With the exam season on the horizon for most high-school students, we thought we would seek out the best revision tips straight from the experts themselves; the teachers and examiners. We went straight to the TutorsPlus team and grilled their top tutors to extract some top tips for exam success.
Exams can be a tough and stressful time for many students. Whether you have an exam around the corner, or in a few months this advice will help and can be applied across all the international school curricula, whether it be the IB, A Level, IGCSE, Swiss Matu, or French Baccalauréat.
One stand out recommendation is to plan your revision schedule well in advance of your exams. Make sure you allocate sufficient time for each subject and more for the topics which you know could do with some extra work. Be realistic about how much time you can spend revising each day, and make your revision as active as possible. Involve others, your friends, family and use any techniques that work for you, singing, saying it out loud, getting others to quiz you, using online resources. Use a wide variety of techniques and, most importantly be disciplined and stick to your schedule!
Tip 1 – Focus on your wellbeing
“I recommend revising in short bursts and allow time to let off steam (go for a run, meet friends, eat, drink and sleep). A dehydrated, hungry and tired body and mind will be ineffectual during your exams and in life in general. Would you rather go to your mate’s 18th birthday party (the day before the exam) or join them at their 21st (the day after ALL exams) when you are both celebrating the end of university? Think long-term and you will gain in the long term.
Remove all electronic distractions. If you need to use a computer, I recommend the app for Google Chrome called Cherry Tomato Clock: it bans you from using social networking and other distracting sites for a fixed period.”
Chris – English Language, Literature, Theory of Knowledge, IB and IGCSE teacher
Tip 2 – Know the Assessment Objectives
“Ask your teacher or check the website of your exam board, making sure you get the correct syllabus for your course!
Check the weighting of the Assessment Objectives (how much each is worth in terms of marks) – don’t spend 80% of your essay on an Assessment Objective only worth 20% of the overall marks.
Something I do with my students is give them the Assessment Objectives plus the Mark Scheme for that paper, then I get my students to mark their own and each other’s essays. We really drill down and spend time analysing where the essay should be placed within the band descriptors. Once you know what the examiners are awarding marks for, and understand the differences between the bands, as well as the requirements to move up, it can result in the difference in your final grade. I always see improvement in essay writing after doing this with my students.
An invaluable task and well worth asking your teacher or tutor for a revision session on this. Good luck and good writing to you all!”
Anita – English Language and Literature teacher, A Level, IGCSE and TOEFL
Tip 3 – Re-write your notes
“When you take notes in class, it is really difficult to feel fully confident in all the material from the view of point of your understanding. Never take for granted the power of rewriting your notes, reading your class notes alone will not be enough for most students.
The act of writing your notes (by hand) and organising them in a way that makes sense to you helps tremendously in your capacity to understand and process the materials covered in class. When you engage your brain via the act of handwriting, you are in a sense forcing your brain to pay attention. Students can benefit greatly from writing and then rewriting notes as a memory tool. Also the act of rewriting notes helps to pull out any questions you may have over the material and weak areas that you may need further support on.
The most confident learners I interact with have notebooks that are arranged in a way that makes sense to them, not in the way that I present the material to them in class.”
Uma – Science teacher and SAT & ACT test prep specialist
Tip 4 – Keep a positive attitude
“The trick before starting IB revision is to first believe in yourself. Once you are convinced that this is your last push before “freedom”, you will go over the topics with more motivation.
Try using summary cards; on each card, write down subject summaries. This can be done using the notes you took in class or using your books. Then, write behind each card some references to where you can find sample questions directly linked to what you are reviewing. This way, you will have an overall idea of what might be asked and you will even be surprised to notice that some questions are redundant. Stick the cards on the wall of your room so that when you look at each one of them the main ideas written on those cards would appear obvious to you.
Good luck! Others did it, you can too!”
Maya – Maths, Biology and Chemistry teacher, Swiss Matu, French Baccalauréat IB and IGCSE diplomas
Tip 5 – Find your preferred style for revision
“As a History teacher I always tell my students that there are as many different ways to revise as there are different learning styles. However, what helped me to revise for exams were the following:
(1) When faced with having to sit exam papers A, B, C, D and E, always revise for each paper in the reverse order so that by the time you come to sit exam A, this will be the freshest in your mind.
(2) Always revise early in the morning, then do some physical activity in the middle of the day, then back to revising in the evening. As a rule, I never revised into the early hours of the morning unless it was for an exam the next day.
(3) When you wake up but before rising from bed, try to go over in your head the things that you revised the day before. I never ceased to amaze myself just how much I could remember and how I was able to clarify my thoughts using this technique. I think that this was because I was most free from daily distractions when at rest.”
Philip – History teacher, IB, A Level, IGCSE, & Swiss Matu
Tip 6 – Practice, practice, practice
“It is vital to know the time allocations for the exam and complete the tasks with a timer, “under exam conditions” during your revision; otherwise, you will just get carried away by the false sense of having unlimited time available. Importantly, you must be aware of the assessment criteria for each question. What is the examiner looking for? What mark would you give yourself based on the level descriptors?
In short: Practice, Practice, Practice!
In English exams, for the Writing Section – practice writing letters, reports and scripts in the appropriate style and addressing the given audience.
For the Reading Section (the analysis) – make sure you know your texts “to a tee” and use quotations to back up your ideas, follow the “Point – Evidence (=quote) – Explanation” structure for each of your paragraphs, where “Explanation” is your most important and longest part.
ALWAYS remember about correct spelling, punctuation (not just its accuracy but also the variety) and structure your response effectively (use connectives to help guide the examiner through your line of thought).
ALWAYS stick to the question, use the key words from the task.
ALWAYS plan and proofread what you have written!”
Anna English teacher and GCSE English Examiner for AQA
Tip 7 – Revise with mind maps, your brain thinks in colour
« Mind Map is a thinking tool that reflects externally what goes on inside your head » (Tony Buzan, Mind Map Conceptor)
Create your central idea: it represents the theme of your Mind Map. Write it down, in the center of your page and then circle it, your brain prefers circles.
Add your ideas and thoughts to your Mind Map, by adding branches (one each). Curved branches are the most effective, as they reflect the structure of your brain. They create variety, making the whole information easier to remember. Give your main ideas thicker branches to show their importance (linked ideas can go thinner and thinner to show the variation of importance in your Mind Map).
Use a lot of different colours, they are as exciting as images for your brain. Also, they add extra interest and life to your Mind Map. They give energy to your creative thinking. Each branch of you Mind Map has to have a different colour from the others.
Label each of the branches with a key word (related to your thoughts and ideas). Each ramification has to have a label with one key word. It is going to help your memory recall the main information (e.g : from a paragraph of your class notes, or a math formula). A word helps your brain to generate more connections and associations. It also allows your brain to spark off a lot of new thoughts and ideas, related to this key word. You have more flexibility and power with the branches. You may also add some notes to complete any of your branches.
Add images because they have a much greater impact than words. They encourage your imagination, they keep your mind focused, and help you to remember. Add one to each of your branches, and also to your central idea. Remember: don’t skip that step, an image related to each idea or thought is a tip to remember it.
Draw connections between your branches. They are the ones that create your Mind Map. If you connect branches you will connect and then understand different ideas, then you’ll remember them much easier.
Congratulations, you are now Mind Mapping!
Karine – Swiss Matu, French Baccalauréat and Special Needs teacher