For all practical purposes, when and how you start revising for exams will, of course, depend on how well you’ve prepared your course-work in the first place.
If you’re someone who makes meticulous notes and likes to dip into them from time to time, you may be fine revising two to three weeks before the exams. Or you may feel more comfortable starting a few months in advance.
Whatever your style, how well you revise will directly affect how you fare on your exams. It’s a good idea to take a look at some new revision techniques to help you prepare more effectively, and retain information better.
Analyse Your Previous Revision Experiences
Like a good pair of jeans, there is no one-size-fits-all. What works for you in terms of revision may not work for someone else. You will need a certain degree of self-awareness to be able to gauge how much time you usually need for revision.
If you’ve never thought about it before, you may need to sit down and think back to all the big exams you’ve taken. When did you start revising for them? Did you struggle with last-minute revisions because you’d thought a month was okay for revision, only to find it wasn’t? Some people find that no matter how much time they give themselves, it just doesn’t feel like enough.
Are you one of those people or are you someone who knows exactly when you’re prepared? Your answers to these questions will help you get a better idea of when to start before a major exam like your university exams.
Start at Least a Month in Advance
The general consensus – according to many experts – is to start at least a month or more in advance. Of course, if you have attended all seminars and lectures, and you’ve kept up with weekly coursework and readings, you’ll have an easier and more stress-free time revising.
At university, you’ll need to go deeper into your subject matter than you did in high school. So you should be very well-versed in concepts, that you can then apply to whatever question is thrown at you during your exams.
If you start a month in advance, you can pace your revisions with a little bit of Netflix or leisure time. This way, you won’t be forced to cram. Cramming the night before may get you through some exams, but university exams are a different matter altogether.
Learn to Use the Pomodoro: Revise Little and Often
Even before you start preparing for exams, you should learn how to learn. According to ongoing research into learning by researchers Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski, a combination of focused learning modes and something called ‘diffused’ learning modes will help you retain what you learn better, even before you get to revision. The same rules apply to revision too.
Cramming is not useful. Instead, try to use the Pomodoro technique to devote 25-minute periods to focused learning of new concepts or revision. The Pomodoro technique is an excellent way to avoid procrastination too. There’s enough evidence to show that distributed learning is better than chunks of concentrated learning sessions.
Sleep and Exercise
Also, incorporate exercise and enough sleep into your schedule, so your brain has the time and resources to forge new connections and the concepts you learn are cemented in your mind. Some evidence suggests revising just before you go to bed is a good way to retain what you learn. Hopefully, you’ll dream about the subject.
You could also try revising and then going for a run or your favourite type of exercise a few hours after you’ve done your revision (or learning, for that matter.) Exercise and sleep are known to help the brain retain information and ideas better.
You may have found that greasy, fried foods can make you feel sluggish and unwilling to learn. On the other hand, whole foods like eggs, yoghurt, nuts, cereal, oatmeal, muesli and other such foods are excellent sources of energy, nutrients and the stimulation you need when you’re preparing for examinations. Also, stay hydrated throughout the day. Your brain will reward you with a better retaining capacity.
Your brain needs rest in between periods of learning in order to work better. In fact, you need breaks for effective revision. You’ll find this most useful in the month before your exams when you’re revising five to seven hours a day. If you’re studying for an hour, try to take a break of around five to fifteen minutes before you get back to studying again.
What do you do during your breaks? That is up to you. You could go snack on some carrot sticks if you’re hungry, do a bit of jogging to refresh your mind or play tag with your cat. Anything that will take your mind off your notes without distracting you from your studies is a good thing.
We wouldn’t recommend looking at social media unless you absolutely have to, because social media often has the effect of distracting us in subliminal ways that could interfere with your ability to get back to work with your full attention afterwards.
Create Revision Notes but Use Mixed Techniques
While your original notes are good to revise from, as the exams loom closer you may want to create some briefer notes from these. As you get more well-versed in a subject, you may find diagrams and flow charts are enough to trigger chunks of your memory about the subject.
Also, use past papers to practise as well as revision guides. Breaking up your revision techniques (along with using the clock) will keep you from the monotony of revising mountains of your notes.
These are a few tips that you can adapt for your own university exam revisions. Find the technique that works for you, and don’t chain yourself to the desk for a month before your exams.
You may also want to practise staying calm – you could use meditation, mindfulness, yoga, visualization and other techniques to trick yourself into getting calmer. This will come in useful even during the exams.
And whatever you do, reward yourself for a good revision session, whether it’s with a piece of chocolate or an episode of your favourite Netflix show. Good luck!