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When should I start revising for my exams?

Revision Planning

George Turnbull (Exam Doctor) gives expert video advice on: How long can I revise without a break?; Should I revise all the difficult subjects first?; Should I revise with friends? and more...

When should I start revising for my exams?

You should really start revising for exams from the very beginning of your course. I don't know how many people actually do that, but as you go through your course you should look at past examination papers to do with the topic that you're studying at that time. You should be keeping notes and trying to abbreviate them, so that they'll be easy to go over later on. Most people don't start revising at that stage, but certainly don't leave it too late.

How long before my exams should I work out a revision timetable?

You should have an idea about your revision timetable right from the very beginning. Most courses are for two years, and certainly the last year of the course, when your examinations are coming up, you should work out a programme of how long you have, what you've got to cover in that time, and how you're going to cover it. Some people make a very elaborate programme. It really depends on the individual. I wasn't of that sort; I didn't like to make an elaborate programme. Sometime students spend so much time making out the programme, and colouring it in, et cetera, that they don't actually get down to studying. So, in terms of your revision timetable, you should do whatever suits yourself, but do make a programme. It doesn't matter how lacking in information it is, as long as the crucial parts are there; of dates, what you've got to do, and the time in which you've got to achieve it.

How many hours a day should I revise?

If you're very bright, you probably don't need to revise at all, and if you're not so bright, then you'll need to spend more time revising. Most of us fit into the latter category, and we need to spend quite a considerable time on exam revision. It will vary, depending on the student. You need to see what progress you're making. If you've got an exam timetable and are keeping to that timetable, then that's the best way of judging whether you're making the progress that you should be or not, and revising for enough hours a day. It's important to do past examination papers, and that's one of the ways of judging how much revision you need to do. If you sit down and do a timed test, how well you do would be a good indication as to whether you're working hard enough or not.

How long can I revise without a break?

How long you can revise without a break depends on the individual. Normally, people would advise doing twenty minute sessions before having a break. If you're really interested in something, you can work on it for an hour or longer and not really notice that you've revised for longer than twenty minutes. The real thing to do is to try to get interested. Once you're interested, then you will then be motivated and you will work as long as you need to work, and you will see whether you're making progress or not.

How much time should I put aside for breaks and meals?

I think you've got to be careful with breaks and meals when revising because they're really tempting to be longer than ten minutes. Ten minutes seems to be quite a good time to relax a little bit and move about. Be careful not to get caught up in television programs, or anything else of that sort, because you can then spend half an hour or an hour. Decide beforehand how long you're going to spend for your revision break, and if it's a lunch break don't break for more than twenty minutes. Be very careful with breaks, don't take too many of them and go back and start revising again. Make sure you keep the working periods up, and keep the breaks down to a minimum.

What should I do during breaks in revision?

It's really up to the individual how to use breaks from revision. You might want to run around the garden and shout at the neighbours, or something of that sort just to relieve frustration. You might just be quite happy to enjoy a hobby that you're interested in. You might want to watch a television program, but you'll know how long that lasts, and make sure you don't spend any longer at it. Going out for a walk is a good idea. Stretching, getting a bit of exercise, going for a swim - anything of that sort that takes you from your studying. If it's a longer revision break, of course, for swimming and such activities. You should have relaxation as well as time to work. The important thing is when you're working, you work, and when you're relaxing, you relax. The two don't mix. Make sure you don't mix them because you won't make any progress with your revision that way.

Should I revise all the difficult subjects first?

When revising, you should have a mixture of more and less difficult subjects to cover at a certain time. In an evening you should probably cover about three subjects, and I would recommend that you start with the difficult ones, the ones you don't want to do, and spend an appropriate time on that. Then move on to revising the subjects you do like and end up with the one you like best and that way you will have tackled the difficult ones. The tendency is to avoid the difficult subjects and that's not doing yourself any favours. Have a mixture so you have something to look forward to. From the difficult first subject, you are going to get onto revising subjects you find a bit easier.

Should I spend more time on the difficult subjects?

If you've got a difficult subject, it may be difficult for you, but not for somebody else. If you're got at mathematics, it is easy, but if you're not so good at it, you find it difficult. And if you find it difficult and you want to succeed with it, then you'll have to work harder at it. It is like anything else in life. So if you want to succeed in that subject, you will have to spend longer. Who knows, you might even get to like it, and then you might find it is easy.

Should I revise with friends?

Possibly not, but I wouldn't ban it completely. As long you're not kidding yourself, if you are actually working with a friend and you're making progress then that's fine but if you're just having a get-together and you're not doing any revision then that's less productive. There's nothing wrong with revising with other people, in fact it's very good. Choose the poeple you revise with carefully and try to make sure they are evenly matched with yourself, so you don't spend time tutoring people or they don't spend time tutoring you, unless that's what you're expecting of the session.

Where should I revise?

You should revise wherever you can revise, generally speaking. A quiet room somewhere is a good place to revise. People would advise you not to revise with music or the radio on, but many people do nowadays. The important thing is if you find that you're doing revision somewhere and you're actually working in that time, then that's where you should revise. It's probably quite good to change the place that you revise in. Instead of staying at home all the time, do some revision in school, or perhaps go to the local library or even into the garden. Personally, I can't revise in the garden because even the birds distract me, but other people love to work in the garden. If it works for you, then that's what you should do.

Whats the best time of day to revise?

Well, that will vary. Some people might want to do it late in the evening, I think other people would advise that you should have a good night's sleep and you shouldn't be doing things late at night. Everybody is different in that respect, so whatever time is best for you. I think one important thing though is that you don't need to do the revision in a block. You can get lots of time during the day. If you spend an extra half hour by getting up a half hour earlier in the morning, over five days you've gained two and a half hours study time, and that might mean that you could have an evening off. Doing it in little chunks is probably better than doing it in a full four-hour session, or even attempting to do that.