Revision tips: preparing for exams

Revision is more than just reading through the notes you made in class - it also means knowing how to answer the questions for real when you're sitting in the exam. Using old exam questions to practice on will help make passing your exams easier.

Know what you'll be examined on and when

In the exam you'll be expected to answer questions on the subjects you studied in class, which means you'll need a full set of notes to revise from. If you missed some classes your notes may not be complete.

To make sure your notes are up-to-date, check your notes against the subject revision checklist given to you by your teacher. If the checklist shows you are missing notes on some subjects, ask your teacher which chapters of your text book you need to read and make notes on so you can fill in the gaps.

Find out when your exam is and work out how much time you have until then. If you don't know the date of your exam, ask your teacher. You can also search for exam dates online using the Interboard Examination Timetable.

Write a revision plan

Revising works best when you practice what you'll be doing in the exam ­and that means answering questions. By concentrating on key facts and writing them down as exam answers you'll be making it easier to remember what you learned in class.

By making a revision plan early and organising your time, you can divide your revision into manageable chunks and, just as importantly, when to take breaks. This will increase your chances of remembering the important things, help with better exam performance while avoiding last minute stress.

Start by dividing the number of days you have until the exam by the number of topics you need to revise. Ask your teacher for a list of topics, or make your own by going through your notes.

Think about any topics that will need more revision time - perhaps they are more detailed, or you found them more difficult than others.

When you know how many days you need to revise for each topic, you'll be able to make revision part of your daily routine. However, you need to be realistic about the time you have:

  • mark on the plan those things you need to do, such as being at school and mealtimes
  • split the remaining time into half-hourly slots
  • break each topic on your revision checklist down into smaller pieces that can be learnt in 30 minutes, fill your slots with these pieces

You can find templates for daily, weekly and monthly planners at Revision: timetables and planning.

The BBC BiteSize revision guides will help you to break your topics down into 30 minute slots.

Organise your revision notes

Past exam papers are very useful when organising your revision notes. Arrange your notes in the order the topics appear in the exam paper. Once you've done this, try recalling the key facts needed for each topic.

You'll find that organising your notes makes them easier to remember and improves your memory. The easier it is to remember the facts, the more quickly you'll be able to write them down in the exam.

Reading your revision notes

When you look at your notes, keep in mind why you're reading them:

  • reading for detail is when you need to gain a good understanding of the text and read it at a slower pace than normal and ask questions while you read, it might help if you read it aloud
  • skimming is useful for getting the general idea of a large piece of text - read each paragraph quickly and identify the main ideas in each one
  • scanning is used when you are looking for a specific piece of information - move your eyes quickly over the text, homing in on, sub-headings, names, numbers, dates and quotes for example

Past exam papers

Before you sit the exam your teacher will usually start handing out copies of old exam papers. These are really good to practice on.

Your subject text book  will also usually contain a few example exam questions. More practice exam questions, together with their answers (known as the mark scheme) can be downloaded from the exam board websites.

  • Past papers and mark schemes (CCEA website)
  • OCR
  • Curriculum support collections are available in 20 libraries across Northern Ireland. The collections are for anyone studying GCSE, AS and A2 level. They include study guides, revision guides, student handbooks and texts for a range of popular subjects. You can find out more on the Librariesni website.

Practice doing the exam

Passing exams with top marks means knowing what to write down and what to leave out. You don't have to write down everything you remember and getting this right requires practice.

Before you start writing, read the number in brackets after each question. This tells you how many points each question is worth and gives you a clue to the length of the answer.

For example, a three-point question means you'll have to write down three facts, a question with higher marks will always require more facts and a longer answer. Some other clues found in exam questions are:

  • the word 'define' means you have to explain each fact
  • the word 'suggest' requires you to use your knowledge to provide an idea

Once you have completed your practice exam you can check you answered the questions correctly by comparing your answers to the mark scheme downloaded from the exam board website.

Look after yourself

If you're going to stay alert while revising regular breaks are important. A five-minute break every half an hour for you to stretch your legs is better than a 30-minute break after five hours' revision. Get up, make a drink, tidy your room, check the post - you'll come back refreshed and ready to carry on.

These breaks will also help you absorb the information and avoid overload. Include a leisure activity in your revision plan twice or three times a week in order to take your mind off things.

A healthy mind needs a healthy body, so look after yourself while revising. Lots of sleep and regular exercise will help you stay alert. Your body needs fuel, so eat plenty of easily digestible foods - fresh vegetables and fruit, for example, will help keep your energy levels up.

Getting support

If you are experiencing emotional problems, such as issues with family or friends, or bullying, your revision might be affected and you may need to seek outside help. Try to get support before your revision suffers.

More useful links

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