Revision and The Easter Holidays

For years of teaching I despaired at my colleagues’ advice on how to revise.  Most seemed totally divorced from reality, or at least the reality of the adolescent.  Most saw their particular subject as the most important and most expected far too much of their pupils.  Even today I see advice such as suggesting that the subject specification is the place to start but how can you expect that of a pupil who is feeling just every so slightly desperate right now?

Good advice should be realistic.  Sensible advice should not suggest that your average teenager is going to work for eight hours per day for four weeks right through the holidays.  

Let’s take your average A level pupil, studying four subjects, with four weeks holiday from his/her Independent school.  One week of the holidays will be spent on family holiday, visiting relatives, going on a training camp or whatever.  Two other weekends are given over to other activities and the first weekend is an opportunity for sleep.

So that leaves 15 days to be spread across three subjects.  Let’s assume that one of these is examined very late on, or has been dealt with through continuous assessment, a portfolio or whatever, or is that one subject that the individual really does have a grasp of.

Now decide about the number of hours of intensive revision that is actually feasible.  I’m not talking about the more gentle reading that can be done in the evening, - this refers to the really intense stuff and we’ll come to the how later.  My advice is to allocate four hours in the morning to the sort of work that really does shove that knowledge into your brain cells.

So now we have three subjects, often divided into two teachers’ timetables or in other words six files to be dealt with.

15 days multiplied by 4 hours, divided by the 6 chunks of subject matter and you have 10 hours for your Physical Geography, British History or whatever.  Now have a look at the topics that your teacher has told you to cover.  Select the ten that need attention and slot these into your plan.  And about that plan - decide on the hours, the chunks of time, the topics and stick to it.  

Where you study is up to you but don’t head for your bedroom only to spend all your time studying the paint pattern on the wall or racing raindrops down windows.  I couldn’t study in my room, it was a disaster.  You may work better at the kitchen table, in the study, conservatory or wherever but make sure it is somewhere that will work for you.  

Don’t kid yourself that you can only work if you have music on.  Just think for one minute about that sort of statement, there’s no need for me to go on, and I’m not just a boring old git…..I used exactly the same argument.

Some will like to use index cards others special notebooks.  My preference was for A4 exercise books.  All topics were re-noted, original notes were condensed and a discreet topic would be transferred onto one side of carefully designed A4.  Headings were in red, text in black, key words underlined and so on.  Don’t try to revise by just reading your notes, it doesn’t work.  Re-work them into neat, carefully designed sheets and these will be so easy to revise from on those final days or hours before the exam.  Condensing your class and homework notes like this really does get the subject matter to lodge in the brain.  Do not scribble, take pride in these, they are the most important notes that you have ever written and each day will end with a real sense of accomplishment.

I have suggested working in the morning.  This is not because research suggests this is the best time, it is simply so that you can feel a real sense of accomplishment.  You will be doing something really positive while the rest of your world is in bed or watching day-time TV.  It also leaves a guilt-free afternoon or evening to be played with.  It may be that you could spend time reading that textbook, going over those poems, reading that chapter, but you don’t have to, you have already done the serious work.

15 days of work will result in 60 carefully designed and written revision pages.  It will give you a huge sense of achievement and you will have learnt so much.

Set the start day and then stick to it, otherwise you will spend the next two days re-designing your whole programme.  And don’t spend your precious revision time “organising” your files.  If you want to do that do it in the afternoon or evening.

Obviously you won’t have covered everything by the time you get back to school but you will have covered a lot, you will also have learnt how to revise and there are still more weeks to go before the exams kick in.  Good luck and get to it.