With exams on the horizon and revision beginning to loom in the minds of most students, it is important to reflect on the effectiveness of our learning strategies to get through what is such an incredibly stressful time. What exactly are the best ways to use these final months wisely, to avoid an accumulation of pressure closer to the exam season? And what revision strategies should you tend away from to optimize your chances at success?

Perhaps the main issue most students face in preparing for their final exams relates to time management. Amongst my friends it is the consensus that mapping out revision in strict schedules rarely goes to plan. If you can see a pattern of rarely hitting your revision targets each day, perhaps consider being more flexible with your timetable; a pre-determined duration of revision for the day, involving revision of only what is necessary could be the solution. With this is approach, it is easy to fall into bad habits such as only revising subjects you enjoy: to counter this, one could consider keeping a tally of how many times each of your subjects are studied across a certain period, so as to enable smoothing out of inequalities closer to the exams themselves.

Another aspect of timekeeping is deciding when to begin the process altogether, in order to avoid pressure down the line. One possible solution to this issue could be making a record of all topics in every subject and deciding how much time one should dedicate to them, such as two or three sessions across the period. This factors in relearning old content, recalling the information several days later, and the implementing it in practice papers. Spacing the revision in this way allows for a degree of variation in the revision, and ensures ample time is spent revising every corner of the course. Of course, this can only be achieved by starting early – while my school recommends no revision over the February half term, it is advisable that revision commences at some point soon thereafter. Thus, if inequalities between the attention you given to different subjects do arise, there is plenty of time to rectify them before exam leave starts.

One major question I have heard students approach teachers with relates to how many hours they should be revising every day. The first issue with this question is that not every day is the same: you might have other commitments on a given day which would compromise the progress and mean subjects are neglected if you intend to stick to a stringent schedule. Hence, the most secure recommendation is a maximum of 4 hours a day; if you start early enough, and have revision resources prepared, fitting all of the necessary topics in should be easy overall. A gentle two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon allows for the remainder of the day to be used for recreation and relaxation, two other vital habits one must acquire in this difficult time. In particular, exercise is ever more valuable now, getting you important vitamins simply by seeing the sun, and allowing unhealthy eating (which is prevalent for some in the exam season) to be balanced out. Studies demonstrate that in young adults, the stress and tension reduction induced by exercise lasts as long as 6 hours, which demonstrates the effectiveness of exercise in maintaining focussed and refreshed revision. It is also an important social activity, ensuring one sees their friends regularly and maintains friendships which are necessities in the period.

In terms of the content of revision sessions, the outstanding rule is apparent: active learning is dramatically more beneficial compared to passive strategies. Active revision is synonymous with recall and testing oneself to ensure the retention of knowledge over time, carried out with devices such as flash cards, making notes from memory on what has already been studied and practice papers. The latter is a key component of any revision day: they teach exam methodologies, ensure that one can implement their knowledge succinctly and clearly, and test recall under mock conditions. Contrasted against other revision practices in the passive category, such as highlighting and directly copying lists of information, active approaches during the revision sessions will yield success, understanding in the exam hall and add depth to one’s knowledge of the subject area.

Theo Horch, Wilson's School