How to revise for exams in a week

Hour glass - last minute exam revision
Effective last minute revision requires tactics. These eight study tips will help you make best use of your remaining time before that first exam.

If you’ve only got a week left until your GCSE or A level exams, then it’s officially crunch time. There’s no use in feeling flustered over the lack of time left, since what matters now is how you can make the remaining days count. So buckle up and get ready for an intense one-week revision extravaganza.

1. Cut out the fat from your revision

You can’t expect to revise all the desirable topics. You have to cut out the superfluous material and make sure that you can cover what is left. For essay-based subjects, it’s more about playing to your strengths and knowing where you feel capable of scoring marks. Perhaps you would’ve liked to rope in some interesting context points that you’ve yet to fully read up on, but unfortunately that is now a luxury you can’t afford. For science-based subjects, condense your classwork into basic facts. Maybe you learned in biology how the heart pumps blood: take out the text and focus on the diagram and labels for chambers, valves etc. Anything unnecessary should be pushed aside because it’ll take up valuable mental space.

2. Study with summaries

Now that you’ve figured out the bare bones of what you need to learn, go online to find short videos or lectures that summarise those topics. The boat of full-length comprehensive descriptions has sailed. Look at websites such as SparkNotes or CliffsNotes for English literature. You can also find brief revision guides that accompany textbooks. These guides are no frills and will give you the core information. You can go to your school’s website or Google to find lecture slides for basic bullet points on various topics. You can check out these revision websites collated by the TARGETcareers team, which are ordered by subject.

3. Whip up some flashcards

A good use of your time is writing flashcards. These are valuable because they force you to condense information to fit on a small area. Making flashcards means that all the information is in front of you, so you don’t have to waste time looking through a giant stack of notes. You can put questions on one side of the flashcard and answers on the other. You can draw miniature diagrams as well, such as the water cycle for geography or a distillation set-up for chemistry. Flashcards are particularly good for writing out facts or quotes that you need to drill into your head. You should include concise and general quotes for humanities subjects, such as history, English or religious studies, where the quote is vague enough to be applicable to a variety of questions. It’s also wise to make them short, since there’s no use trying to commit paragraphs to memory.

4. Familiarise yourself with past papers

If you haven’t looked at a past paper by now, then you probably should get hold of one and peruse it. You need to be familiar with the format of the paper, since going into an exam without knowing will be unsettling. Obviously questions are never repeated, but similar questions will crop up. For instance, in the English exam you could see a poetry question that is thematically similar to a past paper question. Potential themes include gender, race, religion, technology and war.

5. Clear your head

This is important to do because clarity of thought will let you think rationally. If you are panicked, in revision or in the exam, then it will show in your work. You’ll end up flitting between things and trying to juggle too many revision tasks at once, or your answer to an exam question will be muddled and sloppy as you try to shoehorn in irrelevant facts. Go for a run and clear your head. Focus on what is in front of you rather than worrying about everything at once.

6. Revise with essay plans

For essay-based exams, spend a little revision time drafting rough essay plans. In the exam you should write five-minute plans and think about topic sentences at the start of paragraphs to give your argument focus, so practise doing this in advance even if you don’t have time to write practice essays.

The format of an essay plan for English could be thematic. For instance, you could write bullet-pointed paragraphs such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Theme one’, ‘Theme two’, and so until a ‘Conclusion’ ending paragraph. Aim to include four or five themes. The themes should be introduced in miniature with topic sentences; these will help you structure your essay plan. For instance, if you expect a question about King Lear such as ‘Why does Shakespeare choose to represent nature as dangerous and unforgiving?’, then an appropriate topic sentence for a power-themed paragraph could be ‘Nature is represented as dangerous and unforgiving so that its power contrasts with the frailty of humanity’. Mirroring the vocabulary shows that you’ve read the question. You would follow this with some explanatory bullet points with supporting quotations. More paragraphs with topic sentences could be focused around beasts, madness, blindness, death and women.

Topic sentences are useful for all essay-based humanities subjects. Essays for English can be laid out thematically, but for a history essay plan, for instance, you can have ‘For’ and ‘Against’ paragraphs instead of thematic ones with a question such as ‘Was Henry VIII successful in foreign policy?’. In these you can use evidence to either support or refute an idea on diplomacy, trade, religion etc. Remember to always support your points with some kind of evidence.

7. Look at mark schemes

Don’t fret in the exam if there are questions you can’t answer. Write some working out down, since this may earn you one or two marks and it’s better than a blank space. You won’t be penalised for putting something incorrect. This is why it’s important to look at mark schemes when you write out your essay plans. These mark schemes will include comments on how to please the examiner – it can be infuriating to think exams are just ticking boxes, but you have to think tactics if you want to secure a good grade.

8. The night before the exam – should I revise or sleep?

If you’re suffering pre-exam jitters then cramming last minute won’t work. Overloading yourself with new information can actually be detrimental. Skim your flashcards and essay plans, but don’t open up a new chapter of a textbook and expect to learn it by tomorrow. It’s much more sensible to get some shut-eye so you can wake up feeling alert and ready to do your best.

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