Blog post

Mastering exams: tried-and-tested revision techniques for students

Don’t know where to start with revision or struggling to get organised? Alexander Wood, Academic Librarian, explores four different revision methods to help you to study smart and set yourself up for exam success.

17 April 2024

Organise your revision with Time Blocking

Time blocking involves dividing your day into segments of time and scheduling your revision. Before you start, create a list of what you will need to cover ahead of your exam, then calculate roughly how many hours you think you’ll have to revise. Comparing the number of topics with the time you have available will give you an indication of how long you can spend per topic. Consider varying how long you dedicate to each topic based on how confident you are with it.

Next, you can schedule time in your calendar to work on each topic. During these time periods make sure that you focus on the work without interruptions. Consider reducing distractions by turning off your phone, setting expectations with friends and family, and studying somewhere you can concentrate such as your local library.

You’re not a robot, so make sure to schedule some time for breaks and to do things that make you happy around your revision.

Manage your time with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is great if you have trouble maintaining focus.

Graphic visually explaining the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro cycle works as you learn better in short sessions. Often after around 15 -20 minutes our attention slips but seeing a timer with just a few minutes left until a rewarding break can help give you the push needed to maintain your focus.

The Pomodoro cycle is a template that you can adapt to your learning as the timings are not fixed. If you need a longer break, then take one. If you finish your task before the 25-minute timer, then you can take your break early or brainstorm your next task. If you are close to finishing at 25 minutes, you could keep going until you finish.

‘Eat the Frog’

 ‘Eat the frog’ is used to describe doing your hardest, most important task early in the day to avoid procrastination.

Here is a step-by-step guide for ‘eating your frog’:

Prioritise tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for making decisions about what you should focus on and when based on importance, effectively managing your time and avoiding the ‘urgency trap’. We naturally focus on tasks that are urgent as they demand immediate attention, but these often come at the expense of important but not urgent tasks, leaving us filling our time with tasks that are less important. To help with this, Steven Covey (author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’) created the Eisenhower Matrix to categorise tasks and determine the order in which they should be completed.

The technique involves writing tasks down into a matrix and classifying each as urgent/not urgent and important/not important. This will identify 4 types of tasks:

Important and Urgent - Do

Urgent and important tasks both matter to us and have a deadline. Assignment deadlines and exam revision close to the exam usually fall into this category. You need to ensure that you prioritise these tasks.

Important and Not Urgent – Plan

These are the tasks that we know we need to do, but we often don’t do them in favour of things that are more pressing. These include, starting revision early, working on your dissertation, and volunteering to help secure your dream job in the summer.

These tasks need to be planned into your calendar to ensure that you get them done in the wake of urgent tasks. You can use time blocking to help plan these tasks.

Not Important and Urgent – Delay, Delegate, Reduce or Delete

These are tasks that don’t align with your goals but take you away from things that do, as they must be completed now. These things can include going out with friends the evening before your exam and messages and calls from friends and family. Where possible, try to delay or delegate tasks to others. For example, you could ask family for help cooking meals or let friends know that it might take you longer than usual to reply to their messages.

If a task appears urgent, consider the implications of delaying that task until after your exams to give you time to focus.

Not Important and Not Urgent - Drop

These are tasks that both don’t align with your goals and are not time pressing. They are often distractions that you should eliminate where possible.

Before you choose to remove something from your schedule, consider the wellbeing benefits of that activity. For example, binge watching a TV series instead of revising may be a form of procrastination, but taking a break to relax and unwind can be useful. Not taking breaks can lead to burnout, so if the activity is beneficial for your wellbeing, consider planning and allocating some time to the activity to reduce the likelihood of it causing procrastination.

Graphic visually explaining the Eisenhower matrix

Revision can seem like a task that has no end and there is always more that could be done, but you shouldn’t let this overwhelm you. Through prioritisation and planning you can ensure that you are exam ready. Trying out different revision techniques to find out what works for you is key to being productive and making the best use of your time.