Exams & Curriculum revision

Why revision needs to start now!

IB DP Coordinators share tried and true advice on how to revise over the long-term.

I certainly know when I was in my final year of school the synonym for revision was “cram” – trying to revisit EVERYTHING you’d learnt in the past 1.5 years in that month before the exams. It’s an impossible task and I’m glad to see the tone has since changed.  Although, it’s entirely possible that my teachers insisted on regular revision, but I didn’t pay attention… Does that sound a little bit like your child?

In any case, the IB Diploma Coordinators we spoke to are unanimous in their agreement that the best revision is cyclical, frequent and regular.  Not only does it help keep the foundations of your child’s learning strong, it avoids the stress of a situation ahead of the exams where a student realises they don’t remember something crucial in the curriculum. So, whether your child is in first year or second year of the IB, or in their final years of another programme of study, here’s how you can encourage them to revise regularly.

Be clear on what revision DOESN’T look like

While it may seem obvious, Keith Sykes, IB Coordinator at Collège Champittet, still often finds himself impressing on students and parents that studying and revision isn’t hours and hours on end flicking through textbooks and notes, while lying on the bed, updating Snapchat and Instagram, with the TV or music on in the background. “My advice is short, sharp bursts. I’m not saying, leave Insta, Twitter alone totally. I’m saying 25-30 minutes, real focused concentration. Good quality work. Committing things. Memorization techniques. Then take a 10-15 minute break, and go back and do it again. This is better than hours and hours of mediocre ‘revision’ ”. Every student by this stage should have a better idea of what approach to study works best for them. What works for one, might not work for the other. Identifying what quality and effective revision looks like for your child is the first step.

Be organised and create a schedule

Dr. Eugene Stevelberg, IB DP Coordinator at Institut Florimont, insists that students keeping up with their work is very, very important. “Students should request of their teachers, if their teachers don’t do it already, that before they start a new lesson to go over very quickly, what they’ve done in a previous lesson.” He says students should expect at least two hours of homework every night for day to day work, plus the right time put aside for Internal Assessments in each of their courses and the Extended Essay.

Joseph Amato, IB DP Coordinator at Zurich International School (ZIS) recommends students to create a schedule: looking at the time they have available, deciding which subjects require the most amount of time, deciding how they’re going to best prepare for those subjects and then sticking to that schedule. “I tell them not to necessarily spend a whole day just studying Maths at the expense of everything else. Maybe the emphasis that day is Maths, but try and get the other subjects in as well. Then, of course for different students, maybe another system works better. It does depend on the student and needs a personal approach.” 

Get your hands on curriculum outlines, marking schemes and past papers

To truly get ready for revision from the first term, Keith Sykes of Collège Champittet recommends students ensure they get a copy of the written curriculum for each of their subjects. This will help them track their progress, annotating where they’re confident and where they need help. “Schools will also use DP planners, and students can ask the school or the teachers: When are they are going to put the breaks in? Are they doing it by chapter in a book? Are they doing it by topic? When are they doing an experiment? Find out what those weigh points are and use them to structure your mind mapping and summarizing throughout the course”. Other documents he recommends getting hold of early on are past papers and marking schemes. “They are all so readily available. It seems to me to be an insanity to not looking at the questions you might get asked!” 

Regularly make notes

Note-making is a recurring theme among DP Coordinators. Dr. Zoe Badcock, AP/IB Coordinator at the International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) advises students make the effort to summarise their learning as they go, for example, to make revision notes at the end of every unit in preparation for a unit test. “I often see them doing that all at the end of two years, and if they’ve just spent time doing that after each unit, it wouldn’t be such an onerous thing”. She’s observed that when students do this they aren’t as worried about poor grades in the final exams because they have a real sense of their learning progressing. If, in the process of making notes, they notice they haven’t understood something, they know it’s something to allocate time towards revisiting. 

Joseph Amato (ISZ) equally emphasises the importance of regular revision. “Even though we have a very short, tight school year to get everything done, I try and build revision into our day to day experiences, maybe every few days take a half a class to go over topics, to practice an essay from something we did from the year before.”

Keith Sykes (Champittet) admits that mind mapping and summarising is a key skill, that in itself takes practice. He often gets students to use the Cornell note taking method, which requires them at regular intervals, in the evening or at the end of the week, to summarise their learning, a good way of committing things to medium- and long-term memory. He says that “Another thing that students don’t generally do, but they should, is to review a couple of weeks or a month and look at how the work they’ve done in one subject relates to work they’ve done in other subjects.” This transfer of knowledge and making links is core to the IB, and something students work on in Theory of Knowledge, which helps to understand, internalise and store knowledge longer.

