Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 11:42 UK

Exam revision tips and techniques

By George Turnbull
Ofqual's "exams doctor"

exam room
The main exam season is looming for hundreds of thousands of youngsters

Ultimatums generally do not work as far as exam revision is concerned. So live with it if you are a parent or guardian.

Nagging will not help either, nor will bribes - generally speaking. So put your wallets away, clear a space and let them get on with it.

Harsh words and a lesson to be learned, but peer pressure and motivation will have the greatest influence on how much they achieve, and progress can only be made where there is a will.

In some cases that way is yet to be discovered. But in any case, avoid that battle of wills which is bound to happen in many households, draining both sides and benefiting neither.

It is their performance that counts - not yours. So keep your distance - although tea, sympathy and understanding from you will help - and a place to study.

Getting started is often their problem. Ours too, if we are honest, on things we do not want to do.

But 10 minutes is all that it takes. This is how it is done. And you can let your reluctant learner read on from here.

What to do

Forget what has happened in the past, only look to the future and what you can do to improve your position and you will be surprised at the progress you will make.

10 minutes is all that it takes. Anyone can do that. But in that time work to the exclusion of all else.

It is better to work for 10 minutes in an hour than to do nothing at all in that time, which is often the case. So start that hour with only 10 minutes of work and then have a 10-minute break. You can do that.

Then begin again and you will have done 30 minutes of quality revision in that hour. Gradually increase the working periods into 40-minute sessions or more, whilst keeping the breaks to 10 minutes or less.

When working work and when relaxing relax. The two do not mix. Remember that, and use the "10-minute rule" whenever you get stuck, along with the other hints and tips given here. We are all different. So choose the ones that suit your way of working best.

Manage your time

  • Know when and where your exams are and the work you have to do.
  • Highlight your notes or abbreviate them on cards, so that the information can be referred to easily - but don't spend all of your time doing this instead of revising.
  • Ease in an extra half hour of work a day at least, by getting up earlier or taking less time over lunch. In five days you will have gained an extra two-and-a-half hours of quality study time. You could then treat yourself to a night out. You deserve it.
  • Cover several subjects in the one evening. Start with the one you dislike most and then look forward to finishing with the one you like best. Otherwise you will avoid the ones you don't like.
  • Do past exam papers.

Be warned

  • Check your equipment, make sure that it is in good working order, and know what is to be provided by your school.
  • Check you don't have two exams at the same time. Special arrangements need to be made.
  • Don't cheat or break any rules. You could be disqualified or even arrested. Mobile phones are a menace and barred from the exam room. Don't take one in. You could be disqualified.
  • Don't cram the night before an exam.
  • Have a leisurely breakfast or lunch and walk to school, if possible. Be there in good time.
  • Avoid friends outside the exam room. They could confuse you. Keep your thoughts to yourself and concentrate on the exam. That's why you are there.

In the exam room

  • Take six deep breaths, ignore everyone else and concentrate solely on what you have to do.
  • Have a glucose sweet, to boost energy to your brain - but don't crunch.
  • Read the instructions on the exam papers carefully - do the appropriate number of questions from the right sections, and answer compulsory questions.
  • Know how many marks each question carries - don't spend too long on any one. Use the number of marks on the paper as a guide.
  • Read questions carefully before you write anything. Time is allowed for this. Use that time to choose your questions, and write notes on the question paper to help you remember later.
  • Make sure you answer the question asked. No marks if you don't.
  • If you run out of time, more marks can be gained by completing your remaining answers in outline only. State what you would do and how to do it, by outlining your main arguments in an essay - without writing the essay - and by jotting down formulae in science - stating how you would complete the question - without doing the calculations.

After the exam

No post-mortems. Do not worry about the exam you have just taken - you cannot do anything about it now. Put the papers in a drawer and look at them again only when your own grandchildren ask to see them. Concentrate instead on the next exam, where you can influence the result.

Don't panic

Being calm and thoughtful will help you to get the most out of your preparation.

And if all else fails, remind your parents that there are more millionaires without GCSEs, A-levels or Highers than there are with. Otherwise, good luck.

Finally for grownups

For those parents and guardians still reading: it is not the end of the world if your offspring fail to make the grade or live up to expectations.

You may have been in that position yourself many years ago, or perhaps you have forgotten. Think about it. It is not easy growing up. You care for them just the same, so let them know it.

George Turnbull is Ofqual's exams doctor and can be contacted at: for advice. See links on right for his web pages, where you can watch video answers to students' questions.

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24 Aug 07 |  Education

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