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How to Revise Effectively

How to Revise Effectively

5 min Read|September 26 2023
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


It’s a familiar feeling. Exam season is approaching, and you’re pretty sure you should revise. But do you know how? There’s no magic formula for perfect grades in your exams. However, revising effectively gets pretty close!

Revising effectively can calm your nerves when exams are approaching – maybe you just need to consolidate or refresh your learning on a certain tricky subject, or even get out of a jam before a mock or assessment.

In this article, we’ll cover eight tips that will teach you how to go pro at effective revision. After all, if something’s worth doing, it’s definitely worth doing it right.

How to Revise Effectively Tip 1 - Start Preparing Early

Have you ever tried to cram an entire topic the night before a test? If so, you probably know that failing to prepare can mean preparing to fail.

In the same way as you wouldn’t arrive late to the exam itself, it’s important to arrive on time to prepare. To be effective, you need to start revising months in advance, not days – and definitely not hours!

2 - Find Your Learning Style

Everybody learns differently. You can find out more about your learning style, and tailor your revision plan (see below) to fit.

If you’re an auditory learner, recite the material to yourself or others, but don’t give in to just catching up with friends. If you’re a visual learner, mind maps might be your style, but you’ll need to avoid distractions... or the urge to doodle.

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3 - Make a Revision Plan

Before you begin revision, always start with a tidy study space and assemble your toolkit: lined paper, glue stick, textbook, pencils... Searching everywhere for that lucky purple gel pen is just another form of procrastination. Having your basic supplies around you on a dedicated desk or table is the first step in your revision plan. In the same way, it’s vital to put together a full revision timetable and stick to it if you want to revise effectively.

Find (or draw) a template like the one below and fill in a schedule that works for you. You can make it pretty and Pinterest-worthy if that’s your thing, or simple and practical. Tackle difficult topics at the most effective point of your day, and recognise and respond to your slump times.

If you find it hard to tackle tricky topics after dinner, create forward momentum with a series of shorter time blocks. You can’t revise effectively 24/7, or 25/8, so breaks and rest periods are essential.

Weekly Revision Planner


If you find yourself revising most effectively in the night or evening, that’s when your frontal cortex (the memorising part of your brain) starts to power down. Don’t worry, though; the frontal cortex concentrates on gathering new info throughout the day, so when it is less active the rest of your brain has a chance to step in. You might find yourself becoming less distracted, and more creative! Now might be the time to work on subjects like Art or DT.

4 - Space It Out

It’s important to practice “spacing”. Committing something to memory takes a long time – this is why effective revision can’t be rushed. “Spacing” is a technique that involves spreading out your revision sessions on a certain topic over a longer period of time, instead of packing them together.

For example, ten one-hour sessions over ten days. You might be familiar with the ‘Rule of Seven’, the theory – based on the science of short-vs-long-term memory – that repeating something over seven times means you’ll remember it for good.

“Spacing” your revision means your brain has time between revision sessions to ‘forget’ and then re-learn the material more than that magic seven times, locking it in for the long-term.

5 - Eat Properly, Sleep, and Exercise

Eating well improves concentration, so never attempt to revise on an empty stomach. Start the day on a decent breakfast, and take breaks for healthy meals and snacks. It’s also important not to spend all day hunched over a desk, even if you have lots of work to do and the pressure’s on.

Studies tell us that fresh air and exercise are not only good for your body, but also get your brain moving and absorbing more info. Exercise also helps with the inevitable stress and anxiety of exam season. Struggling to sleep? Perfectionism is linked to sleep struggles, but it’s important to get rest.

Sleep helps your brain store information, like tucking away papers in a filing cabinet. If you don’t sleep – all your revision will stay in a mess on the floor!

Put Your Phone Away

Scientists have shown that American college students that texted more, got lower GPAs. When you’re revising, maximise your effectiveness by shutting your phone away, out of sight, in a safe place like a side drawer.

Don’t just push it to the edge of the desk, because the science also suggests even the sight of a phone can make you lose focus and perform worse.

When You Revise Effectively, Highlighters Might Not Come Into It

Highlighters can actually make your revision less effective. Our brains, scientifically, learn and recall information better by connecting it to other information. Highlighting can break these connections on the page, isolating individual facts.

Moreover, some students end up highlighting anything and everything. Pretty coloured chunks of text are great to the eye, but no good to the brain; they give the appearance of hard work, but they don’t have much value as effective revision.

Revise Effectively with the Protégé Effect

The Roman poet Seneca said, “when we teach, we learn” – and he was quite clever. Teaching others helps you learn, in a process called the protégé effect. Try explaining the topics you’re working on to your friends, your parents, your dog or even yourself.

Make sure you stay focussed on the topic as you talk, and ensure your pupil’s taking it all in – because when they do, you will too. As long as you’re not attempting to teach Netflix about trigonometry, you’ll find yourself becoming an expert!

Final Thoughts

Effective revision is when the topic you’re working on doesn’t just remain in your head for the next hour or two, but stays long enough to get it down on the exam paper. You’d be surprised how long effective revision can stay in your brain. Who knows – if you revise effectively enough, you might be lying in bed years from now, remembering how to calculate the longest side of a triangle!

If you’re looking for expert help with revising for your A-level, GCSE, or IB exams, be sure to reach out to the team at TutorChase. With years of experience and tutors from top UK institutions, we’ll be able to guide you towards top marks.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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