International School History - Skills - Sourcework

IB Final Examination Revision for Beginners – Top 10 tips


1. Start now. Most courses are coming to an end; teachers ought to be building revision sessions into your lessons.  Review your mocks. Identify areas of weakness and gaps in your notes. Make sure you understand the syllabus and the precise nature of the exam papers. Draw up a revision timetable in consultation with your teachers (see point 6 below). Find a good place to work and set it up so that it is comfortable with minimum distractions. Get into a new routine and start to make sacrifices

      2. Discipline and sacrifice. The next couple of months are all about sacrifice. You no longer have free time. If you are not working, it is because you have allocated that time for relaxation and breaks. Revision is never the most interesting thing you could be doing at any particular moment, but you only get one chance at this. Revision should be hard work (point 5) and your revision timetable won’t always be easy to stick to, so you have to be disciplined. Get used to saying no to social invitations (help each other on this) and look forward to the long summer and university.

3. Balance and breaks. Revise in 30-45 minute sessions.  Take regular short breaks and reward yourself.  If you have a whole day for revision divide it up into three or four parts and give yourself one part free from work.  Make the most of your free time (sorry, ‘breaks’).  Make sure you spend time on all your subjects not just those you enjoy. Try to avoid having a break when working on something you don’t enjoy or find difficult. Quit while you’re ahead, it makes it easier to come back to your work after the break.

4. Know your learning style. If you’re not sure yet, try out different techniques.  Have you tried revision cards? spider diagrams? lists? post-its? mnemonics? podcasts?  Find out how others revise.  Ask your teacher for subject specific advice.  Look for tips on the internet.  You probably have the information you need in your head already, but you need to be able to retrieve that information when needed and under pressure. Find out what works best for you.

5. Active learning. Spending lots of time on revision does not guarantee success.  It is better to spend 15 minutes intensively revising than 60 minutes reading notes whilst watching a film. Just because it helps your conscience, doesn’t mean it’s doing you good.  Active revision means writing and thinking, testing your memory and understanding, and ultimately practising exam papers (point 7).  The internet can be a good source for revision materials but is too much of a distraction for most normal human beings.  I have checked my emails three times since I started writing this.

6. Use your teachers (and family and friends). Teachers were all successful students in the dim and distant past. Teachers have years of experience of helping people like you to succeed.  They are on your side and want you to do well.  You are in their most important class in the school.  So use them. Plead with them to test you (!), ask for advice or more past-papers, examiners reports, revision topic lists, more past-papers, suggested revision guides and websites (note of caution) and more past-papers.  Also talk to family and friends, if nothing else they will better understand what you are going through and might be more sympathetic to your bad moods.

7. Past papers. Before you sit your driving test it is usually a good idea to actually drive a car before.  The best form of revision (but also the one that needs the most discipline) is to do past paper questions. Why not set your alarm clock early and do a question as soon as you get out of bed?  Your brain will have been working on your revision all night, so this is a good test of what actually went in the night before. Recall activities like this are also the best way of reinforcing your knowledge and understanding. If you can’t be this disciplined, ask your teacher to test you regularly according to a revision schedule where topics are outlined in advance from now to the exam.

8. Examiner’s reports. Past papers are so important I want to write it twice (I also want to have a round ‘10 tips’).  IB examiners reports with past papers are also essential revision guides.  These guides will detail exactly what previous students actually did wrong in the exam.  This is as close as you get to copying from a student in examination without breaking the rules.  Most students/schools do not seem to use them, make sure you do.

9. Interpret questions.  Lots of them. This is about past papers again.  Students fail exams because of two main problems:  i) they don’t know anything ii) they don’t understand what the question means.  Student revision tends to focus on the first of these problems and not the second. Somewhere on the examiners’ report (for whatever exam, in whatever year) it will say that ‘students lost marks because they did not answer the question set’.  My history students will be familiar with my marginal ATBQ comments in this context. Not answering the question is not simply a result of student carelessness (what examiners assume) but because questions are not always well worded or obvious. Understanding an exam question (command terms etc.)  is an art form that needs practice.  No need to answer the whole question, write a plan. Ask your teacher to check your understanding and/or persuade him/her to do exam question decoding sessions.

10. Relax and stay healthy. You are about to do (probably) the most important exams of your life, it is easy to get stressed. Therefore, there is not point trying to make it worse by eating badly, not sleeping enough and not getting any exercise. Fish and fresh fruit and veg apparently help you to revise; if McDonalds made you intelligent they would advertise the fact. Don’t drink coffee to stop yourself feeling sleepy in the evening, try sleeping instead. And remember it will all be over very soon.





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