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Revising for exams is one of the most personal and individual processes within learning in higher education. You start university with different skills and experiences, you will have different responses to the material presented in the course and you will have different responses to the stress of the revision period and the exam itself. While the advice here will give you tips and advice to think about how to strengthen your technique you first need to consider questions such as – How do I like to learn? What makes information stick in my mind? and What do I know about the subject already?
Before you think about revising, it is useful to think about the kind of learner you are and the revision techniques that suit you best. Take the VARK learner style questionnaire
Tips for auditory learners
Record notes into your mobile phone or mp3 player and listen back – in your bedroom or on the bus.
Revise with friends and talk through your responses to help memorise them
Tips for visual learners
Summarise topics using colourful mind-maps and include pictures and diagrams
Use flash cards, cover up answers and try and guess the responses
Write important points on colourful post-its and display them in your study space
Tips for kinaesthetic learners
Work through past papers to practise your technique
Create games to help fix factual information e.g. matching question and answers on cards, colour coding related responses and putting them together or thinking of rhymes to help remember key topics
Start revising several weeks beforehand – even if you can only manage an hour a week while you still have classes, you will feel more in control.
Draw up a realistic timetable– including any coursework tasks that you still need to complete. Whatever time you have available should be allocated fairly equally between each of the sections of the course that are to be examined. However…
…think tactically! If you’re going to be examined on everything, then you’ll need to put in extra work on your weakest subjects. But if you will have a choice of questions in the exam, then you may do better to focus your efforts on six or seven main areas where you feel you could do well.
Don’t start revising in detail until you have jotted down an overview of each part of the course. Draw up a diagram with a list of topic headings for each unit – from memory first, then check your notes and handouts. If you have managed to develop good habits during the course – making your notes clear and concise, sorting them out regularly – then this will be much easier.
Identify a few small revision tasks that you can do whenever you have a spare half-hour.
Use images, mindmaps and diagrams to help you visualise and illustrate the subject – and then stick them up on your wall where you will see them every day!
Practise writing essay plans (in about 10 minutes) to sample questions. Look at your course notes afterwards to see how you might improve them.
Don’t waste time worrying about what you don’t know once you get nearer to the exam time. Concentrate on making the most of what you do know.
The key to coping well with exams is to make sure that your revision is not a frantic attempt to memorise every fact you’ve encountered during the course, but is directed towards sorting out the main themes of the course material.
Within each topic your revision should be shaped by the kind of questions that you are likely to encounter in the exam. So find out as much as possible about the examination format for this course or module – look at past papers and ask your tutors to clarify any aspect you are unsure about.
Consider the sort of questions that have been set previously for course work as well as past exam papers, and practise planning answers for these.
One of the commonest faults described by examiners is not answering the question that was actually set. It’s no good writing down everything you can remember about a particular topic just because it happens to be mentioned in the question!
Instead analyse the questions as you would for coursework essays – what kind of answer does the question imply? You will need to choose appropriate examples, relevant to the particular problem, and to develop an argument clearly and concisely (but do remember that nobody will expect you to write with the same kind of detail and wealth of reference as in your coursework).
Draw up sample answer plans throughout your revision period – this is not only good practice in itself but will also help you to identify where you need more work. (Exams are more than memory tests, but you still need to have sufficient grasp of your factual material to enable you to recognise what is relevant and to use it well.)
The following online tutorials and websites have further information to help you strengthen your revision and exam techniques:
There are plenty of books in the University of Brighton Library that give further advice including:
Becker, L. (2011) 14 days to exam success. New York : Palgrave Macmillan
Cottrell, S. (2012) The exam skills handbook: achieving peak performance. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.
McMillan, K & Weyers, J.D.B. (2011) How to succeed in exams & assessments.Harlow : Prentice Hall.
Advice from students
Draw diagrams to summarise complicated topics, memorise them and practice re-drawing. Learning off reams of text for essays won’t help and probably won’t facilitate the question asked, but having a diagram in front of you that presents the information in a logical sequence, which can then be shaped to fit the question asked is much more helpful
Book a library study room and revise as a group. Use the boards to make notes on key points; they might know something you missed.
I study really well when I’ve just woken up from sleep -whatever time of day. My mind seems to be able to hold a lot more information, and stuff from lectures just miraculously comes crawling back to my brain. I always take short breaks every hour and try and switch subjects around otherwise I get bored easily. If I’ve only got one module to revise for, I switch and do some drawing – nothing to do with my course – it just relaxes me!
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