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Revision Techniques

Revision Techniques

Author: Gemma Boyson

Find out about evidence-based revision strategies that could help you succeed!

A wealth of revision resources and strategies you could employ.

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You know it needs to be done, you'd rather be doing something else, I know.

So if you're going to dedicate some of your precious time to revising, you need to make it count. It's no good just looking at a text book (or sleeping next to one, as one of my friends used to do) you have to process the information in order to get the best from it.

The unfortunate thing is: if it doesn't take some effort, it's not worth doing.

So here are some tips and tricks that might help you on your way.

If you have questions or comments, please add them at the bottom of the page.

Five secrets to revising that can improve your grades

This article gives details on 5 evidence-based secrets of successful revising.

1. Space your practice

Our analysis showed that people who leave longer gaps between practice attempts go on to score higher. In fact, the longer the gaps, the higher the scores.

The difference is huge: people who leave more than 24 hours between their first five attempts at the game and their second five attempts score as highly, on average, as people who have practiced 50% more than them.

Our finding confirms lots of other research: if you want to study effectively, you should spread out your revision rather than cramming. This is easier said than done, but if you are organised enough, you can spend less time revising and remember more.

2. Make sure you fail occasionally

A new result from our analysis shows that people who are most inconsistent when they first start have better scores later on.

Our theory is that these people are exploring how the game works, rather than trying to get the very highest score they can every time.

The moral is clear: invest some time in trying things out, which may mean failing occasionally, if you want to maximise learning in the long run.

3. Practise the thing you'll be tested on

The big mistake many students make is not practising the thing they will be tested on. If your exam involves writing an essay, you need to practise essay-writing. Merely memorising the material is not enough.

Writing exam answers is a skill, just like playing an online game is a skill. You wouldn't try and improve at a game by trying to memorise moves, you'd practise making them.

Other research confirms that practising retrieving information is one of the best ways to ensure you remember it.

4. Structure information, don't try to remember it

Trying to remember something has been shown to have almost no effect on whether you do remember it. The implication for revision is clear: just looking at your notes won't help you learn them.

Instead, you need to reorganise the information in some way – whether by making notes of your notes, thinking about how what you're reading relates to other material, or practising writing answers. This approach, called "depth of processing", is the way to ensure material gets lodged in your memory. (See: Mindmapping, below)

5. Rest and sleep

New research shows that a brief rest after learning something can help you remember it a week later. Other experiments have shown that a full night's sleep helps you learn new skills or retain information.

Even napping can help consolidate your memories, and maybe even make you more creative. This is great news for those of us who like to nap during the day, and is a signal to all of us that staying up all night to revise probably isn't a good idea.

Make a revision timetable

You're far better off dedicating some specific times to your revision. Make time for short(ish - less than an hour) but regular revision slots. Remove the distractions (facebook, twitter, instagram, x-box, TV, etc - use these as a reward when you complete your revision time uninterrupted.

To organise this, make yourself a revision timetable. I recommend Their tool will help you prioritise your subjects, and will take account of your usual commitments and activities.

They also have loads of useful tools and resources - make and search for flash-cards, crosswords, quizzes etc.

The only downside is that you have to pay (£7) for a premium account to access some functions.

How To Mindmap

Mind-mapping is my all-time favourite revision technique.

It combines the words and content you need to learn, with colour, image and the associations you need to understand how this information should be filed in your brain.

It's no good to use other people's mind maps though, the benefit is in making your own:

1. Using your text book, or video, or other resource, make your mind map.
2. The next day (or some time later) try to make a copy of the mind-map FROM MEMORY!
3. Get out the original and make any corrections/additions
4. A day or two later, try to make another copy from memory. You should start to find you're remembering more and more each time.

Follow Tony's instructions to create beautiful and brilliant mind-maps.
Tony Buzan explains how to make effective mindmaps for revision.

Source: YouTube

Revision techniques - the good, the OK and the useless

This article, from the BBC, reviews research on various revision techniques: "psychologists in the US warn many favourite revision techniques will not lead to exam success."

Prof John Dunlovsky, of Kent State University, reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies.


  • Elaborative interrogation - being able to explain a point or fact - MODERATE
  • Self-explanation - how a problem was solved - MODERATE
  • Summarising - writing summaries of texts - LOW
  • Highlighting/underlining - LOW
  • Keyword mnemonics - choosing a word to associate with information - LOW
  • Imagery - forming mental pictures while reading or listening - LOW
  • Re-reading - LOW
  • Practice testing - Self-testing to check knowledge - especially using flash cards - HIGH

""Students who can test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material better in the long run", says Prof Dunlovsky. "Start by reading the text book then make flash cards of the critical concepts and test yourself. "A century of research has shown that repeated testing works.""

  • Distributed practice - spreading out study over time - HIGH

"However the best strategy is to plan ahead and not do all your revision on one subject in a block before moving on to the next - a technique called "distributed practice". Prof Dunlovsky says it is the "most powerful" of all the strategies."

  • Interleaved practice - switching between different kinds of problems - MODERATE

"So do different techniques work for different individuals? Prof Dunlovsky says "no" - the top techniques work for everyone."

GCSE Flashcards, Quizzes etc.

I haven't tried this website yet, but it's free and looks like it'll be good for using flash cards and quizzes to test yourself.

Click the link below.