12 last-minute revision and pre-exam tips

With exam season well and truly underway, we’ve rounded up the best advice on revision and managing pre-exam nerves – from leading scientists, psychologists and experts – to help you and your parents stay calm and get through these last few weeks.

Last-minute revision tips

Need some fresh thinking to shake up your revision timetable? These hints and tips will give you a new perspective on revising for your exams and help you remember information in different ways.

1. Mix up your revision. It might feel counter-intuitive to jump between quadratic equations and statistics, but a study of geometry learning found that people learnt better when they mixed up maths topics, instead of following the linear approach used in most textbooks. One theory is that you’re leaving longer between reviewing the same information. Another is that your brain has to work out how to solve the problem afresh, as you can’t take the same approach each time. Give it a go and see if it helps you learn more effectively.

2. Set yourself small tests along the wayResearch has found this can help you retain information better than if you re-read the same information over and over. This is where studying with a friend can be beneficial too, test each other as you’re working through your revision - parents can be good at helping you with this too.

3. Stick key facts around the house (sorry, mum and dad – now’s not the time to worry too much about your interior decor). Try using pictures for these, instead of words, as neuroscientists estimate the brain can process entire images in as little as 13 milliseconds. That way every time you get a drink from the fridge, you’ll be reminded of the order of elements in the periodic table. Or while you’re brushing your teeth, you can brush up on trigonometry at the same time.

4. Try studying in different rooms. For years experts have been investigating why we seem to be able to retain information better if we study the same thing in two different environments, but the consensus is that it works. Consider switching your locations every so often and incorporating some time outdoors too.

5. Hide your phone away. Save your latest post on Instagram for your next study break, as psychologists have found that distractions prevent the brain from taking in information effectively. 

6. Did you know humour helps you learn? Research has found that we tend to recall humorous material more often than not-so-funny information. Mums and Dads can be useful here – consider making up silly rhymes together to recall scientific terms, or creating your own jokes (if you haven’t got time to come up with your own, have a look at these pun-tastic ones).

Tackling pre-exam nerves

7. Don’t panic about panicking. While the symptoms of anxiety can be, well, panic-inducing… some experts argue that stress can motivate you to perform better and even make you more productive by helping you retain information better.

8. Get moving! We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know it’s especially beneficial when you’re working on memory tasks? According to Thomas Crook, a clinical psychologist and memory researcher who contributed to this article, “Cardiovascular health is more important than any other single factor in preserving and improving learning and memory.” So even it’s a 25-minute dance-style workout on YouTube in-between swotting up on Newton’s Laws or cellular respiration, it’ll be time well spent.

9. Ground yourself in the here and now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, practise some simple mindfulness techniques – for instance, grounding yourself in the moment by focusing on the senses (what can you hear/see/feel/smell/taste) right now? It’ll help you turn your attention back to the task in hand. In the same way, once you leave the exam hall, let any worries go about what you’ve just written. Dwelling on negative thoughts about what’s just happened won’t help; instead positively move onto preparing for the next exam.

10. Don’t stay up late. Females especially, have been found to struggle to remember information as effectively if they’ve been up late the night before. The NHS recommends teens get 8-10 hours’ sleep a night.

11. Plan something fun for AFTER exams. A day out at a festival, trip to the beach or even a summer holiday give you all something fun to look forward to when the exams are over.

12. Think of the bigger picture. Exams might seem like the biggest thing in the world right now, but remember they’re just a means to an end. If it all gets a bit too much, think about why you’re doing exams in the first place: to open up your options in the future and help you achieve your goals in life. Take a look at our Jobs in STEM hub to see what opportunities are out there and remind yourself that these exams are just a stepping stone to enjoying a fulfilling career in years to come.

A final note for parents: It might feel like you’re taking your Chemistry O-Level all over again, but the best thing you can do during these weeks is be your child’s support system. There will probably be tantrums, tears and panic (from you and your offspring) but if you can provide a listening ear, hugs, regular meals and overlook their messy bedroom for a couple of weeks, it’ll make this rite of passage much smoother for everyone in the family.

To learn about future jobs in STEM, visit our careers hub. Or read about these inspiring women to find out what they studied to get to their current roles in STEM industries.

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