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.
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
4. Know your learning
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
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.
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.
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
10. Relax and stay
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.