When it comes to revising for exams everyone has their own system and techniques, but there are some things that are just good advice for anyone to follow. Here, we’ve pulled together a handful of the best practices, along with a few of our favourite techniques, just in case you hit a wall and want to try something new to get those facts to stick in your head.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Remember that memory is affected by lack of sleep. During exam time, especially, sleep can become a rare commodity. Try to create a regular sleeping pattern. If you find yourself lying awake with exam stress, focus on your breathing and try to relax each limb separately. Control your breathing and pay attention only to that. Set yourself a curfew for turning off the screens too – TV, computer, phone; all that blue light keeps your brain firing when you want it to be starting to unwind. Make it at least an hour before you intend to sleep so that your brain has time to relax properly. Don’t neglect your exercise regime during revision periods either. Physical activity will help to release some of the up energy your body builds up while you’re revising.
Revision doesn’t have to be boring. Using visualisation techniques that incorporate familiar people and places to remember facts can help amp up the chances of revision forming new pathways in your brain. There are loads of interesting ways to memorize information, from mnemonics to creating a memory palace (known as the loci method). Did you know that the illusionist Derren Brown was a law student, and he used those mental conjuring tricks to pass his exams? Even singing the facts can make them sneak their way into your memory. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creative revision, so don’t restrict yourself by just staring at textbooks the whole time.
Finding the balance between work and rest is important. Mental concentration declines after around 30 minutes, so break up revision into half-hour chunks. When your time’s up, have a stretch and make a cup of tea or do something physical to reset your concentration levels. Avoid other forms of mental stimulus, like TV or reading, because it might undo whatever revision you’ve just done.
ARGUE AND STORY TELL
Try differentiating similar facts by creating a mini-argument or story. This works like a memory technique known as ‘linking’, where each thing you remember is linked to the next through vivid imagery. The aim is to grab the facts you need within an easily-remembered narrative. That way, they’ll be quickly to hand when you need them.
IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
Revision is more like a marathon rather than a sprint. Remembering your final goal can help, but it’s also about taking it one step at a time. Sometimes looking at the entirety of what you have ahead of you can seem daunting, but if you break it down into manageable sections that you can tackle one at a time it makes it seem all the more possible. A great way to do this is to create a plan that maps out your end goals with easy to achieve checkpoints along the way. Set it up where you can see it and mark off when you reach certain milestones, for when the going gets tough.
If you’ve done quality revision, treat yourself. This can help to reinforce what you’ve learned by creating a pleasant memory to associate with the learning. It also allows to create personal targets for yourself: finish swotting this module and you get a bit of cake, complete a full practice test in timed conditions and you can go to the pub with your mates to talk about anything other than revision. How’s that for motivation?
FIND A STUDY BUDDY
Two minds are better than one, especially when the pressure’s on. Teaming up with someone during revision can be a great way of boosting morale and refreshing your brain with a different perspective. Or it can get the competitive juices flowing, if that’s what motivates you. It also helps to discuss things out loud, rather than just cramming it into your own head.
Having a recap is a great way of consolidating what you’ve learned. If you don’t have a friend you’re studying with, try recapping out loud to yourself as if you were talking your revision through with someone. This might make you look a bit mad, but it can often really help you cement key facts in your mind, or lets you see things differently.
Make sure you stay focused during this time. Keeping to a routine will help create momentum to carry you right through until your final exam. Things like regular bedtimes will help your body cope with the stresses more easily, and a tidy space for you to revise in will mean less distractions to clutter your mind.
BE CALM, BE CONFIDENT
As you near an exam, instead of worrying, know that you’ve done your best. Think back on how well you’ve used your revision time and congratulate yourself on being so productive. It can be easy to let the anxiety of exams feel overwhelming, so remain focused on the moment; face each exam one at a time and worry about the next one after this one. And once they’re all done, stop worrying. No matter the outcome, you can’t change it now so there’s no point in dwelling on it.
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