Exam revision can be pretty overwhelming. You need to work out what to revise for your exam, when to revise, how to revise...etc. No wonder so many students procrastinate over starting their revision!

In this blog post I’m going to walk you through a seriously simple process for that first step – what to revise for your exam – so you can get super clear on the material that could come up in your exam and create a plan to learn it, remember it, and ace it!


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5 ways to know what to revise for your exam

1. Understand your exam monster

If I told you to fight a monster it would be pretty helpful to know if it breathes fire or has 3 heads, so you can prepare and bring the right weapons.

The same applies for your studying. The exam’s format, topics and instructions should never surprise you on the day. Learn about your exam monster so you can turn that paper over confidently, knowing you’ve prepared as much as possible.

Find out and write down the following details for each of your exams:
- Date
- Time + duration
- Location
- Pass grade
- The grade YOU want
- Importance/weighting (how important is this exam to your final module/year/degree grade?)
- Type of exam + style of questions (read this blog post to determine your type)

If you don’t know all of these then talk to your tutor or university to find out the answers.

2. What topics do you need to revise for your exam?

This is a pretty important question to answer. For most exams, it’s impossible to know what questions will come up until you turn over that paper. But, it IS possible to find out the range of material that could be covered by your exam.

It would be pretty crappy if you wasted time revising topics that are definitely not covered. And it would be even crappier to forget to revise some topics that DO come up in your exam.

What topics could come up in the exam?
A. Only specific topics
B. Anything from the entire module/class/semester

If you answered A, then find out what these topics are.

If you answered B, then it’s time to map out all the topics.

Need more guidance? Look here:
- Exam information/instructions
- Your university’s website
- Module/subject/course information or handbook
- Talk to your tutor.

3. Create a mindmap of topics to revise for your exam

Mindmaps are a visual, super-awesome way to represent information and ideas.

I want you to create a mindmap (or a few mindmaps) that illustrate the topics that COULD come up in your exam.

how to know what to revise for your exam mindmap

Take a plain piece of paper and some different coloured pens and let’s get to work.

For a smaller exam, draw a bubble in the middle of the page and write in your exam title. For a larger exam you could create multiple mindmaps covering different sections of the material or module.

For example, one of my business exams was hefty and covered everything we’d learned in 9 months. The module was split into 6 blocks or units so I created 6 mindmaps.

Then, using your answer from step 2, start adding branches to your mindmap(s) of all the possible exam material. Think theories and concepts, theorists, case studies, models, diagrams…etc.

Once completed you’ve got a one-stop-shop resource you can keep coming back to as you revise to make sure you’re covering the key topics.

4. Prioritise the topics to revise for your exam

Now you’ve got a plan of what topics could come up, it’s time to prioritise to make sure you use your precious, often-scarce, revision time on the important stuff.

Look through your mindmap(s) and see if you can pick out the most important topics, theories, models...etc.

Clues to find out your exam priorities:
- Chapter titles, and topics mentioned in chapter introductions and conclusions
- Practice and past papers – look for patterns of question areas that come up most often
- Topics covered by tutorials, lectures or revision sessions
- Topics included in learning aims/goals/outcomes for your module/class.

Then, either colour code your mindmap(s) by highlighting the key concepts…or create a separate list. For some modules I created the mindmaps and then also created a list of the essential topics for me to revise.

This step will help you plan your revision time to make sure you’re focusing on the key topics that are more likely to come up in your exam - more bang for your buck!

5. OPTIONAL – decide what topics NOT to revise for your exam

Let me caveat this step first by saying this won’t work for all exams. Some exams, normally those with a higher number of questions, will test your knowledge on almost every topic area. So, if you decide to skip a topic then it’s unlikely you’ll write a good answer and get the marks.

However, for exams with a lower number of questions, where the entire range of topics cannot be tested, and where there is normally a choice of questions to answer…you could complete this additional step.

Here’s an example from one of my exams with The Open University.
The exam consisted of 7 essay-based questions that corresponded to the 7 units of the module. Therefore, I knew in advance that there would be a question from each unit. The exam gave each student a choice because we only had to answer 3 of the 7 questions.

The least risky choice would be to revise concepts from all 7 units so I had a choice of 7 questions in the exam.

A less risky choice would be revising 5 units as it would give me 5 questions to choose from.

The riskiest choice would be to only revise 3 units because that would mean I HAD to answer those questions in the exam – even if I didn’t like the look of them.

In the end I chose to study 4 units in-depth and 2 units in less depth – and ignored 1 unit entirely.

By understanding the exam inside-and-out I was able to make smart decisions that saved me time and ultimately allowed me to achieve the highest grade.


How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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