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How to revise effectively

How to revise effectively

Everyone has a unique way of approaching revision. Some will get creative with mind maps, colour coding and diagrams; others will stick to trusty flashcards and past papers. It can help to understand what type of learner you are: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic (touching and doing). There are plenty of online quizzes you can take to determine what learning style suits you best. From there, you can decide how to tackle your revision.


How do you stay focused when revising?


Tidy desk, tidy mind

Simple yet oh-so-powerful advice: keep your workspace tidy. If your place of work is clean and organised, chances are, you’ll be more likely to focus. And the science backs this up. Studies suggest working in a cluttered environment can make it more challenging to concentrate on tasks (1).  Dedicate 5 minutes to establishing some order to your study station at the end of each day.


Master healthy screen hygiene

Like most students, you’re probably relying on screens to aid your revision at the moment. And while having access to endless material via the Internet is great for your brain, it’s not so great for your eyes. No, staring into screens won’t turn your eyes square, but it may affect your vision a little (not to mention your sleep). Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to protect your peepers while you prep:

  • Consider your font size. To prevent digital eye strain (enter eye discomfort, blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes), increase the text size on every device you use for revision. This is especially important if you use a smaller laptop or tablet.

  • The 20:20:20 rule. We understand that achieving ‘flow’ is the golden aim of any revision session. But don’t forget to come up for air when tapping away on your devices. Every 20 minutes have a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away. Taking these short breaks can make a huge difference to your eye health.

  • Blink more. It may sound strange, but don’t forget to blink! Gazing at screens often reduces the number of times you blink, which can dehydrate your eyes. You could always leave a sticky note on your laptop to remind you to blink!

  • Adjust screen positioning. According to Specsavers, phones should ideally be one foot away from the user, while laptops and computer screens should be two feet away (2). You may also want to position your screens just below eye level since the act of looking up can widen the pupils and dry eyes out quicker.

  • Stay hydrated. Always keep a big bottle of water close by during revision sessions. Aside from fighting fatigue and keeping you energised, water is also vital for eye health and may help prevent dry eyes when using screens to study.

  • Have a tech-curfew. Try to implement a strict tech-curfew 90 minutes before bed. Not only does the blue light emitted from your devices interfere with rest and inhibit the ‘sleep hormone’, melatonin, but your mind also craves some quiet from the noise of technology.

  • Fish oil. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil – contributes to the maintenance of normal vision, so it may be a useful addition at this time. Find it in: salmon.


Remove distractions

It’s much easier to procrastinate on revision if your study space is teeming with distractions. According to research, the average student gets distracted for at least 5 out of every 15 minutes set aside to study, which are sobering findings, to say the least (3). With endless distractions – from social media to online shopping to funny cat videos – it can feel hard to concentrate, but it’s certainly not impossible:

  • Leave your phone on aeroplane mode and outside of your workspace

  • Use website and app blockers on your laptop  and phone

  • Turn off all notifications on your phone

  • Ensure your desk and work environment  are de-cluttered and clean

  • Find a quiet and mostly distraction-free area of the house to revise

  • Use music or white noise and headphones to remove background noise

  • Reward yourself if you manage to stay focused


Does Rosemary Help With Studying?

Rosemary isn’t just reserved for garnishing food. There’s some evidence to suggest this simulating fragrance may play a role in memory. In one study, researchers found students working in a room with rosemary essential oil achieved 5-7 per cent better results in recall tests (4). Shakespeare even said, ‘rosemary is for remembrance.’. Why not diffuse this essential oil as you revise?

What are some of the best revision techniques?


Practice tests

Practise, practise, and practise some more. Once you’ve absorbed as much information as you can, step away from your revision. Practice is essential. You also need to be able to apply your knowledge. Around two weeks before your exams, start introducing past papers to your study schedule. Aim to do one exam at least twice in timed conditions. And make sure you go through the mark scheme, too. This will help you understand how best to approach exam questions on the day.

Say it out loud

Explain your answers to others. If you can explain a topic fluently, you probably know your stuff, right? Enlist the support of an appropriate study buddy (someone who isn’t going to make you feel anxious, of course) or a curious family member and teach them what you already know. You don’t even need another human being; you can always record yourself speaking and listen back.

Read the examiners’ reports

Digging out the examiners’ reports can truly power-up your exam prospects. Year upon year, exam boards compile a public document that is – wait for it – written by the examiners who will mark your papers! Here, they outline what they enjoy reading and what they don’t. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best resources you have available. Use it as much as possible!

The lead up to an exam


The week before an exam

Exams are just around the corner. Don’t hit the panic button. You’ve still got time if you want to brush up on some final revision. Try your best to finish strong: stick to your timetable, squeeze in a few past papers, and, crucially, make an effort to relax. Don’t give up now; don’t throw in the towel. You’ve got this. We have every faith in you. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Check all the rules. This is a very important one. The week before your exam, check all the rules and requirements. Perhaps you need specialist equipment or specific documents. Ensure you have all of these details sorted well in advance; it’s one less thing to think about the night before.

  • Location, location, location. Aside from looking over the rules, find out when and where your exam is taking place. You may even be taking some exams in a different location this year. Mark the location clearly in your diary, write it on your phone, stick it in your digital calendar, tell your parents, leave a post-it note on the fridge – do whatever you need to memorise this information.

