The build up to any exam period can be a daunting and stressful experience. In particular, it can be difficult to get to grips with your revision, and easy to fall into bad habits. Our trainee, Sophie, shares her helpful revision tips to give you the best possible chance of exam success.
I remember the panic as I was faced with my first university exam period back in the Spring of 2016. How much time should I set aside for each subject? Is it better to revise alone or with others? Should I attempt practice papers? Who should I ask if I get stuck? All of these common questions and many others swirled around my head on a loop.
Luckily, I got some great answers to these questions alongside some amazing general advice from friends, family and my fellow students on how to manage my revision. To pass on this wisdom, I’ve shared below the ten best revision tips which I have received alongside my personal experiences to help make your exam period at least a tiny bit less stressful!
10. Hide those phones
My opening tip is to try to get rid of distractions which will prevent you from really getting into your revision stride. As someone who can be very (very) tempted to procrastinate if any devices are in touching distance I found it easiest to lock devices such as my phone and iPad away or to delete apps such as social media apps to remove the temptation to just look at a short Facebook post (we all know where that rabbit hole leads)…
If you feel that you’ve reached a point in your revision where you really need to focus such as a really tricky topic which you find difficult, if possible it is also good to take yourself off to a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed by other people to give yourself the best chance of focusing.
That said, sometimes I found apps or webpages really useful for revision so if there is something helpful on your device then by all means make use of it – I just find that when you really need to focus it’s best to have no distractions.
9. Create some calm
It can be really difficult to revise and to focus in a cluttered space as it can be hard to find the paper or flashcard which you’re looking for and can lead to you feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material you need to work through.
Speaking from personal experience, as someone who is guilty of creating a whirlwind of papers and pens, I can definitely say that revision came much easier once I organised my workspace into some semblance of tidiness! I can’t say that I have carried this tip through into my working life (you can just ask my first seat supervisor about the state that my desk had got into at times) but I found working from a clear space made me more mentally relaxed and gave me a clearer head to tackle my revision.
8. Organisation is key
Being organised about when you will be revising is really helpful as it gives you a structure to your day which makes it much easier to feel motivated to pick up your revision materials.
Drawing up a revision timetable with all of your subjects included is such a great way of getting this structure and it comes with the added bonus of meaning that you can take care to allocate even time at the outset to all of your papers and avoid the temptation to over-revise in a particular area.
I must also confess that I do love a highlighter and I would really recommend colour-coding your revision timetable to give an extra clear overview of what you’re doing and when (and that definitely doesn’t count as procrastination…)
Try your best to stick to your timetable but don’t worry if you don’t or can’t stick to this scheduling every once in a while – just make sure you keep a balance of subjects. For example, if you overrun with your criminal law revision into your tort time make sure you switch out one of your next few criminal law sessions for a tort session - physically make any switches on the timetable though so that you keep track of the revision you have done and to ensure you can keep track of the changes to ensure you don’t slip permanently into a more irregular revision pattern.
7. Take a break
Linked to the previous tip on organisation, when designing your revision timetable it is also important to schedule in some time to take a break to re-charge your batteries. Try to schedule in a 5 minute break every half an hour or a 10 minute break every hour to make sure that you don’t become tired and unfocused. Short but frequent breaks are great for making sure you don’t lose your motivation but whilst also keeping your focus. I also found that because I got so absorbed in my subjects it was helpful to set an alarm to remind myself to take the necessary breaks.
6. Don’t forget to have some fun
You should make sure you leave room in any revision timetable for some fun (not that revision isn’t fun – especially if you follow these tips!). Scheduling in some time with friends or a short trip out can also act as a useful treat for sticking to your revision schedule. Alternatively, in the current environment, scheduling in a short break for a Zoom call or a virtual quiz night with a friend might be a good break (virtual quizzes have become very popular amongst the NRF London teams during lockdown!). I also found that setting myself benchmarks in order to achieve a particular treat was a really good motivator for getting things done and giving me something to look forward to at the end of a long day or week or revision.
5. Don’t leave it too late
Try to start your revision as early as possible – it’s never too early to start consolidating your knowledge and you certainly don’t need to wait until the end of your course content to start revising! I personally found that it was helpful to pencil in some dates for doing some mini-revision sessions once I had finished a topic as I think that this is great for focusing your mind on the areas which you find difficult with enough time to look into it further and for starting the process of consolidating your knowledge while it’s still fairly fresh.
