‘Good exam results are made in the Easter holidays’

Posted on: 28 Mar 2018
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

With A-level and GCSE students up and down the country preparing for their summer exams, ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon has offered pupils his top revision tips.

He has broken exam revision down into five main areas to create a guide for young people planning their revision schedule over the Easter break.

Mr Lenon said: “Good exam results are made in the Easter holidays. Now is the time to start planning effective methods for learning all that work you have done in the past two or more years.

“Public exam results are important. They can determine the course of your life. Other students will be working hard. So it is worthwhile sacrificing your holidays. Your exams will be finished in June and you will then have about two months holiday.

“The best GCSE and A-level results don’t go to the cleverest students – they go to those who revised in the Easter holidays.”

Covering the following five areas will help contribute to exam success this summer, according to Mr Lenon:

1) “First you need to ensure that the materials you are going to revise from are complete. There is no point pushing yourself to revise well if the materials you are revising from are inadequate. You need to know which exam board and which syllabus within that board you are studying in each subject. You need a copy of the syllabus (which is on the exam board website), an understanding of the structure of each exam paper and likely questions. Above all, you need to photocopy other people’s notes if you missed lessons, or make your own notes from textbooks if there are other gaps.

“You need files and card dividers to separate notes into topics. You may wish to use revision textbooks, revision notes provided by your school and websites like BBC Bitesize.

“If you have been given long articles by your teacher, it is a great idea to turn these into notes and then throw the articles away. It is hard to learn a long article, easier to learn notes. If you are revising from a website, make notes.

“You need to make your notes as easy to remember as possible. Underline headings in colour. Number points; for example, if you were revising causes of a civil war, it is helpful in the exam if you know there are six causes (numbered as such in your notes).”

2) “You need to revise all your work at least three times before the exam – once in the Easter break, once in the summer term, once a day or so before the exam. It is the coming back to the notes three or more times that drives the information into the long-term memory; revising just once is no good.

3) “Plan to work for seven hours a day most days of the Easter break. That may seem a lot, but the students who get the best grades will be working this hard and some exams start in May. If you work for 14 days, that will be about 100 hours of revision. If each topic takes two hours to revise, that is 50 topics.

“Divide your notes for each subject into topics. That is easy enough for physics, chemistry, biology, English literature, geography, history and RE, for example. Now write down your revision timetable – which four topics you are going to learn on each day, aiming to cover everything in the 14 days.

“For modern languages you are going to learn vocabulary and grammar. It is best to spend 30-plus minutes on this EVERY day, coming back to the same words again and again.”

4) “How do you actually revise? This crucial question has been studied by researchers and teachers for years and we know what works and what doesn’t work. What doesn’t work is simply reading notes or highlighting notes.

“What does work is making notes from notes and then TESTING YOURSELF, often by seeing if you can write out the notes from memory. It is the process of trying to recall information that drives it into the long-term memory.

“Some people make revision cards, some use post-it notes. The important thing is doing something active and then seeing what you can remember. For modern languages vocab you need to note all the words you cannot easily recall, write them out, test yourself again and gradually master the whole list – 30 minutes a day.

“For maths you have to do practice questions, using worked examples from your textbook.

“There will be some things which you need to learn but are tough to remember, like quotes from a play, or dates, or place names, or simply facts - like the population of a particular city or country. These need separate treatment. Write them out so they can be quickly checked an hour or day before the actual exam and keep coming back to them in the weeks ahead.”

5) “Start your revision early in the day – 9am. Work for no more than one and a half to two hours and then take a 30 minute break. You should be finished by 6pm and can relax in the evening. You need a good night’s sleep so never be tempted to revise late. Good sleep will help your brain retain information in the long-term memory.”