This is the final post of a 6 part series which will teach you how to study for A-Level Chemistry and Biology.
We’re finally on the subject of revision. This is not going to be an exhaustive post on how to revise – exactly what you should at revision time is determined by what you’ve done all year up until that point.
Over the last 5 posts, I’ve given you 10,000 words of advice on how to study. If you follow all that you won’t have as much to do at revision time. You’ll have been studying in an efficient way all year and you’ll have done loads of exam practice, so you’ll know all the technique and have all the skills. All you’ll have to do is go back over your notes to make sure it’s all fresh, do more exam practice and rote learn everything that needs rote learning (definitions, reaction conditions etc.)
If you’ve not done much all year, you’ll have an awful lot more than that left to do and it may be worth getting some advice on how to get on top of everything from an experienced tutor, like me 😉
So with that in mind, this final part will concentrate on tips to help you plan your revision and stay focused so that it’s useful for everyone.
1. Make a weekly revision timetable
It’s tempting to make a revision timetable that tells you exactly what to revise every day and how long to spend on it.
In my experience timetables like that don’t work well. They’re too restrictive and set you up to fail. Despite your good intentions, you’ll have days where you don’t feel like doing what you’d planned. Or days where everything seems to be taking longer than you realised.
Then, your timetable gets messed up, you have to make a new one and you end up feeling like your revision is all going wrong.
This is not what you want. It’s no good for your time management or your mental health. Instead, I recommend a more flexible approach that works like this:
1. Make a list of everything you need to revise (use your specification to help you with this)
2. Work out how many weeks you have left until the exam
3. Divide the topics to revise between the weeks you have left. I also like to leave one week at the end free for solid exam practice.
4. Each week, revise what’s on your list. No excuses, if it’s on your list for that week, you do it. It doesn’t matter what day or time as long as you revise it at some point during that week.
This way, you’re nice and organised but without the pressure of a fixed timetable. It gives you the flexibility to organise your workload depending on how you feel on the day. For example, if you start revising Chemistry and get fed up, switch to something else without worrying about messing up your timetable.
Or, it’s Monday and you’ve had an awful day at school and you can’t face revising, don’t. As long as you make up for it later in the week, it’s not a problem.
The weekly timetable also gives you the flexibility to fit in non-revision-related activities. It can be difficult to do this without feeling guilty for not revising, but as long as you still get your work done for the week, it’s fine. So, if you know you’ve got something fun planned for the weekend, work hard to get everything revised by Thursday and take the weekend off.
2. Pencil in some non-negotiable study time
In the last tip, we talked about why it’s important to give yourself flexibility with your revision timetable. However, it’s also a good idea to consider whether there’s a particular day/time that would be good for getting on with some intensive revision.
This is a tactic I used to use a lot. I’d call it my ‘non-negotiable study time’ and be strict with myself about sticking to it. You could aim for one day a week, or a few hours spread over several days.
For example, if you have a half-day at school on Tuesday and your home by 1, you could dedicate 2-7 (take breaks) to revision. Pick anything from your list of tasks for that week and get it done.
This is a particularly good idea if you have a lot of work or family commitments on top of your studies.
It doesn’t have to be the same time every week. On a Sunday evening work out what’s likely to work for that week and commit to it. It works best if everyone in your house knows that this is your study time and that they shouldn’t be asking you to babysit/take the dog out/make dinner.
3. If you procrastinate, try the ‘Pomodoro technique’
The thing about procrastination is that it’s the thought of having to do something, rather than the task itself that causes the problems. Once you’ve got going it’s never that bad
If you struggle to motivate yourself to get started, try the ‘Pomodoro’ technique. It works like this:
1. You carry out a task (i.e. your revision) for a short time interval, known as a Pomodoro. Traditionally, this lasts 25 minutes
2. Take a short break, usually 5 minutes
3. Repeat until you finish your study session
4. Take a longer break, around 15 minutes, every 3-4 ‘pomodoros’.
25 minutes is a short enough time not to be too daunting but long enough to actually get things done. The 5 minute break gives you a rest but isn’t enough time to get distracted. Perfect.
The rule is you do 25 minutes of solid work. Not 10 minutes of work, 2 minutes going to the toilet, 5 minutes making a sandwich etc. Do those things in your break. If that means you need to schedule in a break that’s a little longer than 5 minutes, go for it.
To make this easy you should set a timer. Of course, you can use your phone for this but there are lots of apps especially for the Pomodoro technique. I use this one.
Feel free to play around with the time intervals. Some students have found 45 minutes/15 minutes works well. However, if you’re feeling unmotivated, or very bored with revision, you’ll find the shorter intervals work better.
If you find it difficult to concentrate without music, make playlists that last the length of 1 ‘pomodoro’. This will reduce the temptation to faff about trying to find something to listen to when you should be working.
Be strict about what you do in your breaks. For the shorter breaks, it’s better to stay off the internet. It’s too easy to find yourself saying ‘one more youtube video and I’ll get on with my revision’ and get nothing done.
4. Get out of the house to revise
Continuing with the theme of finding ways to make revision less awful, try getting out of the house to revise.
Go to Starbucks, Costa or even your Grandma’s house (a popular choice with student’s I’ve worked with). Even the library, which might sound like a more obvious choice, but I find the quiet strangely distracting and lots of people seem to agree with me.
I’ve written a whole post on why getting out is important here. But the gist is that going to a coffee shop is important for 2 reasons:
- It makes you feel like you’re still having some sort of life. You’re still revising, but you’re somewhere fun and more sociable, rather than being stuck in your bedroom. Don’t underestimate how important this is for your motivation.
- It helps you avoid ‘context-dependent learning’. This is where the things you learn become tied to the location you learned them in (e.g. your bedroom. Then, when you do a test elsewhere (i.e. the exam hall) you find it difficult to recall everything. So, by revising the same material in different locations (even if it’s different rooms in your house) you have a better chance of recalling it in the exam.
Both of these reasons mean that it’s worth scheduling in some ‘out of the house’ revision at least once a week.
5. Keep yourself organised with a study box
Your revision sessions will be less productive if you have to spend 15 minutes looking for a calculator and a pen before your start.
So, unless you have a very organised desk, I recommend you get yourself a storage box to use as a ‘study box’. Use this to dump everything in at the end of your revision session so it’s all ready for next time.
A study box will also make it easier to carry everything around the house with you if you need to revise in different places.
You could even keep sweets or Pringles (or something a bit healthier) in there so that you’ve got something to look forward to each time you revise. Or a nice candle, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Anything that makes revision a little less soul-destroying, do it.
If you’re planning on getting out of the house to revise (and you should be, for reasons we talked about a minute ago) I’d recommend a box file. Like this one. They’re about the right size for notes, a textbook, calculator, pencil case etc. You’ll then have everything to hand without needing to unpack your bag to find it all.
6. Go to bed
The final tip finishes with 2 things:
- Me sounding like your mother 🙁
- Some neuroscience 🙂
It goes without saying that you need plenty of sleep so that you’re alert and able to concentrate in lessons. As well as this though, sleep itself is crucial to the process of learning.
Learning is all about making new connections between the neurons in your brain. These connections form when you’re asleep. (For the Biology students, these connections are ‘synapses’).
Sleep is also the time when the brain reorganises and strengthens existing connections. This allows it to form memories and consolidate what you’ve learned.
If you’re not getting enough sleep your brain isn’t getting enough time to do these things.
If you ever have the choice between staying up to study late or going to bed and getting some sleep, then choose the sleep. Always. You will benefit so much more than if you stay away trying to jam things in your brain, without giving the brain the chance to work on that information.