It may seem obvious that in order to get the results you deserve, you need to put in sufficient revision time. However, it can be very frustrating when you study for hours and hours but don’t see very much improvement in marks. This is usually for one of three reasons:

  • A poor understanding of the underlying material
  • Misunderstanding the question
  • Poor retention of knowledge because of anxiety or a learning difficulty


This guide will help suggest how to most effectively plan your revision in order to overcome these issues and improve your marks.

Past Papers – one of the most Important Aids to Effective Revision

Working through past papers is key to exam success. Although revising from your notes is helpful, creating the clear and precise answers that examiners are looking for is quite a different art.

Schools often supply past papers, or they can be downloaded directly from the exam boards such as AQA, Edexcel and OCRWhen working from these papers, make sure that you are referring to the same syllabus that you have been following at school. Ask your teacher for the link to the correct website if you are not sure. Ensure you use these to check that you have answered each question in sufficient detail. For example, if it is a three-mark question then there should be three points in your answer. For some subjects it is difficult to interpret the mark schemes, or you may need to have the answers explained to you. This is quite normal, and you should politely ask your schoolteacher for some extra help. If this is not forthcoming, a tutor may be able to help.

Careful Planning Really Works

Making a comprehensive revision plan that breaks down each subject and topic into small, manageable tasks is the first step towards exam success. You highlight the areas that are most difficult and tackle these first. Often, you find that the skills used to conquer the really difficult parts make everything else feel easier. By laying out a complete plan of all of your work (which could take up to two hours per subject to create) and planning the time to cover it, you can be confident that you won’t have missed anything and that you have enough spare time to deal with any unforeseen problems. It is also important to plan time for rest and relaxation.

Create a Balance between Work, Rest and Play

It’s great if you are able to put in eight hours of revision at the weekend, but regular breaks are important too.  Your brain needs time to absorb and categorise all the new information it is taking in.  You also need to strike a balance between applying your knowledge to the exam question in a timed format, and reading and making notes.

Unless it helps to reduce anxiety, there is generally little point in last minute (night before) revision. Research shows that information retained in the long-term memory is generally recalled more coherently than anything stored in the short-term memory.

Work to Deadlines, under Exam Conditions

You should get into the habit of working to a timed deadline for both individual questions and complete papers. Stop writing and see where you are when the time runs out. If you regularly find yourself finishing too early it is likely you are not answering in sufficient detail. Too late, and it is possible you do not know the material as well as you think, or you need more practice writing succinctly and, ‘getting to the point’.

Revision should be done in a quiet space that is similar to exam conditions. The more formal the surroundings the more you learn to overcome nerves. Practising completing a full paper within the allotted time is essential to train your mind to handle the necessary focus and intensity.

Use Revision Shortcuts

Preparing revision shortcuts, such as index cards is essential. Rather than reading long notes over and over it is important to condense your notes into a few trigger words that open up a cascade of relevant points and spider grams. Generally be as creative as possible and use techniques that suit your learning style. Many people learn better visually, some orally.

How to Reduce Exam Anxiety

Anxious Student

In a recent survey, more than 90% of children taking GCSE exams and A Level exams admitted to suffering from acute anxiety around exams.

A small amount of stress can be a useful trigger to boost engagement but unfamiliar feelings of anxiety and panic are counterproductive. To some degree, you can reduce stress through exercise and relaxation. Meditation and deep breathing are other useful techniques in overcoming stress, along with eating and sleeping properly. However, if you have underlying emotional or academic issues, these feelings could become overwhelming. In these cases, speak to your parents and teachers and if they are not able to understand, then a good place to seek help is MIND .

How can your schoolteacher help?

If you are not quite sure how a particular questions or topic works, don’t be scared to ask your teachers to explain it as many times as necessary. If you don’t get what you need from them, try another teacher. It can be a little daunting, especially as most teachers are generally exhausted by this stage of the term, but asking for what you need might just gain you an extra mark, so it’s important to be persistent.

Russell, one of Simply Learning Tuition's expert private tutors

Do you need a private tutor?

At some point in their exam preparation, almost everyone feels that they could do with more support. This is quite normal. Just because your friends have a tutor, it does not mean that you need one as well! However, if you routinely struggle with revision, are suffering from feelings of anxiety around your work, or just cannot get to grips with one or more subjects in particular, it could be worth bringing in a private tutor to help. Provided you are working with someone who is well matched to your character and is suitably qualified and vetted, you should see improvements in a very short space of time.

If you would like to find out if a tutor could help please get in touch.

Finally, good luck! The most important thing is to remember that even up to a few months before the exams, planning effectively and asking for help will make a big difference to your results. Many students get to university without ever really learning how to revise effectively and if you can develop good habits now, you will be ahead of the game. The resilience, grit and determination you develop through effective revision will pay dividends in your exams as well as in your future.

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