Revision Tips 101

It’s that wonderful time of year: exam season. Dun dun dun. 

If I’m totally honest, I’m drowning in revision. It’s only now when I sit back and look at the long lists of lectures I never attended that I wonder what I even did with this semester. I constantly felt busy, but busy doing what? Because it sure as hell wasn’t studying.

It’s quite comforting to know I’m not the only one whose attendance is worse (and probably the only thing that is worse) than my bank balance. Yesterday I found two of my housemates on the verge of a mental breakdown. They were fretting over the amount of content they had to cover, memorise, regurgitate for their exams on Friday. Anna rambled on about a little black cloud over her head and how positive thinking changed nothing because she still has a horrendous workload, while Alice simply cried on the sofa. Sound familiar?

Their helplessness made me question myself, why was I not stressed at all? When I realised: I’m pretty damn good at last minute revision. My current situation involves me learning semesters-worth of modules in two days, yet somehow I’m still on track for a first.

I am a cram-expert.

Any revision tips you’ll read online will sound something like “start revising early” (which is actually no.1 when you Google ‘revision tips’) or “prioritise your workload”. Well guess what, genius, it’s too late for that. So welcome to my revision tips 101, for my fellow procrastinators who don’t want to hear about everything they should have done weeks ago (and didn’t), but how you can use the valuable time you do have left to get top marks.

Don’t believe it’s possible? Ta-da, I am living proof.

1. Do Not Panic

I feel like this is everyone’s first mistake. You decide to be productive, you make a list, you write a plan, you look at how many hours you’ve got left to do said plan and then you think shit. It seems impossible.

It may seem cheesy, but I honestly think you can do whatever you set your mind to. And your goal is not to know everything in the module, your goal is to get a high score in the test, right? These two things may seem like they go hand-in-hand, but trust me they do not. For my neurobiology exam in January, I went in having never even attended or looked over half the lecture material and got 73%.

If you tell yourself you don’t actually even need to know everything to get a top mark, you tend to panic less. Obviously, there’s now way less you need to do. Things are starting to look achievable, eh?

2. Quality, Not Quantity

This goes for pretty much everything in life, including revision. If you’ve left things too late you literally won’t have time to learn everything, so don’t. Usually I’d advise revising everything you find hard to grasp first, but when you’re cramming? I do the complete opposite.

If there’s a topic I already know relatively well that seems to come up a lot, I will spend my two days before learning the shit out it. You want to know it inside out so when it comes up in the exam your answers are pristine. I’d rather have planned five first class essays than roughly know the content for twenty that will be lacking detail and depth. What if my perfectly planned essays don’t come up? Yes, it’s a gamble. But if you only briefly know everything instead, you’re not going to score highly in it anyway. I’d rather gamble for a first than guarantee myself a 2i (or worse) any day.

3. Make Every Second Count

How cliche. But you’ve left everything until the last minute so the time you do have is valuable. Extremely valuable.

You’ve got 48 hours before your exam, you think you can just work from 9am – 5pm in the library both days? Ha! Nope. If you want to learn months of work in two days, those whole 48 hours need to be devoted to revising.In fact, under pressure is the only time I can actually stop avoiding revision.

But seriously, little things like when I walk back from the library I recite my essay plans I’d written that day in my head (or out loud if no one is around). Not only does this repetition help the information stick, but it also gives you confidence that you do actually know the content and can regurgitate it without your notes in front of you. And any bits you do forget? Look them up when you get home and I bet you anything you’ll remember them the next time.

Just make every second count. Every second. 

4. Red Bull Is Your Best Friend

I know it’s unhealthy, but Red Bull really does give you wings. I don’t think I could survive my late-night library sessions without a couple of cans of this magic juice (and conveniently it’s also on offer at our union shop). But seriously, these past two weeks I have lived off of sugar.

If you want to keep your mind focused for hours on end, you’ll need some kind of outside help. Whether it’s Red Bull, coffee, Pro Plus, find what works for you. We’ve the whole summer to get out health back on track. Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine. Sugar, sugar, sugar.

5. Remove Distractions

Leave the house. Every time I try to revise at home, I end up sitting on my bed with my laptop and notes and within half an hour I’m fast asleep. Revision ends up being long forgotten. Or I can hear my housemates nattering away downstairs and I just can’t help but go and join in the convo. Or the fridge calls my name. The fridge always calls my name.

Get yourself out the house and go to the library, please. In fact, if you have the option, go to multiple libraries so you’re forever getting a change of scenery. I find even just getting up and out the house makes your day feel instantly more productive than if you’re just crammed in your tiny room with books piled up to your ears. Talk about cabin fever.

The biggest distraction for me? My phone. Put in in your bag, turn it upside down on the desk, if you have the will power leave it at home. Conveniently (or perhaps not so), my phone charger broke this week so I’ve had to be very sparing with my phone if the charge is going to last the day!

Also, bring snacks. How anyone can survive the library without some sort of munchy goodness I don’t know. Yesterday evening I scoffed my way through four chicken goujons, a packet of Hula Hoops, a GoAhead bar, an entire punnet of strawberries, two slices of last nights pizza and a Dairy Milk. I sound like the hungry caterpillar (and am starting to look like him too – gym bod can return after my final exam), but don’t let your tummy be a distraction!

6. Colour Co-ordination and Repetition Works

I told my housemate this tip for remembering topics and essay and it is, “revolutionary” (Alice Lavender, 2017).

I write an essay on a topic which commonly comes up in papers using all of my lecture notes and online resources. In other words, the perfect essay, if that even exists. Then I go through my essay and highlight all the key relevant facts and information. Then I copy this information chronologically in a spider diagram working round from right to left in, here’s the important part, all one colour. After spending a while looking over my spider diagram, I get rid of my notes, put everything to one side, and attempt to rewrite my essay from memory.

This is useful for two reasons. (1) Without even realising you’ve read and combined notes, written it out, read it, written it out, read it again and then written it from memory. Repetition is key. (2) If you do this with several different topics and write each topic in a different colour spider diagram, this works as a visual cue. Often I’ll be sitting trying to remember my essay and I know McArdle et al said something, but for which topic? Oh yeah, it was written in pink so that must mean it’s for blah blah. Honestly, it’s such an easy way for your brain to link information.

If there’s some information that you simply cannot remember, write lines. Boring, yes. For me it’s my pharmacology lectures; how can I possibly learn all the precarious drug names that all sound the same? Entacapone and rivastigmine and dothiepin and amantadine and pergolide… see how this can be a struggle? I write them out again and again until they’re engraved in my brain. This works like a charm for any key quotes or facts you just can’t remember.

Anyway, I really should stop procrastinating and get back to my own revision. Remember: don’t panic, just learn the important bits, use your time wisely, remove distractions, live off sugar and caffeine, colour code and most importantly, you’ve got this. Go smash it.

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