Revision routine tips – how to revise well and stay happy

Day and night image representing a healthly revision lifestyle
Looking for the perfect revision formula? We asked three graduates from top universities for their advice on how to stay calm and focused during GCSE and A level revision.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced routine during the revision period is incredibly important; while there are some universal revision tips that help everyone, there are also a lot of personal variables. Certain things work for some people and absolutely do not work for others. As a GCSE or A level (or equivalent) student, you might be yet to learn exactly what the best options are for you. Therefore, don’t be afraid to try different revision techniques and to give up on techniques that you don’t feel are benefiting you.

We asked three recent university graduates for revision tips that they picked up over their years of exams. They’ve all graduated from leading UK universities with high grades but still remember what GCSEs and A levels are like, so they’re in the perfect position to guide you in their footsteps. Read on for their advice on topics such as the best time to revise, how long you should revise for, what to do in revision breaks and how not to get overwhelmed.

Tips for how to structure your daily revision routine

Emily, Nottingham graduate: I found that aiming to revise for as long as possible every day was unrealistic – not having a solid finish line meant I would let myself off early and then I would feel guilty and work late into the night, which meant I would wake up late the next day. Treating the day as a nine-to-six job was a really good way to work hard all day and feel I deserved to relax in the evenings.

Natasha, Exeter graduate: Don’t get too overwhelmed. Set yourself clear and realistic objectives for the day and write them down. It’s actually motivating to be able to tick them off and feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of that day.

Nick, UCL graduate: Don’t go into revision thinking ‘I’ve got to spend a week doing English’: you will struggle to feel enthusiastic about a prospect like this. Instead, try to do two or three subjects per day that are quite different. You could do English, biology and geography. The best advice I can give is to get up early so you can crack on with the day. Get to bed well before midnight, wake up before 9.00 am, eat breakfast and then have snacks throughout the day for energy.

Tips on revising with friends

Emily: Being in a library with friends can be great as you can arrange to take breaks together and seeing your classmates work hard can make you want to work hard too. However, if you’re in an area where you can talk, it is very difficult to hold back.

Natasha: Revising by yourself day after day can be repetitive. If you are sure you will stay focused, you could organise a study group with your classmates. However, if you know you’re easily distracted when working with others, you could set up a Google document (or similar) with your friends to share and compile your notes.

Nick: Revising with friends never works out the way you plan because you’ll spend 90% of the time chatting. Be realistic: knuckling down on your own is probably the best way to ensure a productive session. If you do want to see friends, you can meet them for a quick lunch somewhere.

Tips for splitting your revision time between subjects – and sticking to it

Emily: The biggest thing I learned is not to put a disproportionate amount of time into my weaknesses. My best results at school ended up being my weakest subjects and the ones I wanted to take on to uni were my lowest results… which didn’t look great on my UCAS application!

Natasha: There are some amazing apps where you can input what subject you are doing and assign a time limit to each task. But make sure you keep your phone well out of arm’s reach so you’re not tempted to go on all your other apps.

Nick: It’s good to know what you want to achieve before and after lunch. If you want to spend the first part of the day on one subject, you can spend the afternoon on the next and the evening on another. Breaking revision into chunks makes it seem less terrifying.

Tips for taking effective revision breaks

Emily: I always took two different types of breaks. The first kind is every half an hour where you make a cup of tea, dance around to your favourite song or put the washing out. The other is the bigger, twice a day break where you take up to an hour to properly switch off. As a lot of revision involves a computer nowadays, I found that my breaks were best when they didn’t involve an electronic device. Having lunch outside, chatting to a friend (or often my mum), playing the piano and going for a run were all good ways to take my mind completely off revision.

Natasha: Every article will have a different piece of advice. But you should see what works best for you. If you feel as though your rhythm is being disrupted by stopping every 20 minutes, try 30 (if your brain can keep going). But make sure your breaks occur at regular intervals to stop you from getting a headache.

Nick: Don’t plonk yourself in front of the television: you’ll be giving your brain more information to absorb. Instead, try doodling for 20 minutes or going for a walk. You’ll need to give your legs a stretch and clear your mind. You could make a cup of tea or eat something if you need to regain concentration. Don’t pick up more reading; you need to rest your eyes!

Tips on what to avoid during revision

Emily: Avoid being too hard on yourself. If you wake up late one morning or you take an hour and a half lunch break instead of an hour, just get back into it and congratulate yourself for getting back into it. It’s a classic revision mistake to wake up at midday and call the day a ‘write off’. Punishing yourself in that way is definitely counter-productive.

Natasha: I would avoid doing anything addictive in your breaks; don’t think you can only watch half a TV episode for instance. Believe me, one episode will lead to another and before you know it you will be three seasons into a new show and immersed in all the characters’ lives. Walk your dog, have a conversation with your parents or make a healthy snack instead.

Nick: Try to avoid junk food because it’s not good fuel for your body. Don’t spend time playing Xbox because it’s no way to let your brain relax. You’ll develop eye strain if you keep looking at a screen for the whole day. Don’t attempt to revise with one eye on a Word document and the other on Netflix! It’s never successful!

Final words of wisdom – avoiding distractions and handling exam stress

Emily: Don’t be afraid to admit if you are stressed. I never thought I was the sort of person to get overly stressed until one year I went to the doctor’s with tummy aches and he said it was exam stress – even just hearing him say the words felt a bit better. Whether you talk to your parents, do some yoga or download a mindfulness app, make sure you let off steam without feeling guilty. Exams are important but so is your health!

Natasha: You can download apps that disable social media and distracting sites from your laptop and phone, which can be very helpful. The disabling app can be activated for hours so you can’t access social media even if you try to.

Nick: Try to relax before your exams. Don’t stress about things at the last minute – if you keep a calm centre you can deal with questions in a more controlled way. Remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel! If you give it your best shot you’ll be rewarded.

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