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10 ways to revise better

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep

With exams just around the corner, students often wonder how to revise for exams effectively. We’ve looked through the research to find how students can improve their memory, mood and concentration. Here are 10 simple tips that are the best ways to revise.

Good Revisers vs Poor Revisers

Eat breakfast

Over 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls regularly skip breakfast. Eating breakfast, especially cereals rich with complex carbohydrates, helps boost your concentration and memory over the course of the morning. Eating breakfast will help facilitate their morning revision session.

Don’t listen to music

So music can improve motivation (this is why people listen to music on the treadmill at the gym) and it can improve mood (listening to your favourite song usually makes people smile). But does it help to listen to music whilst revising? Studies have shown that people who revise listening to music recall less than those who revise in a quiet environment.

Music with no lyrics is better than music with lyrics (regardless of whether you like the lyrics or not). This negative impact of music on memory has been shown to have more impact on introverts than extroverts.

Do past papers and space out study sessions

The ‘What Makes Great Teaching Report’, by The Sutton Trust, highlights how doing past papers and spreading out revision are effective strategies to help aid learning. They also highlight how some popular strategies, such as highlighting key passages to memorise them and cramming revision into one long session, are not particularly helpful. For a more in-depth review of strategies that help facilitate memory during revision time, we think this blog by @HuntingEnglish and this one by @Turnfordblog are excellent.

Put phones away

Having your phone out and in sight, even if you are not using it, can make you perform 20% worse than if you had put your phone away. That is the finding of a study, which found that “the mere presence of a cell phone may be sufficiently distracting to produce diminished attention and deficits in task-performance, especially for tasks with greater attentional and cognitive demands”. The implication couldn’t be clearer; out of sight really is out of mind. Still need convincing? Have a look at our blog on 6 Reasons to Put Your Phone Away.

Boost your students’ study skills and give them the best chance at academic success, with an evidence-informed workshop.

Drink water regularly

Drinking water has been shown to help improve both memory and concentration. If students wait until they feel thirsty, their concentration levels have already dropped.  As well as during revision, evidence is starting to emerge that drinking water in exams can also help students achieve better marks.

Get fresh air

Taking a break in a field or a park will improve your concentration much more than if you go for a walk in a busy urban environment. Students from the University of Michigan found their performance on a boring task improved by 20% if they took a break in natural surroundings. This is because natural environments replenish your brain, whereas urban ones require your brain to stay alert, further draining your mental resources.

Get some exercise

Researchers at Bristol University have found that people perform significantly better if they work out for 45 minutes at lunch time. As well as improving their mood and ability to deal with stressful situations, their scores for their perceived concentration levels were 21% higher on days that they exercised.

Keep a diary

To state the obvious, revision time can be very stressful as the pressure of upcoming exams increases. Keeping a diary is an effective way to help capture negative thoughts. Recognising these negative thoughts is the first step to managing them and improving meta-cognition, something the Sutton Trust highlight as being a particularly effective strategy for pupil premium students. We blogged on this topic in more detail here.

Regular bed times

Going to bed at a regular time is the number 1 tip by The Sleep Foundation. Research shows that having a regular bed time helps the cognitive development and performance of young children. Research into teenagers and sleep patterns has also found that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to fall ill.

Sleep 8-10 hours a night

Most people don’t get enough sleep, with the majority getting less than 6¾ hours a night. Teenagers need more than adults, with GCSE and Sixth Form students needing up to 9½ hours. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in working memory, attention and decision making, with students who regularly get a good night sleep achieving higher grades than their sleepier peers.

For more revision help have a look at our page Best Ways to Revise – where you’ll also find links to great blogs that will help you do your best during exams.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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