The Only Way Is Up!
A Public Service Announcement
Dear Year 11 and 13,
In case no one has told you yet – well done. Well done for getting through the intense, relentless bombardment of exams we like to call “mocks”. Some of you will be pleased; some of you will be disappointed; and some of you will not be surprised.
However you are feeling, mocks are not the real thing – they are there to learn from so that you can achieve your best come the glorious day.
Regardless of your work ethic and how (maybe even if) you have revised up to now, it’s not over yet. You can come back from this – and now is a good time to start.
All adults who have had to take exams, no matter how long ago, remember what it feels like– it is something that never goes away. By virtue of (lack of) time, some of us really do understand vividly what you’re going through. It was not long ago that I took my university finals; and to be honest, I am still finding summers without exams a real novelty. For over half my life, I have had exams to take; and even now I get a knot in my stomach, that feeling of impending pressure, when spring turns to summer.
It is a common misnomer that revision is an ability – either you’ve got it or you haven’t! This, though, is far from the truth. Revision is a skill: something you can learn and get better at; and one that is in everyone’s grasp.
For those of you who know me better, you might be wondering how it is I can relate to you. Perhaps you think from my CV that I found academia easy. “You are a Cambridge graduate – what would you know about finding revision difficult?” Well, I suspect a lot more than you think. I know what it is to feel overwhelmed, demoralised and sometimes, quite frankly, a bit useless! No matter what people may say, there is no such thing as a person who doesn’t need to work to succeed – no one is that clever (even if they pretend they are). What I have done though, time and again, is learn how to work through my frustrations and anxieties; and if there is anything I can truly say I’ve mastered, it’s how to revise.
So then, brace yourself for the ultimate guide to revision – Batten style!
1.) The Setting – CRUCIAL if you are planning on your revision actually working.
• Know your enemies:
✓ Put your phone away where you can’t see it. Put it on silent and stick it in a drawer/in your bag/in another room – preferably as far away from you as possible! (If you’re desperate, give it to duty house staff/your mum – that will definitely work).
✓ If you are using a device to help you revise, log out of social media apps so you don’t get notifications.
• Clear desk and hard chair – sofas, armchairs and beds = relaxed, sleepy and slow i.e. longer, less useful and more painful revision. Clear your desk of everything except what you need to revise that topic with (if you’re like me though… it might just be easier to go to the library…).
• Number of hours does NOT equal productivity!
8 hours of non-focused revision is not as good as 4 hours of really concentrated revision.
– No human being, no matter how much of a genius they are, can maintain fixed concentration for more than 40 minutes to an hour.
– Take short, regular breaks where you get up and move around. I recommend 1 hour revising (revision activity dependent – if you’re really into a mind map, for example, longer might work well) and 10 minute break.
10 minute activities personally recommended:
– go and get something to drink (but make sure it’s not always caffeine – lots of caffeine will make you feel anxious)
– walk (skip/gallop) around the house/school/garden
(Miss Batten definitely does not condone “horseplay” or running in the corridor)
– Shaun the Sheep episode (shout-out to my elder sister for passing on this tip: fabulously, they are only 7 minutes long!)
– cheeky aerobics/dance like nobody’s watching/sing your heart out session to an 80s classic (“Living on a prayer” works a treat) or 70s punk (The Clash is perfection).
– 5-7 hours, with room to ramp it up to 6-8 hours, is often about right for GCSE and A-level (depending on how well you have worked across the year).
Remember though, something is ALWAYS better than nothing. The sooner you get started, the better you feel. If the thought of 5 hours scares you, start with 3 and go from there. You can do this!
• GCSEs and A-levels are more than just remembering facts
➢ Be it sciences or humanities, you need to revise how to use the information. So, you need to revise how to categorise/interpret/argue with the information.
• Making mind-maps/revision wheels/spider diagrams are really good ways of doing this as they help you connect up the information really clearly (don’t get distracted by colouring though!).
• Flash cards and kahoots are better for purely factual recall, like learning key terminology.
➢ Don’t bite off more than you can chew but pick a small topic first and work your way through methodically. For some exams, you need to be able to connect up different topics: so start with the individual topics first; and then revise how to join them together.
➢ Re-visit information. To embed information in your long-term memory, you must review your revision.
• After revision, read over it again 3-5 days later and then again the next week. Build in 15-30 mins a day where you read over revision products you made a few days/a week ago.
• Stick key facts/quotes up where you regularly see them – on doors/walls/notice boards (this genuinely works really well, plus has the benefit of feeling amazing when you take them down after exams).
➢ Practice questions: the most satisfying and most useful revision is when you are applying the information (mindless copying achieves little). They also make the time go a lot faster and help you build up some revision material to read through. Get feedback from your teachers where you can – this means you have to re-visit it, which will help you embed it; and help you learn how to improve.
➢ Keep track of what you’ve revised: don’t obsess about over-complicated revision timetables, but make sure you have a list of what you have to know for each paper; and keep a record of what you’ve looked at to help you work out what you’re going to revise that day.
• Revision does NOT mean weeks/months of only working and doing nothing you enjoy. Each day you need things to look forward to! Aim to plan so that every day you have time to do the following:
➢ Do some exercise – when revising for my finals, I always did an hour of exercise a day. Play some football, play some cricket, or even just go for a stroll: it makes you feel better.
➢ Do something social – do something with friends/siblings/someone whose fun for an hour. If you’re at home in the holidays, this may not be so easy, but make sure you keep chatting with your friends when you’re not revising and about things which are not revision!
➢ The TV/Film/Youtube/Netflix routine: when you’re having some downtime, watch something you enjoy. Series/box sets can be great if you have the self-discipline to watch one a day/week (easier if you and family/friends start a series together). Similarly, read a book or a magazine to relax after revision – it will give you something else to think about.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be this. Ultimately, the most important element of revision is giving it a go. Once you leave school, no one is going to ask you whether or not you revised, or for how many hours – what people will do, though, is look at your CV. So give yourself the best shot you can; and just give it a whirl. What have you got to lose? The only way is up!