Revision Techniques That Really Work

revision techniquesSo you’ve got to ace your next exam, and you want to do it right. The good news is: there’s more and more research on what really works. The bad news is: your favorite techniques may be worthless. If you’re really ready to crack your next biology text, consider taking one course on revision techniques to help you nail all your exams from here on out.

Death to Procrastination

You’ve got your books out. You’re reading the chapter again. You’re highlighting the key points. This is bound to help you get ahead right? Wrong. When you’re looking down the barrel of a physics or biology exam, the only way to study is to do the problems in the book. Everything else is procrastinating. And while we’re talking about putting things off, cramming for an exam only helps when you’ve been reviewing the content all term. Begin your preparation over time, because recalling the info over time is the best way to anchor the concepts in your memory. If you’re ready to stop wasting your time on techniques that don’t work, check out this class on turbocharging your test scores.

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

Want to know what increases your SAT score by one hundred points or more? Taking the test repeatedly. That’s right, whatever exam you’re taking, the more you take it, the better you do. That’s why it’s essential that your revision techniques are focused around the format of the test you’re taking. If you’re going to have to write historical essays, practice writing historical essays. If you’re going to have to do financial assessments, do financial assessments. Teachers are usually creatures of habit, so if Mrs. Patterson usually does half multiple choice and half pre-calc equations, practice that if you don’t know the official format for the upcoming exam.

Maximize Your Memory

If you’re going to be on the hook for memorizing facts like the dates of the Battle of Waterloo, it’s a good idea to learn how to boost your memory. Mnemonic techniques can help you create a visual image or mind map for holding on to key information. Again, testing yourself is the best way to know if you’re really as prepared as you think you are. Make some flashcards, and see if you’re really the Comparative Politics ninja you think you are.

Don’t forget: Your Brain is Plastic

Your brain is designed to learn throughout your life, so just because you’ve failed a pre-calc exam in the past doesn’t mean your going to do it again. Proper studying will pay off and so will a positive attitude. Believing that you can do it, makes you more likely to achieve success. Taking action to invest in your future success works even better.

Learning Styles

The above techniques have been shown to work across the board for most people. However there is some evidence that people with different learning styles get more out of different strategies.

Visual Learners get more from information presented in a visual manner.

  • Use mind maps and color-coding to keep the information organized in your mind.
  • Try a memory palace to anchor ideas wish a visual image in your mind.
  • Access related video content (check YouTube) for animations and visual demos of things like cell processes.

Auditory Learners learn best by hearing information repeatedly.

  • Ask your teacher for access to any recorded lectures
  • Supplement your language learning with all-audio travel programs. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • Listen to relevant podcasts
  • Talk out loud to yourself when reviewing your notes
  • Chant, rhyme or apply song to help you remember specifics.

Kinesthetic Learners are hands-on learners who get more out of reviewing when it’s associated with physicality

  • Write and rewrite your notes.
  • Listen to lectures while walking or jogging.
  • Assemble visual aids that clarify the material.
  • Use experimental techniques like dissection (under supervision) to reinforce material.
  • Make a body map by associating dates and details with places on your body. (i.e. identity each 19th century Russian author with a particular finger.)

Alone or in a Group?

It has been conclusively shown that working in groups can benefit students’ learning in the classroom. But is the same true during the revision process? The research is unclear. What is clear is that teaching material to someone else helps you own the material, and forces you to master it in your own mind. At the same time, social pressures like appearing to be up to par can be effective for motivating some people to get the material straight. Teachers have habits for how they phrase topics and ideas, sometimes just hearing someone else rephrase an idea can make it click in your mind. However, if you’re the type who’s more likely to get distracted by what you’re going to wear to winter formal while hanging out with friends at a coffee shop, study on your own. You need a balance of hearing other’s input and really concentrating on the ideas yourself.


Ever think you have everything under control only to draw a blank the moment you sit down in that plastic chair? If you’ve ever felt brain fog or a lack of mental clarity, the problem might be your diet. Nutrition plays a huge role in cognition and behavior. If you’ve noticed the freshman fifteen going around, inoculate yourself with a diet overhaul. If it’s too late to do an entire dietary regime change, there are a few things you can do on the day of to help performance. (Never take more than the recommended dosages on the bottle, and obviously you’ve got to talk to your doctor before embarking on a drastic supplement program.)

  • Get some fish oil. Fish oil supplements are like WD-40 for your brain. They help the synapsis fire, decrease inflammation, and they’ve been shown to increase intelligence in babies when pregnant mothers take them. That means they’ve got to do something right?
  • Increase your magnesium. Magnesium has also been shown to boost brainpower especially as we get older. Just don’t take too much or you’ll spend your morning on the toilet.
  • Take multivitamins. There’s little confirmed research to demonstrate the benefits of other supplements on cognition, but you may as well cover your bases with a multivitamin boost.

On the day of the test, avoid simple carbs like pancakes and opt for a protein rich breakfast like scrambled eggs instead. That sustained energy will help your mind focus instead of being distracted by blood sugar dips.

All Nighter or Not?

Lots of students are used to staying up all night to prep for an exam. But is it really worth it? Studies show that sleep deprivation impairs cognition. In students, that means it lowers your GPA. It makes your working memory less functional—that’s what you need for all those formulas and equations. Moreover, an all-nighter could be a complete waste of time because we’re programmed to remember things like opening and closing arguments in a trial. Those are critical moments: the beginning and the end. The stuff in the middle often gets jumbled and mixed up. If that’s not enough to dissuade you: not getting enough sleep literally changes the chemistry in your brain after only one night.  Science Daily tells us that one night of sleep deprivation puts molecules in our blood normally associated with brain damage. Brain damage! That can’t be good. If poor sleep is a chronic problem for you, your health depends on you getting it sorted. Check out this course to get the most out of your Zzzzz’s.

Really Desperate?

If you’re willing to try anything, try these:

Affirmations: No one really know why daily affirmations work, but for some people they do. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I will get an ‘A’ on my MCAT.” Seriously, giving yourself specific goals and telling yourself ‘you can do it’ does actually help. Walk in with confidence. You know this stuff. You know you do.

Jumping Around Exercising makes your blow flow faster, and blood flow to the brain is what you need to be at your sharpest. Sneak off to a dark corner and do jumping jacks. There’s no harm in saying a few Hail Mary’s while you’re at it.

At the end of the day, the best revision techniques are just good study habits. Start early. Work hard. Teach others. Preparation is the key. No one ever said that degree in Egyptology would be easy, but achieving your dreams never is.