6-point plan to stress-free revision

By Matt Burdett, 21 February 2020

This article is about how to plan your revision for Geography.

We all need to revise for our exams, but how to start, keep going and finish in time is often a bit bewildering. Most of us try to make a revision schedule and put in each subject to a particular time or day, but what we actually do in that time period is quite vague. We also waste a lot of time doing things that seem like revision but actually aren’t. This 6-point revision plan will help you to avoid procrastination at the times that matter most.

So, here’s my 6 point revision plan to help you structure your revision.

  • Step 1: Make a revision plan (Week 1)
    • Work out how much time you’ve got left, and how you’ll use it
  • Step 2: Check the syllabus (Week 1)
    • Make sure you know the language of the syllabus – it’s what the examiner will be using too
  • Step 3: Collate resources (Weeks 1 and 2)
    • Get all your materials together so you’re not surprised later. This includes catching up sessions that you missed.
  • Step 4: Identify weak areas (Week 2)
    • Work out what you really need to prioritise, and make sure that is a focus of your day-to-day revision timetable.
  • Step 5: Make notes and other materials (Week 3 onwards)
    • Ensure you do more than read and highlight. Make notes, flashcards, mind maps. Answer the questions on each page from this website.
  • Step 6: Do past papers and mark them yourself (Week 3 onwards)
    • Try doing timed papers, then wait 24 hours and mark your own work before asking your teacher to check you understood what was required.

Step 1: Make a revision plan

This first step should only take you an hour or two.

Unless you have just a couple of days left, you should make a revision plan in the form of a timetable. Here’s a few tips on the timetable:

  • Do your timetable(s) on paper – at least the final bit where you fill in what you’ll do in each revision period. It will help to avoid distraction by feeling like you need to open your laptop all the time to check your plans.
  • Have two timetables. The first is a week-by-week timetable up to the date of the exam. The second is a day-to-day timetable.

The week-by-week timetable

Make a weekly timetable with the dates of the start of each week across the top, and spaces to write your subjects down the left. It might look something like this:

In the table, write down what you will do to revise each of those subjects (see Step 2 onwards, below). Ideally you’ll have a mix of activities each week across different subjects

The day-to-day timetable

At the start of each week, you’ll need to transfer your week-by-week plan into a plan for the week. It might look something like this:

Some people find it helpful to split the day into specific times, like 9-940am. It’s a good idea to have a rough plan. But it can be stressful to limit yourself to an exact time. Some sessions might be easier than expected, while others might be harder – so allow a bit of flexibility in the length of the revision period.

Most importantly, don’t try to do every subject every day. Have at least one day off between revision sessions for each subject, as this can help your longer term memory recall. It will also stop you from overloading yourself with too much work.

Other top tips for your day-to-day plan:

  • Revision sessions should be a sensible concentration period, which is usually somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes
  • Aim for just two or three revision sessions per day while you still have a structured day such as school, college or lectures. Put one in the morning before the day starts if you have time, and the others when you get home.
  • If you are lucky enough to have study leave, you should have between 6 and 9 revision sessions per day
  • In this revision planner, you can be specific about the topic you’ll study (e.g. Paper 1, Urban Environments’) but you should also colour code your planning. On my example you can see some ideas of the kind of activities you should do.

Step 2: Check the syllabus

Step 2 will take you an hour or so for each subject you study.

The examiner will use the syllabus, and so should you. By knowing what’s on the syllabus, you can avoid wasting time revising non-exam stuff, and avoid accidentally missing a section of the course.

A good way to use the syllabus is traffic lighting. Highlight in green things you are comfortable with; yellow things you’re not sure about; and red things you haven’t got a clue about. Then, re-write the red and yellow points and add them into your revision timetable somewhere. It will help you to focus your time later on, and it ensures you are reading the syllabus carefully.

The main benefit of using the syllabus is to know the language of the exam board. For example, if the syllabus asks about sustainability, it might give some guidance on what type (economic? social? environmental?), so you know what you should focus your revision on.

Your textbooks are often written for a specific course, but their coverage is often uneven. There might be topics that are dealt with in a lot of detail but have never had a question in the exam. And there are often topics which textbooks don’t cover very well, especially if the syllabus has a new point that hasn’t been in the previous textbooks. Therefore, always use the syllabus, as well as a textbook if you have one.

