Five of the Most Effective Revision Techniques

Effective revision techniques

Revision: we’ve all been there before – staring at a text book or folder of notes hoping (praying) that something will magically sink in. For many of us, the next wave of exams may be a little way off yet, but now’s the time to start thinking about the different revision tricks available to help us improve our study skills and pass those cursed exams.

A study released recently on the UK’s Guardian website contained a series of insights into effective revision techniques that actually worked. Here we’ve handily given our take on them for you (with a few choice tips of our own)...

1. Spread out your revision

One thing that almost all educational experts and their corresponding theories of learning agree on is that last-minute cramming is not a particularly good technique for revising. Instead allowing for plenty of time between revision sessions is infinitely preferable. ‘Distributive practice’ it’s called. Or, to put it another way, not leaving everything to the last moment.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail

This one initially sounds just plain wrong (the whole point of the exercise is to figure out how to pass exams, right?), but if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Getting things wrong is a vital part of learning how to do things right. Just make sure you get it out of the way early and improve as time goes by.

3. Try to recreate exam conditions

Revising and actually taking and passing an exam are, it’s fair to say, very different exercises. And yet very few of us actually practice taking the exam we’re trying to pass. Whether essay writing or multiple choice question, honing those exam taking skills with a few past papers under exam conditions will mean you’ll be that much readier when the day of reckoning comes.

4. Don’t bother trying to remember your notes

Sitting down with a book in front of you, eyes propped open with match sticks till late into the night in an attempt to fill your head full of information (cramming again) is not the best of memory techniques. Want to try a different technique that has been proven to work? Read a chapter or section of a textbook, create some flashcards about the key concepts and facts and then test yourself on them. Job done.

5. Get lots of sleep

In all walks of life, productivity and sleep have been found to be closely connected. Even catnaps, some studies have shown, can aid powers of creativity. So don’t be afraid to get 50 winks from time to time. Dropping off while you’re revising really isn’t going to get you anywhere, after all.

And a couple of less effective revision techniques to finish with...


Richard of York gave battle in vain - we all learnt the colours of the rainbow thus. So were we going about it all wrong? Not exactly. Many educational psychologists are now saying that mnemonics are not a particularly effective memory technique. Simple concepts can be remembered in this way, but for more complicated ideas it’s unlikely to work too well apparently.


For many of us the idea that our trusty highlighter or underlining pencil is not exactly one of the best ways of revising might come as something of a shock. But it’s thought to be true. Professor John Dunlovsky, of Kent State University says: "When students are using a highlighter they often focus on one concept at a time and are less likely to integrate the information they're reading into a larger whole. That could undermine their comprehension of that material." So there you go. Put the highlighter down.

Re-reading and summarising

The same goes for reading and summarising: poring over the same text and then endlessly writing and rewriting condensed versions of it has been found not to have any real positive effect at all as a learning method. See the earlier point on testing yourself, basically.

Good luck!

Got five minutes to improve your brain power? Try out this cool learning game that provided the data for The Guardian's study:

(Image: By See-ming Lee 李思明 SML [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.)

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