Great Strategies for Revision

Virtually everyone knows that revision is extremely important. A lot of students put considerable work into it, but many do not do it effectively. Just as students do in other areas of their studies, it is vital to do some advance planning in terms of how you should approach your revision and organize and/or manage your time.

Revision serves the following primary purposes:

  • To better understand the particular topic you are being examined on;
  • To memorize all the material you have understood and learnt;
  • To get some practice in planning and answering questions.

To be able to achieve these objectives, it is necessary to arrange essay papers, notes, handouts, and so on into a set of coherent and convenient materials. Below, we offer advice on how to:

  • develop a plan for revision
  • use effective techniques for revising
  • continuously revise (throughout the year).

Developing a Plan for Revision Work

As with many things, the key to success lies in the effort you put into planning. The following are a few tips to help you on your way:

  • Devise a Timetable for Revising
    It is advisable to begin revising a few weeks (five to six weeks at least) before the due date of your exam(s). Set realistic goals taking account of the time available to you, and do not forget to factor in periodic breaks.
  • It is Best if Subjects are Balanced
    Divide your topics up, allowing one per day, and ensure you have sufficient time for all the items that need revising. Think about the time available to you and divide it up among your different subjects/courses. Try not to overlook any subject or courses you especially like or dislike.
  • Identify Main Topics
    Take a look at each of your courses and work out which subjects or topics you should revise. At minimum, it is recommended you cover double the number of topics, as there are questions to be answered, which means, for example, covering six topics for a three-question exam. Topics should be selected according to:
    • Course content
    • Previous examination or test papers
    • Your specific abilities and interests
  • Revision Materials Should Be Carefully Arranged 
    Students usually have a lot of notes, which all need to be reviewed during revision time. For example, you may have notes from classes, lectures, seminars, notes you jotted down from journals and books, essay papers with tutor comments/feedback, course handouts, reference materials, and all sorts of photocopied notes and excerpts from various texts. Additionally, it is likely you will need course materials, textbooks, previous test papers, and so on. Arrange all materials properly in plenty time.

Revision Techniques

Revision is a task that can be approached in three ways or by three main methods. These are:

  1. Taking notes/making notes
  2. Remembering what one has learnt or understood
  3. Practicing and writing model assignment answers

Below, each of these methods is examined in more detail:

1. Taking Notes/Making Notes

Please refer to the Note Making Section on’s website for more information on how to make worthwhile notes.

Over the course of an academic term or year, most students take and make a lot of notes from classes, lectures, stuff they have read, seminars, and so on. The primary objective at revision time is to go back over these notes and find ways to memorize them:

  • Organize all notes so that they are logical, clear, well-ordered and easy to navigate;
  • Read these notes through, highlighting various themes and important keywords;
  • Devise a ‘personal’ color code system whereby you designate a particular color to a certain theme or topic. This is a good way for compartmentalizing items and committing them to memory.
  • Rewrite your notes in more concise form, narrowing all content and materials down into more digestible and manageable chunks (try getting them down to index-card size). This transforms notes into a memory aid rather than an entire bank of arguments and facts.  
  • Some students find concept maps, mind maps, and spider diagrams to be an effective way of summing-up an abundance of information into one page. These are also good visual memory aids too.

Less is usually more where note taking/making is concerned for the purpose of revising!

2. Committing to Memory

This task is unavoidable if you want to succeed in exams. Essentially, it is important for each student to figure out a method that works well for them. The following are a few approaches you may find useful:

  • Choose a topic from your notes and look at it three or four times. This technique will fix those topics in your memory better than doing so once.
  • Envisage a set of notes in your mind’s eye before looking at it. As you see them, anything you have omitted or forgotten will come to your notice.
  • The Cornell system for taking notes is a good aid to memorizing materials. This technique involves covering up half a page of in-depth notes while you focus on recall using questions, keywords and key phrases.
  • Try the mnemonics technique. This involves using the initials or letters from a word or phrase to trigger links and associations.
    • Here is an example. If the main topic concerns “How Hitler Rose to Power.’ you could make the word or term ‘BEEF’ to remember some facts from your material:
      B = Berlin
      E = Economic climate
      E = Europe
      F = Fascism
  • Picture your topic.
    • Creating a picture of a topic in your mind is a good way of memorizing it.
  • Use diagrammatic techniques such as mind maps, spider diagrams and so on because these provide strong visual stimulus, making it easier to remember lists, important points, etc. 
  • Once notes are reduced to the minimum, do some eleventh-hour revision. Trying to learn fresh material though is not helpful because this method can replace already-learnt materials and cause panic and/or confusion.

3. Writing Model Essay/Assignment Answers

Figuring out answers to expected questions should take priority when revising. This method helps to memorize materials and develop critical thinking skills as well as providing exam practice. 

Use of Previous Exam Papers

Check out the steps for writing an essay on’s website. The steps outlined below can help with practice:

  • Analysis of the essay/exam question
    Look at previous exam/test papers, think about how the questions are worded. Can you see the keywords or problem? What method or approach do you think the examiner is looking for? Try rewording the essay or exam questions to figure out the precise meaning.
  • Come up with ideas
    Most likely, you will need five to six main points, ideas, or arguments to answer a typical exam questions. Sometimes, these will be clear from your notes and reading materials. If they are not, try and come up with ideas using the “who,” “why,” “what,” “when” and “where” technique.
  • Authors’ opinions and controversial ideas
    Take a given topic and establish what the widely held thoughts on it are among experts. What main developments do they share? If you are able to sum these up in short form, it will help you figure out your own position and improve the quality of your answer/essay.
  • Look at all angles
    Certain topics can be dealt with from one specific viewpoint. However, if you introduce other perspectives (if relevant or appropriate), this technique often impresses examiners.  
  • Double-check your work
    Go back over the outline or rough answers you wrote to check for irrelevancies, errors, and ways to strengthen your argument.
  • Practice writing in an exam environment
    Try writing answers at exam speed. It can help to get the opinion of other people on the answers you write. Ask your tutors or friends to help.

Revision is an All-Year-Around Process

It is not a good idea to leave revision until the last minute and then try to cram in several months’ worth of work. It is quite easy to forget earlier material as course topics move from one to the next. It may seem there is little revision time as you go along but try to stay ahead throughout the entire year:

  • Write notes so that they are well organized and easy to use. File everything neatly and label everything clearly. Make lists of references and what you have read. Compile lists of previous exam questions and papers.
  • Make a note of outstanding things and/or any important issues that are still to be investigated.
  • Try and prevent work from piling up. Catching up may prove impossible very close to an exam. 
  • Get into the habit of periodically reading your notes. Use these as overviews of what you have covered up to certain points. Establish links between what has been covered and what is still to cover.
  • Should you find a part of your course particularly confusing, put time aside to review your course notes, important reading materials, and past papers. Avoid leaving everything until the moment has passed. Try to understand your entire course and discuss aspects with your tutors.
  • Final course lectures can be a good source of useful tips.

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