How To Revise The Right Way

There are 2 halves to my job as a teacher, to teach and to help a child to remember what I teach.  I can go through a whole GCSE English poetry anthology with a student, but if the child does not have the skills to remember it, then it’s teaching time I have wasted.

how to revise

When faced with upcoming tests and exams, students can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work.  This task of revising is like asking a student to tidy up a rubbish dump, they don’t know where to start, how to sort it and what to do with after it’s sorted.

So I break down revision into three parts.

Find out what you need to know.

Most school teachers give out “I can” sheets at the beginning of every new topic.  These are just a list of statements which summarise what the student should be able to do by the end of the topic.  Edexcel 1MA0 Linear Exam Topic List – Foundation.

Make Notes

Then take each statement and make sure you have notes and explanations on it. If you don’t, then you need to make your own notes either using school textbooks or revision websites recommended by your teacher. You can also make your own flashcards on websites like QUIZLET.

Do Some Past Paper Questions

Now that you understand the statement, you need to test your understanding.  So collect exam questions or practice questions on the topic WITH ANSWERS.  How will you know if you are doing it right if you can’t check the answers.  Good sources of questions are end of chapter questions in textbooks and worksheets you might have in your books.

This three-step method works for any topic and for any age group.  Try it!

Some good websites for making notes:

BBC BITESIZE – syllabus specific notes on most topics covered in school.  It’s a big site and can be difficult to navigate.  If you have a specific question, for example “how does osmosis work” then search “osmosis bitesize” in google and it will take you to the best page.

MATHSWATCH  – educational videos explaining how to do maths.

WOODLANDS JUNIOR SCHOOL – better for years 1-6, but also useful for older children to recap. The writing is simple and easy to understand.

ENGLISH BIZ – great revision site for GCSE english. I love the way each section has examples of student’s work and professional examples. A good place to start for cntrolled assessments.


MR BRUFF’s YOUTUBE CHANNEL – if you want a different way to revise, try watching youtube videos. Mr Bruff’s videos give excellent tips on how to answer exam questions in GCSE english. He uses real exam questions and goes through the paper one question at a time.

Good websites for exam questions:

KESH MATHS – a great website for exam questions broken down by grade.

MYMATHS – only works if your school has given you a password.

MATHSWATCH – this used to be available on a CD but now most schools have online access. You watch a video where a teacher explains how to do a maths question, then you try a question yourself. If you didn’t understand what you did in class today, watch a video on Mathswatch.

EXAM SYLLABUS WEBSITES – make sure you know which examining board you are studying and then navigate to the syllabus you are following. Download past papers and mark schemes.  the common examing boards are OCR, EDEXCEL and AQA.

Student Alert: Why You Probably Won’t Get The Grades You Hoped For.

I get a lot of comments from frustrated GCSE students who just don’t know how to revise effectively and get the grades. Despite trying their best to study and swatting up for exams, they keep failing. Some do well in class, know all the answers but flop in exams. Others will spend hours making colourful notes, drawing mind maps, reading books, and trying all sorts of revision strategies and still end with a fail. So what’s going wrong? Are they just not cut out to be A* students?

I don’t have a magic formula to help students pass their exams but I can draw on my past experiences when helping students revise to come up with some winning strategies. There are 4 types of problems:

1. When You Get Good Marks in Class Tests But Not in Real Exams

A class test is usually taken in the classroom and it is usually with the class teacher present. This makes it easier for students to relax because they are not faced with something unfamiliar. The class test is often not taken as seriously because “it doesn’t count” and so again helps the student to be more relaxed.
Another reason is that class tests are taken straight after a topic is finished whereas exams are on topics which might have been done months ago. For example, if your child is taking AS exams, then they might have to revise all the work they’ve done since January or even September. For GCSE students, they will be tested on topics they’ve covered since the beginning of year 10. For KS2 SATs students, they will be expected to know everything they’ve done in year 6.
To get over exam nerves , students need to get used to working under timed conditions and under pressure. Practicing past papers at home with a stop clock ticking away can help a child get accustomed to it. Getting used to the idea that it is normal to be nervous for exams, and learning strategies to cope with such feelings can also be beneficial. I have taught students who have well-used revision guides and text books, but haven’t seen a single exam paper. They haven’t had mock tests, and they haven’t timed themselves to see if they finish on time. So you must:

  • get used to working under pressure

  • practice tests at home under timed and un-timed conditions

  • compare your test results to see if you really are performing as well as you can in exam conditions

2. You Don’t have Enough Time To Learn It All

There’s no point in revising topics you know already. Find out what your weaknesses are and which skills you need to brush up on. You can ask your teacher if you don’t know. Then choose one topic you need to improve on and find exam questions on that topic. For example if you need to improve your vocabulary, then you need to read more and work out the meaning of unfamiliar words in the context of a passage of text. If you are a level 3 because you don’t know how to read tables and graphs, then find questions on data handling.

Exam papers are written so that the easy questions come first. For a higher GCSE maths paper, the C grade questions come first, for KS2 SATs, the level 3 questions come first and for English reading papers, the easy comprehension questions come first. Save time by finding out what level/grade you are working at. If you are already a C grade and need to get a B, then just skip the C grade questions. If you want to get a level 5 in your SATs then start at the back of the level 3-5 paper to practice harder questions.

3. You Spend Too Much Time making Notes/Mind Maps/Revision Cards

I encourage all of my students to have a good bank of resources to help them revise. For some students, this could be a set of colourful index linked revision cards, for others it might be mind maps and for some may even be their school text-book with highlighted text. In fact it’s essential when it comes to revision.

But some students take this as the “be all and end all” to revision, just because they’ve spent hours writing these beautiful colourful notes. Revision resources have to be used once they have been created. Aim to have all resources ready at least 4 weeks before the exams. There are many ways to use revision resources. You can:

  • read them

  • edit them

  • re-write them

  • shorten them

  • add questions to them

  • pin them up in your bedroom

  • use them when revising with a friend

4. You Don’t Know How To Revise

Read my other blogs on revision techniques:

How To Revise 1-create a timetable

How To Revise 2 – do some mock exams

How To Revise 3-read with a purpose

How To Revise 4- understand the wording