a trustworthy watch
    • a bottle of water
    • a jumper in case you get cold sitting in the exam room


On the day and during the exam

Make sure you have breakfast and arrive early for the exam.

  • When you are seated, read the instructions carefully.
  • Look at the time allocated, read all the questions selecting those you are going to answer and manage your time for each question according to the mark awarded.
  • It is also advisable to spend a little time planning your response so that you don't go of track! Answer those questions that you feel more confident with first.


Strategies to try if your mind goes blank

  • Try to regain your focus by utilizing mini relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or visualising something pleasant;
  • Do a quick brainstorm or write key words in your notes to remind you.  If you get stuck, move on to the next question and return to it when it comes back to you;
  • Most importantly, don't leave early - it is better to keep trying to improve your answers to maximise your grades!