Revision planning: what to do before you start revising

Blank revision timetable on a student's desk
Revision doesn’t just happen; it takes planning, preparation and self-restraint. Find out how to prepare before the real countdown starts.

Everyone sets out to revise with the best of intentions. However, in a world with infinite cat videos and memes to distract you, maintaining that enthusiasm can be hard. To make the most of your revision time and to avoid falling off the wagon, take these few steps of preparation before exam season fully descends. That way, when the revision countdown starts, you will be ready to hit the ground running.

Plan your revision timetable

With multiple exams for each subject, you need to know exactly what exams you have and when they are in order to plan your time. Perhaps stick your exam timetable up on the fridge so your parents know what’s going on too. There’s always someone who sleeps through their final exam – don’t let it be you!

Once you’ve mapped out all your exams, it’s time to break down the syllabus. Go through every point in the syllabus and traffic light it according to your knowledge and understanding, and how much time it requires (ie green for topics you understand well, amber for ones you need to go over a bit and red for ones that completely baffle you).

From here you can make a choice: are you the sort of person who needs a rigid timetable or do you prefer a vague outline? Some people need to plan their revision down to every 20 minutes, with breaks and subject changes factored in.

If you prefer to take a more fluid approach to planning your revision, try breaking it down into weeks. Write out what you hope to cover each week and how much time you hope to spend on it. This way, if you get on a roll one morning and spend four hours on one subject, you know that you probably don’t need to cover it again for a few days.

Whichever approach suits you best, the main aim is to ensure you don’t accidentally spend two weeks on one exam and only give yourself two days for another.

Where to revise?

This might seem like a simple question but it is easy to get wrong; there are a lot of factors to consider. For example, you might want to work at the dining room table because it’s more spacious than your bedroom. However, the house might be full of distractions such as dinner being made or the dog begging for attention. Perhaps working in your room will be more productive and if so, consider whether you need to make it a more revision-friendly environment by moving your desk into a better-lit spot or by decluttering it, for example.

For others, the dining room table might be a more productive place to be (perhaps a parent can keep an eye on you to make sure you’re not distracting yourself).

Some people also like to change where they work half way through the day, whether they move from the library back home or from downstairs to upstairs.

Libraries can be great places to revise; not only are they quiet environments that are designed to aid concentration but you can turn your revision into a nine-to-six job. Similarly, if you can get access to an office (maybe your parents have one at home or you can use their work office), this can be a great environment to help you get your head down. Leaving the house for revision also means that, when you are done for the day, you can switch off and leave your revision brain elsewhere for the evening.

Wherever you decide to work, consider lighting, power sockets for laptops, desk space and the comfort of the chair… planning to sit on a stool all day for six weeks might not be very realistic.

Furthermore, don’t kid yourself. Revising in bed is not a thing – you will fall asleep. In fact, revising in bed can hinder your night’s sleep as your brain will disassociate your bed with sleeping and associate it with revision. Also, working in a café might look super cool and all ‘Manhattan blogger’ but cafes are distracting and noisy… and expensive!

Revision food

Having the right food around you when you revise is important and this includes having treats at hand if you need to reward yourself.

Make sure you have plenty of fruit in the house – smoothies can be a fun way of incorporating fruit into your diet (and making a smoothie can be a good 15-minute revision break).

Make sure you’re eating your omegas in advance of your exams. These are fatty acids that are essential for helping your body to function normally in areas including respiration and circulation, as well as keeping your brain and other organs healthy. Whether you get them through supplements, fish or seeds, they’re the ultimate brain juice.

Try to steer clear of too much caffeine and sugar as they will lead to lows in energy. This is why a reward scheme works well: revision is such a pain that you often feel like you deserve a treat. However, rather than making this a whole box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to annihilate throughout the day, make it something measured and relatively light (KitKats or Jaffa Cakes work well for this). When you’re sitting down all day, you don’t want to eat too much carbohydrate anyway – it can give you a funny tummy.

Revision equipment

You don’t want to sit down to your revision to find that you don’t have any lined paper, your protractor has snapped and you can’t find your German verb wheel. Think about every subject, how you’re going to revise it and what you will need. Do you need flash cards? Highlighters? A3 paper? Try to get it all ready in advance.

On the flip side however, some people need reigning in. If you think you’ll be tempted to spend hours making a beautiful, colour-coded mind map that could have been scrawled out in biro in twenty minutes, then remove temptation and don’t have too many coloured pens around you. This goes for flashcards too; perhaps you should use online flashcards rather than spending hours perfecting your calligraphic handwriting.

How should you handle your parents?

Parents can be difficult during the revision period: sometimes they try to help too much and sometimes they aren’t helping enough. To tackle this, prepare them as much as you can. If you need anything from them (such as testing you on vocabulary or dates), give them a good amount of warning so they can make sure they’re free.

Similarly, remember that you can’t expect your parents to tiptoe around you for six weeks; if you’re going to be distracted by dinner being made, try negotiating a time in your daily routine when you will take a break and your parents can crash about the kitchen with the radio on.

Household noise is a fact of life so don’t create a revision plan that would only work if you lived in a sound-proof apartment all by yourself. And you can’t expect your parents to be absolutely silent – it’s their house too.

Revision music – a good idea?

A lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction is to say that music and revision do not mix. However, if you’re revising all day every day, you are bound to need some variation in your background noise.

It’s true that any form of noise can be distracting and the majority of people are more productive in silence. If you do opt for music, choose it wisely. Firstly, don’t have your favourite tunes blaring in the background; it’s better to have music you’ve never heard before as your brain won’t have anything to associate it with.

On a similar note, try to go for music without lyrics; you can find concentration or revision playlists on most music platforms.

Finally, make sure you have a playlist lined up rather than individual songs – you don’t want to have to choose a new song every five minutes.

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