The earlier you start your revision the calmer you are likely to feel as you move through the revision period as you can tell yourself that you have given yourself plenty of time to work through the required knowledge for each paper.
It’s also never too early in the day to start revising – even though it can be super tempting to put it off until later in the day you will often be more productive if you start revising in the morning and early morning revision can give you a sense of achievement which helps you stay motivated for your afternoon session. Morning revision sessions also prepare you for getting your brain engaged for that 9am exam!
4. Revise with others
Many parts of your revision will of course need tackling alone but making some time to chat through things with a group can really enhance your thinking.
Try revising in groups as it can be really useful to get another person’s perspective on that pesky question that you just can’t get your head around. When I was studying for my law degree I would try to organise get-togethers with different groups to discuss practice paper questions and areas which were potential essay questions for the exam. Although this sometimes descended into an intense discussion, actually justifying and discussing things with others was really invaluable for helping me formulate my own arguments and to think about opposing arguments and how they could be undermined (or where they actually made some sense!). Asking friends about their understanding of a particular area can also be useful when you are struggling with a topic and equally chatting through a topic which you understand well with a friend will help solidify your own understanding.
These sessions also have the benefit of being possible remotely via Zoom or Skype which has become particularly relevant during the current lockdown but would also come in handy for catching up on group revision sessions outside of term time when friends might be visiting home.
3. Try different methods
Although everyone has a preferred method of revising and by the time you reach university you probably have a decent idea of what works best for you, varying your techniques can help you to retain more information. For example, practice papers for revision technique, coupled with flashcards and mind-maps. Mixing my revision methods up really helped me gain a fresh focus and prevented me from getting bored or frustrated with a topic.
Personally, I tended to start with full notes which I distilled down on to flashcards and an A3 mind-map which covered all the key parts of the particular topic, such as the most important cases, with just a few key words. I also found moving from each stage a good confidence boost which proved that the information was going in!
In particular, and as an exception to the no devices tip above, taking your revision away from paper can be really helpful – recording yourself going through some key principles and then listening to this as you go about various daily tasks such as cooking a meal can help. When taking my final year law degree exams, I put together recordings of the key cases for each of my chosen subjects and listened to them in the evenings when my main revision was done for the day.
2. Take care of yourself
Don’t forget that as well as making sure you have the necessary knowledge for your exam you also need to make sure you take care of your physical and mental health – hopefully some of these tips such as taking regular breaks and making time for fun will help you to do this.
Eating well, sleeping well and exercising well are three particularly key elements in taking care of yourself. In particular getting into a routine for all three is really useful. Exercising is an especially great way to remove stress and improve concentration and it might also get you away from your revision space for half an hour to allow you to mentally take a break as well.
For example, I found it really helpful to make myself up some healthy snacks such as dried fruit and build these into the breaks in my revision timetable to make sure I got my 5-a-day! Sleeping was something I found tricky during revision but I found that going to bed listening to some revision notes and sticking to a schedule of going to bed at a fairly early and regular hour helped me to relax and sleep more easily.
1. Think positive!
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, having a positive attitude and mind-set is key when revising. It can be difficult to remain upbeat when you’re working through a tough subject area which you struggle with and I had a few days where I doubted whether I would ever understand certain topics (read the entirety of the land law syllabus). You just need to stay calm and remind yourself of all the hard work you have done and will do.
Rewarding yourself for small breakthroughs as discussed above can also be great for keeping up that positive mind-set and reminding yourself when you’ve made progress. On the flip side, if you have a difficult revision day and find that you’re struggling to make anything go in, don’t dwell on it too much – be pro-active and pick yourself up and go again the next day. I am a massive dweller and found this so hard but once I turned my focus around to a more positive starting point and started focusing on the parts of difficult topics which I did understand and how I would tailor my revision to make sure I understood what was confusing me I felt much better and more in control of my revision journey. For example, making plans to talk through a difficult topic with a friend or tutor can make you feel more positive as you are taking action on difficult areas.
Next steps in your revision journey
The revision tips above are designed to give an insight into the tips which I have amassed over the years and the ones which I think are pretty handy but there’s no magic formula for revision and it might be that some of the tips above don’t work for you but to get the most out of your revision, find what does work for you and commit to it.