With an enforced period in hospital just before second year university exams I had 4 weeks to spend revising. I learned a lot about effective studying, which for someone with a low attention span (sound familiar?) was a real godsend.

Because I had little else to do I revised for about 8-9 hours a day.  But very quickly it became boring, so I had to find ways to keep up my motivation.  These are some of the tricks that I discovered – and worked.

Tell yourself you can

This is probably the most important first step of all. Most of us get anxious about exams; the media and parents all making a big deal of exams, fear of failure and letting others down is an increasing issue.  With the correct preparation, exams most students can and do succeed.  So tell yourself that exams are just part of life and that like all things in life, if you prepare properly you can succeed at them.

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

This old cliché is very true. Sitting down without any plan is a recipe for failure.  You need a timetable and a plan. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What exams come up in what order? – this can help work out what to do first
  • Which subjects am I more confident about and which am I less sure about?
  • How much time do I therefore need to allocate to different subjects? – schedule more time for the less sure ones
  • Where do I need to focus my efforts for serious learning and where can I run a quick check just to be sure I haven’t forgotten anything since those classes?

Have a daily plan; like most things revision and study requires routine to be successful.  Allocate subjects and topics a time slot in your diary showing what you will study in what time slots. Tip: it helps to print it out and put it somewhere you’ll see it all the time.

Break it up

Allocate 30 minutes time to a subject then in every 30 minute slot, focus intently on that subject for the 25 minutes. Then sit back and, without looking at the books or notes, summarise what you’ve learned in a set of 10 to 12 bullet points. This helps to consolidate what you have learned in that 25 minutes. Don’t do more than 2 sessions on any subject back-to-back or fatigue will set in.


Summarise every session

At the end of each session, summarise what you have learned and store your list somewhere you can find it quickly when you next have that subject timetabled.  It’s easy to check where you got to last time, be reminded about what you learned then and be ready to move forward.

Look at what you’ve already achieved

… as well as what’s still left to do – it’s so easy to see revision as a mountain to climb. By using 30 minute sessions and writing down what you have learned in each session, after an 8 hour day you will have between 10 and 14 sessions, summarised as short notes. So take 10 minutes at the end of each day to just go through those short sets of notes and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved today.

Take frequent breaks

But only when you have earned them.  There’s always the temptation to stop and have a drink or a biscuit after a session. “I’ll just take five minutes”.  But that five minutes turns into 15 with Facebook, Snapchat etc. and so before you know it your revision is only half the day.

Plan a start time – and then work through two sessions, take a five minute break, then work through two more sessions.

With four sessions under your belt you deserve a 30 minute break – older students revising for GCSE A Levels or college exams should be able to do four sessions, for younger children, three sessions with 5 -10 minutes between each is more sensible, at least to start.

Do another two or three sessions then a longer break.  If you’re starting first thing in the morning this might be a good time to have lunch.  Take an hour, eat something that’s not too heavy and won’t make you sleepy. Then go for a quick 15 minute walk or kick around to keep your energy levels up.  Exercise improves your brain power!

Repeat this again with an afternoon break and then a dinner break.

This all probably sounds incredibly intense and heavy going for students, but by breaking things down into 30 minute session and recapping and changing subjects frequently, it prevents the boredom setting in.

If you need a slower start, don’t increase the gaps between sessions. Do half a day not a whole day, or leave out an hour and reduce the number of sessions.  However, it’s important to keep the pattern of 25 minutes intensive study followed by 5 minute summarising, twice in each hour to establish good study habits. It pays off!