Exam time is definitely one of the toughest times of the year. There’s so much pressure to do well as exam results affect your final grades. What you can show in just a few hours can have such a big impact.

You may be making some revision mistakes that could hinder your success and stop you getting the high exam grades you deserve.

In this blog post you’ll discover:

  • 15 revision mistakes you could be making. What to do instead
  • The tips and methods you can implement right now to make your revision more effective so you can go for those high grades.


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1. Starting your revision too late

It makes sense that the longer you have to revise the more effective your revision COULD be. There are, however, exceptions where this is out of your control. For example, your university might schedule unexpected or last-minute exams so long revision becomes impossible. Most of the time though, you will be told early on what time of the year you will have exams and whether they will cover an entire module or just part of a module.

The aim of revision is to learn and understand the material you are studying so you can display this comprehension in an exam. All (effective) revision strategies rely on the same principle: testing your learning multiple times. Therefore, great revision requires a certain amount of time to be able to test yourself many times. The longer you have to revise (up to a point), the more chance you have of retaining your learning and demonstrating it in an exam.

2. Using passive revision techniques

Passive learning is the traditional classroom method of learning where students listen and take notes as their tutor speaks; their minds acting like empty boxes to be filled.

Active learning is a different approach centred around engagement. Students take control of their own learning by testing their knowledge, applying it to real situations, questioning assumptions and synthesising ideas.

Passive learning will not help you fully understand a concept, but you may be able to memorise its details if you practice hard enough. Passive revision techniques involve reading notes and copying material. While this may allow you to recognise concepts, you may not be able to recall or use them effectively in an exam.

Taking notes in your own words and condensing them down to summaries of key points is a useful revision technique. But simply rereading your notes will not be good enough to get you the high marks you deserve.

Instead, active revision techniques should be used, such as:

· Testing your knowledge with flashcards

· Discussing or debating ideas with a friend

· Creating quizzes to test yourself

· Writing answers to practice and past exam questions

· Creating mindmaps and diagrams to represent an idea

· Applying an idea to a real-life situation.

3. Confusing recognition for recall

You’re busy revising for your exam in a few days. The panic’s building and you’re worried you can’t remember much. You know you should probably test yourself or try out a past paper but you’re scared your mind will go blank or you won’t know anything. So, instead you decide to read through your notes again. This feels A LOT easier. The ideas seem familiar and you recognise what you’re reading so, fingers crossed, you’ll remember all this in the exam.

I’m going to tell you that recognition is an illusion of competence. Rereading your notes can trick you into thinking you know the material as the words seem familiar to you. But in the exam, you won’t have your notes to prompt this recognition (unless it’s an open book exam).

Recalling a concept is a much harder process, but this is what will help you answer a tricky exam question. Active recall is frustrating and uncomfortable so students don’t do it enough. Embrace this discomfort and practice your recall by using active revision techniques to understand a concept, instead of simply recognising it while flicking through your notes.

4. Only using one revision method

You will no doubt have a ‘favourite’ revision technique you always use. While you should use the study techniques that work the best for you, it’s also important to make sure your revision is as effective as possible.

Using various methods will deepen your understanding of an idea and improve your ability to recall and apply this knowledge in an exam. Each method is useful for different reasons so mix-and-match to create a superstar revision toolkit.

Flashcards are useful for learning key words, facts and details; quizzes are great for testing your knowledge of concepts; mindmaps show the links between ideas; and past papers help you apply your learning and practice your exam technique.

5. Failing to discover the exam format

You do NOT want to turn over your exam paper and the format be a surprise to you.

So you can be the most prepared, find out the style of questions, whether you’re allowed notes or not, whether you’ll have a choice of questions…etc.

6. Failing to practice answering exam-style questions

Similarly, you don’t want the style of question to shock you in the exam.

When I studied for a maths module I practiced with lots of questions from the textbooks, but I didn’t think to practice any exam-style questions...and this bit me in the butt. I got to the exam and turned over the paper. Before I had a chance to worry about the content of the questions, the format terrified me. They were all long-form scenario type questions with multiple parts following on from the next. I was completely thrown as I’d only practiced short, one or two part questions.

I wasted a lot of exam time trying to understand the questions and I didn’t achieve the grade I was aiming for.

Big lesson learned. For all types and subjects of exams, find some example questions or past papers to practice with.

7. Not starting with notes in your own words

Effective note taking is a big stepping stone towards great grades as they provide the initial material for your revision.

Effective note taking starts by only ever writing notes in your own words.

The only skill required to write verbatim notes (word-for-word) is the ability to copy correctly.

