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Revision Tips to Ace Exam Season

By Newcastle University

Research has show that we can often recall things better when we are in the same context as when we first learned them. When sitting in a traditional exam hall, this can work against us because we are in new and unusual surroundings compared to when we first learnt the material.

This year, most students like yourself will be taking exams ‘at home’, in the same environment you have been studying in for the past year. You can use this to your advantage. Whilst lockdown conditions and ever changing restrictions have undoubtedly impacted on our memory, concentration span and motivation, take a look at these useful revision tips from our Writing Development Centre to help you ace this year's unusual exam period.

1. Approaching Revision

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Approaching revision may seem daunting but if you begin with a plan in mind, you will be able to focus and revise much more effectively.
Desirable difficulty 

Start off strong and push yourself to use strategies outside of your comfort zone. Starting with strategies that are the easiest and most comfortable often doesn't lead to long term retention, whereas strategies which are challenging or seems harder, work far better. Maybe attempt a revision strategy that you've never heard of before! This will require more concentration and in turn, be more memorable in the long run. You can find plenty of techniques via the Academic Skills Kit website here.

Retrieval practice

Discover what you know already. Testing yourself is one of the most powerful revision strategies at every stage of revision. Don’t think of it as checking to see what you know or if you have learned the material, but as practising and strengthening the process of recalling it.

Dual coding

Combining more than one format of information (such as textual and visual) helps us remember things better. Begin by thinking of a format and interchanging between writing and drawing to keep the material fresh. Don’t overdo it though, as too much detail may be irrelevant or overwhelming. 


2. Organising Revision

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Organising your material and setting yourself time boundaries will get your revision off to a flying start.

Instead of revising a single module or topic in one intensive block (cramming), breaking up your learning and distributing your revision sessions over time helps you retain it better. 

Increase your intervals

You could space these blocks of working out regularly, but leaving increasing gaps between revision sessions on the same material strengthens your long term memory. The optimum intervals depend on how long you have left until the exam so make sure you think about this ahead of the assessment date.


Change your topic each study session so you can switch between different material, perhaps from different modules. This keeps your learning fresh. Interleaving similar or related topics can also help make links and spot differences. 


3. Memorising Revision

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Your working memory is only up to 30 seconds long and can only handle up to about 9 things at once. Check out these tips to help strengthen your recall.

Create attention

Firstly, you need to persuade your brain that something is worth remembering by identifying it as something to pay particular attention to. Go beyond just recalling material and test yourself before you start revising a topic (pre-testing) like a quiz or a past paper. You probably won’t get much right at this early stage, but this primes your brain to look for and retain that information as being significant and useful later on,

Your brain will pay attention to something that is novel or unexpected so switch up formats and use bizarre examples, mnemonics or acronyms to help you remember.
Chunking material

If you have a list of things to learn, build it up slowly, learning the first 3 items, then adding 3, then another 3. Make sure you are still rehearsing the earlier items as you build up, and later mixing them up in a different order to keep it flexible.


4. Strategizing Revision

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You may be familiar with some of these strategies. Some work more effectively than others, and you might have preferences for one over another, but experiment and reflect – a combination is likely to be most effective.

Summarise and paraphrase

Putting information in your own words and making your own decisions about how to summarise it makes your brain work to really understand it on a deeper level and integrate it more actively into your learning. You could even explain the material back to another person like a family member to help you understand the content more.

Rework material

Turning a paragraph into bullet points, a diagram or mind-map helps you engage deeply with the material and work with it in a rich, active, flexible way which helps you retain it longer and understand it better.  

Personal meaning and association

Link new knowledge to existing knowledge that has meaning for you. This might be relationships with subject knowledge you are already familiar with, or it might be comical or nonsensical word or visual association (what it looks or sounds like).

Make up exam questions and rehearse answers

If you were the lecturer, trying to test students’ understanding of this topic, what question would you set, and how would you answer it? This strategy not only puts you in the lecturer’s shoes and helps you anticipate the exam, it also helps you think about what kind of knowledge you need to revise, how you might be asked to use it and at what level. And, of course, you can practise rehearsing different answers and marking them even if there’s no past papers.

Browse more effective revision strategies here.


5. Diversifying Revision

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Make sure your revision space is flexible and comfortable for optimal revision levels and regular breaks. Plan for 30 minutes and if you can go longer, go for it!
Change your surroundings

Try to deliberately change your surroundings as much as possible. Maybe you could change something about your room by moving things around every so often, or change up the things you’re using to revise like your notepad, font or ink colour. This will help to keep the task new and engaging rather than everything blurring into one.

Be aware of other stimuli

Although altering your work space can be productive, be a little cautious about changing the sounds around you with music or radio. Listening to music splits your attention, adds an extra load on your mental processes and means you have less awareness to focus on what you’re learning. Although it can sometimes stimulate us, it can also be overwhelming whilst trying to concentrate. Keep your work space calm and if you must use music, try relaxing sounds without words to prevent yourself being distracted.

Take regular breaks

You've earned it! Break your tasks down into shorter chunks with space for breaks. This will help you to regroup and refocus your mind on the next set of material. When you pause, take a moment to leave a ‘note to future self’ about where you got to or what you were intending to do next.


For more guidance on your learning, book a 1-2-1 tutorial with one of our Writing Development Centre tutors or visit our website for more activities and resources here.

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