Eek – it’s exam time! Perhaps you’re a sensible student, who starts studying early. Perhaps you prefer the pressure that comes with cramming. Whatever your swotting style, there are many tips and techniques that can help you to feel better preparedPair these revision tips with focus and determination, and you’ll be well on your way to flying through your exams with ease.


One of the most important factors in exam success is knowing when to start your revision. Many people put it off until the last minute and then panic. They won’t do very well!
It is much better to start too early than too late. You have the option of taking days off here and there if you start early but if you start late then you will find it very difficult to make up the time.
The main methods of revision tend to be either reading through the subject, writing notes on the subject, doing past questions and exam papers or a mixture of all three. Each of these methods has its good and its bad points but none of them provide a fool proof method of making sure you know everything you need to know. In the next chapter I describe my ‘100% Revision Method’ which I have used and consider to be one of the best. Give it a try and see what you think.

But first some revision tips…

Don’t let people tell you how to revise. Your lecturers are bound to make suggestions and some may be quite insistent that you follow their methods to the letter. Take their advice by all means but if you find a method of revising that suits you and seems to work then stick to it. Only you are in a position to decide on the method that suits you best.
Start your revision at least 2-3 months before your exams are due to start. This will ensure that you won’t have a last minute rush and you will be able to take the odd day off without upsetting your revision programme.
Don’t spend hours and hours a day revising. If you start in plenty of time then two to three hours of revision a day should be ample to get you prepared for the exams.

Be disciplined in your work and don’t keep putting your revision off. If you find it difficult to get down to work then set aside a couple of hours at the same time each day for revision and make sure you stick to them whatever happens. If necessary get a friend or relative to make sure you keep at it. Making your work part of a regular routine makes it easier to get it done and out of the way rather than having it hanging over you all day.
The human mind is only capable of concentrating and absorbing information efficiently for 30-45 minutes at a time. So revise for a bit, then take a short break, then do another spell of revision, then break again and so on. This will be much more effective than sitting down and trying to work for hours upon end. Remember the quality of your revision is just as important as the quantity.

Be wary of revision timetables. You certainly shouldn’t spend hours designing one as I’ve seen some people do. Personally I’m not keen on revision timetables because people generally allocate equal amounts of time to each subject without thinking about how much work really needs to be done. In practice you will find that some subjects need less work whilst others need more. For instance you may be very good at Maths and find it easy but not so good when it comes to learning foreign vocabulary. As you revise you will also find that the time you think you need to spend on a subject will vary as you hit and subsequently overcome problems. By all means use a timetable to discipline yourself into doing the revision but be flexible with the times allocated to each subject.
Make sure that the subjects you are less fond of get just as much, if not more attention than those you like. The very fact that you dislike a subject probably means that you aren’t very good at it. If anything you should leave your favourite subjects to last.

A small amount of daily revision adds up to a large amount over a period of time. For example, if you are learning vocabulary for a foreign language exam then to learn 100 new words in one go is very difficult whereas learning 3 or 4 words a day for a month takes virtually no time at all, (especially if you make use of spare moments on the bus or in the car).
Try and create the right atmosphere in which to work. Bright lights and loud music can only be a distraction but subtle lighting, (e.g. a desk lamp with other lights turned down), and, if you like music, then something playing quietly in the background, can help concentrate the mind on the work in front of you and block out other distractions.

Many people will tell you that you can’t work effectively with music playing. I would dispute this – I always had background music on whilst I was revising simply because it added a bit of interest to a very tedious task. I believe that if you make the process of revising more pleasant, then, it can only be beneficial in the long run. Similarly if you have favourite foods then feel free to occasionally ‘snack out’ whilst revising. Once again the better you feel, the better you will work.
Split each subject into different topics for revision purposes. For example Physics topics might be electrical circuits, wave motion, Newton’s laws etc. Revise each topic separately, (although some may overlap). In the exam questions will often be put together in much the same way. Having revised topic by topic you will find it easier to recall the points relevant to your answer. This revision technique really becomes useful when tackling more complex questions since it enables you to think clearly about the different subject areas involved.

Make as much use as possible of past exam questions, assignments, homework and tests. Every time you work through a question you are rehearsing for the exam and increasing your understanding of the subject, as well as fixing the vital points more firmly in your memory.
Try and get used to the way in which questions are asked by looking through past papers. Try to work out exactly what they are looking for in the answer. Working through model answers, (which your lecturer will hopefully be able to provide), is an extremely effective way of finding out exactly what the examiner is looking for in order to award full marks for the question.

Try and make use of a variety of sources of information in your revision of a subject, e.g. textbooks, library books, revision aids etc. This will give you a different viewpoint of the subject and can often help you make sense of things that were previously puzzling you.
Find out the format of the exam. For instance how many papers are there, how many questions you will have to answer, what sort of questions to expect – essay, multiple choice, short answer etc. Most of this information can be obtained from your lecturers and from past papers but you could also try ringing the examination board and asking them. (Remember that these things change from year to year). The more you know about the exam beforehand, the less of a surprise it will be on the day which immediately improves your chances of doing well.

Find out what information you will be supplied with in the exam. For example you are often supplied with mathematical tables and formulae. It is silly to waste time learning things which you will find you are given in the exam.
If you know the examiner, i.e. it is an internal exam and your teacher or lecturer is setting or marking the exam, then try and find out their views on the subject, or their favourite topics. Browse through any books they may have written. It is amazing how many hints and tips you can pick up if you keep your eyes and ears open. They often drop them themselves simply because they want their students to do well. They sometimes don’t even realise they’re doing it! Listen out for phrases such as “don’t worry – it’s not important” or “you won’t be tested on this” and take notice. Remember that this person is setting or marking your exam.
If possible revise all your subjects fully – every time you leave something out of your revision you risk the chance of losing marks. Many exam questions are designed to cover a number of topics. If you haven’t revised fully then you could find yourself unable to complete a question or even worse, completely unable to attempt a question. This automatically makes it more difficult for you to do well.

Never base your revision on predictions of questions. Whilst you might occasionally be lucky this is a guaranteed way of doing badly. Try to do as much general revision as possible – then you can predict questions all you like because you will be capable of answering them all. Predicting questions and using the prediction to determine what you revise will limit the number of questions you are able to answer if your predictions turn out to be wrong. Remember that when the exam is set the examiners take no notice of the questions asked in previous years and therefore the idea that if a certain topic didn’t appear last year means that it will appear this year is completely unfounded. The only sure way of doing well is to revise fully.

Beware of revising at the last minute. If you have to then it means that your revision programme has not been completed and that you don’t feel confident about what you have already revised. Unfortunately last minute revision is not normally terribly beneficial apart for fixing a few facts into your short-term memory. Your time at this stage is much better spent casually reading through the revision notes you have already made and mentally preparing for the exam rather than starting on something new. The shear stress of trying to learn something new so close to the exam will just heighten your anxiety and make you nervous. The more you try to learn, the more you will find you don’t know and the more anxious you will become. So start your revision in plenty of time and keep an eye on your progress. Anything else is self-destructive.


  1. Start your revision early.
  2. Plan your revision and monitor your progress.
  3. Revise regularly for a few hours at a time.
  4. Be disciplined.
  5. Create a good atmosphere in which to work.
  6. Revise each subject topic by topic.
  7. Make use of as many sources of information as possible.
  8. Listen out for hints and tips.
  9. Revise each subject completely.
  10. Avoid last minute revision.
Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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