  • Play it safe. Marathon runners are often dissuaded from running events in new shoes. This idea of trying ‘nothing new’ stretches into their routines, clothes and food. And the same applies to exam prep. If you haven’t tried something new in the past few months and weeks, now isn’t the time to experiment. Trust in your process – no matter how much someone might convince you of a faster, superior way.

  • Don’t forget about your other exams. Although you’re preparing for an upcoming exam, you shouldn’t put all your proverbial eggs in one basket and neglect your other assessments. In the weeklong run-up to an exam, try dedicating five to six hours of revision to it – and one to two hours to your other exams – each day.

  • Take care of your body and mind. This means eating well, exercising, getting plenty of restful sleep (and not staying up too late!) and finding time to relax.


The day before an exam

The finishing line is almost in sight. If you have butterflies in your stomach, that’s perfectly natural. Remember, some pre-exam nerves can help your performance on the day. Feeling particularly apprehensive? Don’t worry. Just try to make this evening as relaxing as possible. Above all, have faith that you’ve prepared as much as you can up until this point. Here are a few top tips for the final day before the exam:

  • Kick back and relax. Of course, don’t trawl through your notes all evening. Tonight is primarily about rest and relaxation. Do whatever you need to kick back and forget about exam stress. Indulge in your favourite meal, watch some reality TV, practise yoga, laugh with your family – do whatever you need to get yourself into a calm and collected mental state for tomorrow.

  • Pack your bag. Double-check – then triple-check – that you have all the necessary equipment for tomorrow’s exam. You may need pens, pencils, a clear pencil case, a calculator, reading glasses, a clear water bottle (with no writing/graphics), tissues, and (perhaps most importantly) a well-earned post-exam snack.

  • Get a good night's sleep. Don’t pull an all-nighter in the quest to squeeze in last-minute revision. Trust us; it won’t end well. Instead, make it your mission to get a restful night’s sleep. Since anxiety is such a notorious sleep saboteur – and chances are, you may be feeling a little apprehensive tonight – take extra care to unwind before bed. Soak in a hot bath, do some deep belly breathing or diffuse essential oils in your bedroom.

  • But make sure you get up. Set an alarm. Set three. Ask a family member to check that you’re awake in the morning to put your mind at ease. And make sure you arrive at the exam hall – wherever that may be – in good time.

  • Look over your notes. Glance back over your notes, but – whatever you do – don’t cram. If you don’t know your stuff by now, you never will. And cramming will only serve to stress you out, compromise your sleep, and send your brain into a spin. Just use tonight to run through any key facts, and that’s it.


The morning of an exam

The big day is finally here. You’ve worked so hard for this moment. Have faith that your tenacity and conscientiousness will be met with success. Like elite athletes, pre-performance is essential. And this means structuring your morning so that you can execute the task at hand. You can do this!

  • Have a big breakfast. That breakfast is the most important meal of the day is nothing new. Studies continuously suggest that a breakfast of complex carbohydrates helps improve concentration and memory throughout the morning (5). Some examples of exam rocket fuel include porridge with berries and seeds, Greek yoghurt with banana and honey, and sprouted bread with nut butter. Discover more examples of brain-packed food for revision season.

  • Be punctual. Exams are nerve-wracking enough without the added burden of running late. Tardiness can exacerbate panic and anxiety. In short, it’s an unnecessary stressor. With that in mind, try to arrive at your exam hall with plenty of time to spare. Live by this rule: if you’re not early, you’re late.

  • Avoid people who stress you out. On the morning of the exam, think carefully about with whom you want to mingle. Try to seek out friends and acquaintances that make you feel calm and confident; avoid those who make you feel otherwise (even if they’re friends!).

  • Hydrate, but not too much. Although staying hydrated will help keep your smarts sharp, you don’t want to overdo it on exam day, or else you’ll be running for the bathroom. Try to find that hydration sweet spot. Sip periodically throughout the exam, but don’t get too carried away.

  • Exam success affirmations. When repeated over and over again, affirmations begin to take charge of your thoughts. Before heading into the exam, you may want to say the following positive statements to yourself:

  1. I am calm in stressful situations

  2. I am a talented student

  3. I am smart 

  4. I will succeed

  • Take some deep breaths. If panic strikes in the middle of the exam, pause and take a few deep breaths. Try this simple exercise: breathe in for five counts, pushing your belly out, hold for five counts and exhale for ten counts, contracting your belly. Breathing like this activates your parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for your ‘rest and digest’ state – and will help you tackle the rest of the exam in calm headspace. Dealing with exam stress can be difficult, read more about how to break the anxiety cycle here.


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  1. McMains, S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(2), 587–597. 3766-10.2011.

  2. Screen time for kids: impacts and advice. Specsavers UK. (2020). Specsavers.

  3. 2021. The distracted student mind — enhancing its focus and attention - [ONLINE] Available at:

  4. Herbs that can boost your mood and memory. Northumbria University Newcastle.

  5. Wesnes, K., Pincock, C., Richardson, D., Helm, G. and Hails, S., 2003. Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren. Appetite, 41(3), 329-331.


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