Remember, your teacher might not always have taught the syllabus in the same order, so this step is a great opportunity to re-organise your ideas and make sure you understand the requirements.

Step 3: Collate resources

Step 3 might take just a few minutes if you’ve been well organised throughout your course, or it might take a whole week if you’re just getting yourself sorted. Either way, it’s really important so don’t miss this step.

To ‘collate’ means to gather together and organise. You need to make sure you have everything you need.

For many students, this is the point at which the panic sets in. It’s when you realise that you really didn’t pay attention at all in the summer term and now you have no idea where to get resources. But, don’t worry – you have plenty of time!

Collating your notes doesn’t mean reading them in detail. It means that you know where they are and they are ready to use. It’s really important to make sure that you have got materials on everything you plan to revise, even if you didn’t write them yourself. Otherwise you will waste time later trying to find them. It’s also good to go to your teacher well in advance and ask if they have materials on any missing points, rather than ask them at the last minute.

I recommend ensuring your resources are printed out at this stage. If you don’t have many notes and are going to use websites like this one to help you, then make sure you have a document with all the relevant links that you plan to use.

Step 4: Identify weak areas

This is where you really start to work, so this step might take anything from a week to a month.

Identifying your weak areas is hopefully something you’ve already done during Step 2: Check the syllabus. Now it’s time to work on them.

If you’ve followed the previous steps, you’ll have notes on everything (even if they’re from a third-party source like this website), and you’ll know what you need to learn. It’s time to put these topics into the day-to-day revision timetable and focus on them.

The chances are that your weak areas are also everyone else’s weak areas. In which case, this is a good time to get talking. Find out from friends if they have the same problem, and see if you can organise get-togethers where you learn from each other. You could also ask your teacher to run a revision session on these specific areas.

Step 5: Make notes and other materials

Hopefully you’re feeling quite confident about the course by now, so it’s time to get your head down. Ideally this step will take you two to three months, but you can do it in much less if you have run out of time.

We all know what revision looks like for most people: reading notes, highlighting, and trying to remember what was written.

None of that will work wonders for you. It’s a great start – but it won’t make a huge difference.

This is because reading and highlighting are passive revision strategies. You don’t actually do anything with the information – you just hope that it is going in.

To make your revision count, you need active revision strategies. These are things like:

  • Funnel notes
  • Flash cards (using questions, not just prompts)
  • Mind maps
  • Concept maps

There’s more detail about each of these elsewhere on this site. The thing that each of them has in common is that you have to do something with your notes. There’s a basic feature of all active revision strategies:

  1. Read
  2. Cover
  3. Write
  4. Check

It’s the ‘cover’ bit that’s really important: by not having the information there to see, you force your brain to strain!

Step 6: Do past papers and mark them yourself

Take an hour or two a week to do past papers.

Doing past papers is great. And your teacher will claim to be really happy when you bring them in for marking.

In truth, your teacher will loathe the fact that you have given them extra marking. And more importantly, it isn’t necessarily that great for you either. When you give the marking to someone else, you’re back to passive revision instead of active revision. The solution? Wait 24 hours, mark your own work, and then give the papers to your teacher for checking.

This means your teacher isn’t really marking your paper, they’re marking your marking, if that makes sense. You have done the hard work of both answering the question, and interpreting the mark scheme.

  • If your teacher agrees with your mark, it shows that you have understood the requirements of the examiner and where you are within those requirements. Great – revision is working!
  • If your teacher disagrees with your mark, it shows that you don’t truly understand what the examiner is looking for. This is where you go to your teacher and ask them to explain further. Great – revision is working!

Secret Step 7: Finishing your revision

There’s a secret final step to finishing your revision. It’s called ‘stop’.

You need to be aware of when you have done as much revision as you can, and when it’s worth stopping. A lot of students stress themselves out trying to cram the night before the exam. If you’ve got as far as reading this, you’ve probably started revision early. Last minute revision is unlikely to make a big difference. By all means go over your notes one last time, but try to finish your revision by looking at the huge amount of work you’ve done and tell yourself how prepared you are.

Finally – don’t burn your notes, or throw them away. Future students might be willing to pay you for them!

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