Writing notes in your own words is harder but a lot more effective. You have to process the information to create your own explanation. You begin connecting what you’re reading to examples and existing knowledge; building neural pathways that can be strengthened through practice and revision.

8. Letting past exam results cloud your judgement

This is easier said than done. If you’ve had a bad exam score or you’ve always struggled with exams then you might be unmotivated to revise hard as, what’s the point? You need to remember that just because you’ve identified yourself as ‘not an exam person’ in the past - it doesn’t mean you can’t change.

I’m a big believer in small tweaks. A few simple changes to your revision strategies can have big results. Replace some of these revision mistakes with effective tips and your exam grades will improve.

Try and remember that all you can influence is now in the future. There’s no point looking backwards at past failures. You are where you are so you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.

9. Not getting the support you need

Studying is often a very lonely experience. One of these revision mistakes is not getting help or encouragement from those around you. While revising for exams is your own journey, your friends and family also play a role.

You might need them to help you learn by testing you and discussing ideas with you. They can give you a pep talk when you’re feeling down and motivate you to continue. Or sometimes, you might need them to help you by respecting your time and not distracting you or letting you procrastinate.

10. Not exploiting your own energy levels

We all have busy lives and need to fit our studying and revision around everything else in our schedule. But a key revision mistake is not exploiting your naturally productive times in the day. You have your own personal energy rhythm so try to work with this rather than against it. Identify whether you’re a morning person, night owl, or maybe you feel more productive in the middle of the day. Find slots in this golden time and revise then.

11. Not scheduling your time

A great quote from Chris Ducker is, ‘if it doesn’t get scheduled it doesn’t get done’. Your revision will not do itself. You are unlikely to wake up on a sunny Saturday and think, ‘you know what, I don’t want to relax or see my friends; I’m gonna revise all day today’. (If this IS you, please tell us all your secret!)

Look at your schedule and plan times you’re going to make progress with your revision. If you can’t find any gaps then you might need to make some changes to your priorities and commitments where you can so you can free up some space.

12. Studying while distracted

Now I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that you’re not going to do your best learning with the television on, 74 tabs open and your phone pinging next to you.

Make a conscious effort to remove any distractions BEFORE you start revising. If you get your head down and focus you’ll learn more and be done sooner.

Check out this post for 14 other ways to overcome studying procrastination.

13. Not being properly hydrated

It’s easy to forget to drink when you’re busy studying. But studies show even minor dehydration, a 1% loss of water, affects your mood, concentration and memory. If you’re dehydrated it takes more brainpower to do the same task as a hydrated person. The brain has a limited amount of resources so your brain is likely to be less effective and tire quicker if you don’t keep it hydrated.

Here’s some tips to keep hydrated during revision:

· Use a water tracking app like iDrated to track your hydration levels and notify you when to drink

· Don’t sit down to revise unless you have a drink next to you

· You don’t just need to drink water - squash and herbal/fruit tea counts too

· Try adding things to your water - mint, cucumber, lemon, or orange slices

· Set an alarm every hour of revision to remind yourself to drink a glass of water.

14. Revising for too long at once

When you’re in crazy revision mode it feels like breaks are impossible. You don’t think you’ve got enough time to revise properly let alone interrupt your focus with breaks.

The problem is, taking small breaks is proven to improve your focus and productivity.

The University of Illinois conducted a study where 84 participants were asked to spend 50 minutes on a repetitive computer task. The participants were split into four groups:

· The ‘control’ group were asked to work continuously for 50 minutes

· Three groups were given four number at the beginning of the task and told to inform the research team if they appeared on the screen. The ‘non-switch’ group were not shown the numbers, the ‘switch’ group were shown them twice and the ‘digit-ignored’ group were told to ignore the numbers if they appeared.

The research team noticed that the performance of the ‘control’, ‘non-switch’ and ‘digit-ignored’ groups declined progressively. But the performance of those in the ‘switch group remained constant. The brief breaks they took to respond to the digits allowed them to stay focused for the entire time.

So, brief mental breaks during your revision will help you maintain the focus to study effectively for hours.

15. Not getting enough sleep

John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, explains how sleep is important for brain function. While you sleep your neurons are incredibly active, and it’s thought this is when your working memory (short-term memory) is encoded into long-term memory - an important process during revision! Loss of sleep damages working memory, mood, logical reasoning and quantitative skills.

It can be difficult to get enough sleep normally if you’ve got a busy life, and during revision this may be even harder. But, it may be better for your revision to go to bed on time rather than staying up super late to study.


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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