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Your 3-Step Guide to Revising for Essay-Based Exams

By Robina

Essay-based exams are particularly difficult to prepare for. If you're worried about revising for your essay-based exam, read our blog from Newcastle University student, Robina, on how to get the most out of your revision.

This is the tried and tested revision method I’ve been using since college to pass essay based exams. The 3 R’s of revising…


Missed a lecture or two? It happens! Recap is going to become your best friend over the break in helping you fill up any gaps you have in your notes.

Another thing I always find useful is to only write down what your lecturer is saying, not what's on the slide. Don't waste your time frantically scribbling down what you could easily access another time. 



Once recapped, you’ve got the basic skeleton of your essay down, now it’s time to put some meat on the bones.

Chances are you’ve got a massive reading list for each lecture. If you have no idea where to start I’d recommend following up any references already mentioned in the lecture, especially when it comes to case studies. Having relevant examples/case studies are  a MUST in essay based exams.

Every essay introduction should start with a basic definition, so look at the first few essential readings on your list, and pick out a definition you think sounds best. Work your way from there. I’d recommend including no more than three references already mentioned in the lecture or on the essential reading in your essay plan.

In order to get a 2:1, you need to show evidence that you’ve gone beyond the reading list and found your own material. So it’s best to get into the habit straight away. Looking at references within references is always a good idea, so picking a key author and seeing who they mention.

The same thing goes for your case studies and examples, refrain from just regurgitating the example your lecturer gave and try to find your own. Especially with a subject like human geography think about current events in the news, even if it is a basic example it will show the examiner that you’ve understood the concept/topic.



This is my golden rule. What works best for me is firstly understanding the topic you’re writing about, but also actually MEMORISING your essay plans.

Do not underestimate the amount of time this step takes.

There is a general consensus amongst psychologists that the most effective way to remember information is through REHEARSAL.

Yes, you could probably cram a few days before but again, studies show that your short term memory can only retain 7+/- 2 pieces of information at any given time. So the TRICK is to get information into your LONG TERM MEMORY. And the only way I’m afraid is by going over your essay plans again and again. So highlight,  make cue cards,  say them out loud, listen to them, use pictures. Do whatever works for you but remember to keep going over them as much as possible.

When something is in your long term memory you have the ability to retrieve it at any time, so this way if you already have say 4 potential essay plans memorised it will save loads of thinking time in the exam.

We hope you have found this blog post useful, should you need a little more surviving exam season, why not read our essential blogs on what to know before accessing our libraries, and how to meditate to manage stress-levels during these especially uncertain times.