Bored Girl doing revision

The Best Revision Strategy

In the run up to an exam, revision is obviously something to consider. So, what’s the best way to go about it? Where to start? Sometimes these questions can seem so overwhelming that you’re put off before you even start going over the subject!

I’d like to look at some of the common questions when it comes to planning a revision strategy, so you can begin your studying with a clear course of action in mind.

Deciding where to start can be daunting.

What’s the best way to revise?

The worst start to revision is going into it without a system. You’ll waste time going over information you already know or trying to find resources. Aim to have a plan with times and actions that you can tick off. Time spent preparing is some of the best spent, yet it is one of the most overlooked areas in revision.

Clearly you want to ensure you cover all the appropriate content that could be assessed in the exam. Therefore, your first step should be splitting up the subject into chunks of related information. You can get help for this by looking at the unit or section headings in notes or text books.

Another important step should be identifying banks of questions for each topic area. Again, text books with questions either throughout a chapter or at the end of sections can help here. Remember, too, the past paper questions on the SQA website.

What are the best revision techniques?

I have already listed successful revision techniques in a previous post. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the popular study methods are worthless. Highlighting text, summarizing notes and reading over notes are just some of those found to be futile. However, the research has recommended the following as most effective:

  • Short bursts of revision time
  • Spaced out revision
  • Self-testing
  • Specific practice in needed areas
  • Mixing up topics, not just one at a time

So, let’s look at these in more detail.

How long should you revise for each subject?

This is a bit of a trick question, like, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ It all depends on the subject and the student. However, memory experts tell us that everyone should study in short bursts of time – not for long stretches. Adults have an average attention span of 20 minutes, so why expect teenagers to have even longer ones?

You also need to have a real break between these power bursts of revision. Taking the dog for a brisk walk for 10 minutes or some form of quick exercise, but NOT going on social media or your phone! That isn’t a brain break.

So, determine how many chunks of information you need to cover and work out how many 20 minute sessions you require to do them all. This may seem like quite a few, which brings me onto the next point.

Space out your revision

The earlier you start your revision, the more powerful it will be. Yes, I know, easier said than done. But the more often you revisit information, the longer you remember it. Certainly, you’ll have more opportunities to do this the sooner you start.


Few people like tests, however, they are an extremely important tool in your revision strategy. I’m not talking about high-pressure, exam-condition testing. No, I mean testing yourself – without cheating – to see what you don’t yet know. One of the most effective ways to do this is by answering past paper questions.

The benefits of past paper questions are huge:

  • You’re getting practice in exam technique
  • The mark schemes show you the perfect answer
  • They identify the areas you still have to work on

With regular self-testing you can then review your overall strategy. Focus those 20 minute sessions on specific, critical areas and you’ll amplify the impact of your effort.

How many subjects should I revise in a day?

It would make sense to select one subject to revise per day or per half-day. However, it’s more productive to look at more than one topic during that period. Simply going over one narrow area for 3 hours (even in 20 minute bursts with breaks in between) is not the best method. Instead, you should mix up related themes.

Often, past papers are terrific here. A problem in the exam is not going to be solely on one topic. The question will have a main theme, but could be made up of smaller parts on related areas.

Research has shown that relating different topics to each other is an effective way to understand and remember the information. This technique can also be extremely useful when answering open-ended chemistry questions in SQA exams. In general these types of questions are poorly done in the exam.

I’ve put all this information together to make the following checklist. It should help you get started on planning your revision strategy.

Check list: how to improve revision skills

  • Start as early as possible
  • Plan your time, material and questions
  • Chunk the topics into 20 min bursts
  • Take 10 min active breaks between sessions
  • Self-test regularly (using past papers) and focus on needed areas
  • Relate topics to each other

One last, but very important thing to mention. It’s okay to have a bad day – don’t let it put you off starting again the next day. Remember, every 20 minute session counts!

How do you revise?

I’d love to know your top revision strategy. Any tips that you’ve found work every time? Please let me know in the comments.

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