Make a plan for using free periods productively

Free periods are certainly there to give students a bit of breathing space and independence. But their purpose is to create time for the individual to focus on what the individual needs to work on – outside of a class setting. It is certainly an exercise in self-discipline and self-management but one that will pay off enormously in the future. Making time to plan the day or week ahead, reflect on what’s most urgent and what can be rescheduled – these are common indicators of happy and effective people in the workplace. So, now’s the time to start practising! Kate Bradley, Head of Secondary at La Côte International School advises students to use their free periods to “ensure they’re doing something related with their studies and making sure there’s no gaps in what they’ve just learned. It could also be using that time to structure their notes in folders, dividers. Organisation and persistency are key to IB DP success”.  

Mentor your child

Clearly, as parents, we all reach a point where we can no longer help our children with the content of a particular subject. But taking an active interest and asking the right questions can aid students in identifying what knowledge they master, and what they’re still unclear on. Dr. Eugene Stevelberg (Florimont) recommends regularly asking your child when they get home what they’ve done in class that day, something key they’ve learnt or something they didn’t understand. If they can explain something well, they’ve understood it well. So, this exercise helps them be more aware of what they need to focus on in their revision. 

He understands that not all children want to confide in their parents. “Adolescents, especially who are going through a difficult period in their life, don’t always enjoy sharing or want to share with their parents. But parents don’t need to be a friend, it’s probably better to be less of a friend and more of somebody who is taking the role of a mentor. They need to keep an eye on them, on how they use their computer and when they use their computer, and establish and maintain a consistent dialogue with them.”

Encourage peer-learning

Speaking of friends, they are key revision partners. At a time where adolescents might be resistant to their parents’ or their teachers’ advice, they will listen to and want to learn from their friends. And sometimes peers have ways of explaining concepts that their friends will understand better than a teacher’s explanation. Keith Sykes (Champittet) finds that revising together with peers is a great method, face to face or online. “We find a lot of students get good material from ‘Student Room’ online and work well remotely with other students across the globe. We had a student a couple of years ago that found a like-minded studier in Boston, through ‘Student Room’. They shared notes, skyped, interacted with each other and formed a real collaborative learning partnership that saw him through his exams.” 

Be aware of your school’s policy on study break and maximise it.

As the final exams approach, many schools will release the students from class for independent study. But the timetabling of this often changes quite a bit depending on the timing of spring break, the time it takes to complete the particular course of study your child is doing, and what the best practise is considered to be at your child’s school. John Switzer, Upper School Principal of Zurich International School (ZIS) finds that while students tend to say they study best at home, they often actually get more value from coming into school and studying in an allocated space where they have access to their teachers to ask any questions they might have. Joseph Amato, IB DP Coordinator at ZIS agrees that “a lot of teachers feel that students are best served being in class going over old papers and gaining from what they hear from their classmates”. He explains that the amount of release time is very dependent on when Easter falls, and schools that have a longer release period may have a longer school year to begin with and may have more hours.” So, don’t be surprised if one school has one-week study break vs. 3-4 weeks at another. Simply investigate the reasoning behind it and plan accordingly, especially the use of holidays. 

Use holidays wisely

When it comes to holidays, Andrew McLachlan, Deputy Head of Curriculum at La Côte International School, emphasises that it’s very, very important that students take time off as they need downtime, but this needs to be balanced against the demands of the programme, and well-planned for. “Students need to balance their study time and their downtime. We try to help students to plan from 18 months backward, and if they do their planning and keep up the good work, regularly, they can do it. I don’t mean to say they can’t have a vacation, but they should also take advantage of vacation times as well to revise. Some of the summer vacation will need to be dedicated to finishing up their Extended Essay, and often Christmas & Easter vacation in year 2 is more or less cancelled. But it’s a question of using one’s time wisely as there is simply not going to be a lot of spare time.” 

Dr. Zoe Badcock (ISZL) shares a tangible anecdote of how using holidays strategically can lead to success. “Last year we had a group of very high achieving boys, and very sporty boys. Because they knew they wouldn’t have so much time during the school year due to their sporting commitments, they would review during holidays. That discipline to just allocate a bit of time regularly made all the difference.” She emphasises how valuable it is when parents support the holidays as moments to review, especially in the second year of the IB which is not the time for a big family holiday, especially Easter break. So, her big tip is when it comes to planning vacations, keep the IB student at the centre of your decision-making. Stay home at Easter or go somewhere that still allows studying to be the priority.

So now you can start the school year armed with a wealth of IB Diploma Coordinators’ top tips for students to get the most from their learning. What’s more, your child will come away with organisational habits that they’ll also take with them into further studies and beyond.

Author Bio

By Sandra Steiger – Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus 

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Sandra Steiger has over 10 years’ experience teaching English at various schools in Switzerland. She now works as Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus. During her 6 years at the International School of Geneva, she was also the Service Learning programme Coordinator, International Award Supervisor, a Homeroom Mentor and Head of Year 8.

If your child needs a helping hand with revision, TutorsPlus provide specialist private revision tutors, as well as regular revision courses throughout the year. If you feel your child has any gaps in their knowledge or exam technique, we’d be happy to match them with an experienced tutor who will ensure they move forward with confidence and solid foundations. You can reach TutorsPlus at 022 731 8148 or

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