Tried and tested revision strategies

Making the most of revision

Exam season is looming and we are all busy ensuring our students are prepared and confident to sit their exams to achieve their maximum potential. Students will have their highlighters, post-it notes and revision lists at the ready (hopefully!). As a student and now as a teacher I fully understand the importance and impact that revision strategies can have. At A-level, I exceeded the predicted grades given to me and this was through the support of my teachers, hard work, determination and finding the correct strategies that worked well for me. Revision does need to be personalised and the sooner students realise what works for them the better! I am constantly trying new methods to help students with their exam preparation and here are some of the techniques I use with my classes.

Keep it relevant!

A very common revision mistake that students can make when revising is highlighting all or most of their notes. Students sometimes use highlighters without thinking about why they have selected that information to highlight. Highlighting does show students have read their notes and that is clearly helpful. However, it defeats the idea of highlighting if all or most of the text is highlighted! A good way to tackle this is to encourage students to use colour codes when highlighting. For example, students could colour code information for specific types of questions, units or prioritise information.

Other suggestions include highlighting a sentence or word that sums up an important idea, useful quotations, statistic examples or links to other ideas. A subject-specific example in History could be highlighting information that puts the event into context, highlighting key dates in a different colour, key vocabulary, historical viewpoints and arguments etc. When analysing historical sources students use different colours for content, reliability and purpose. I encourage students to annotate notes as well as highlighting, sometimes explaining in the margin why they have chosen to highlight that selected information. Students can then transfer the selected information onto paper or flashcards so all the relevant ideas/ information are now compiled together. Another use for highlighters is when a peer or self-assessing exam answers. There can be specific colours for each assessment objective; this will address the strengths of their exam answer and areas for improvement.

A technique used with our students includes ‘BUG’ an exam question. BUG means to Box the instructions so students have illustrated they fully understand what they need to do; this could be explained, evaluated or described. Then they underline key ideas/ focus of the question, again ensuring a full understanding of what content will be needed in their answers. Then finally students glance over the question once more to make sure they don’t rush to answer the question and possibly miss out on any important information or read the question wrong, which can happen especially, under exam pressure.

Another idea I have used with my classes is the ‘Zone of relevance’. This is where students have an exam question and use their notes/ reading material to select the most relevant information for that specific question. We know when students have spent a lot of time revising information; there is the temptation to include all of their knowledge in their exam answers! This activity can help students understand, as well as be able to recall information, it is an important skill to select the appropriate and relevant information that specifically addresses the exam criteria.


This is a common revision strategy and popular amongst students. As an NQT I created a very thorough set of revision cards for my GCSE Historians. Revision cards divide information into small, manageable chunks with a focus on a key topic. These cards were great, very well received by students and helped them to do well. I am glad I invested the time to create this resource because six years later they are still being used, although adapted slightly over the years to fit with specification changes.

I would like to make a set of these cards for every unit/ exam paper that students sit but I have found that I have not had the time (the set I made did take a very long time to do!) and there are more changes to exam specifications too. Instead of making cards myself, an alternative is to provide students with blank flashcards to make themselves. This in itself can be a good revision activity. However, some students struggle to make suitable cards for themselves. To add some more support and structure I give students cards with a topic as a headline or a key date then they know exactly what to include on each card. Revision flashcards can be used with their parents or peers to help revise and test their subject knowledge. They are handy to carry around to use when sitting on a bus, train or anywhere!

Break it down

I mentioned that the revision flashcards help to break down information to make it more manageable for students. Other ideas to do this include revision stations. In your classroom, the class can be divided up into different stations with each table having a different focus. The students can rotate around the different revision stations spending a certain amount of time revising, answering questions or reflecting on that key topic. Pupils can swap and share ideas from different stations or in groups be given a specific area to focus on then present to their peers. A fantastic resource that I have used from Twitter is the Revision Clock. This resource was made by Geography teacher, Becky Russell who teaches in Manchester and can be found on Twitter @teachgeogblog. The purpose of this activity is to give students a selected amount of time, usually five minutes, to focus on one aspect/topic/keyword then move on to another. Students enjoy this revision clock challenge and it is a good way to recap on previous learning. Again, highlighters can be used or diagrams included depending on the topic but this activity can be used across the curriculum! There are plenty of examples that can be seen on Twitter using #RevisionClock.

Sharing is caring!

I often compile a bibliography for students with suggested reading material, resources and useful websites and links. There is so much revision information available on the internet, all of varying quality and for different exam boards. It can help if we guide students in the right direction suggesting what we think are the best and most useful websites because there is so much out there it can be overwhelming! At my High School, we have departmental Twitter accounts. This is another fantastic way of sharing resources and links to websites, podcasts and videos with students and parents. This can also work with other teachers and schools across the country swapping and sharing exam revision material to go beyond our School network to support each other. Use the internet to network with other teachers, ask if they teach to the same specifications or similar content. The number of resources we can share with each other will not only help with our workload but ultimately help our students too! If you have a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) then that has so much potential for students, as they can access revision resources at home or on their devices with internet access. PowerPoints, worksheets, booklets etc can be uploaded; this can also assist if there have been any issues with attendance for students too.

Make revision engaging!

I know making revision appealing to students as fun and engaging can be a challenge. However, I do try to promote a love of learning and make my lessons interesting for all my students. At GCSE and A-Level, there is a lot of content and technique to get through and that is clearly the priority for both teachers and students. There is a debate that students don’t need to be engaged to learn but US Psychologist Professor Dunlovsky has stated that when revision is enjoyable “the student is more engaged and it is harder for the mind to wander.”

Suggested ideas to do this include revision games that students can play on their own or with others, in the classroom or at home. When completing exam answers I have a ‘Go for Gold’ competition; which encourages students to use subject-specific vocabulary in their answers and they can be rewarded if they do so correctly. Challenge grids can be used as an effective revision game. Students select which questions they answer and the amount of points awarded for each question varies with the level of difficulty.

I purchased sound effect buzzers that add an exciting and competitive element to a standard quiz. I have created quizzes to be used with whiteboards, classic board games with templates such as Snakes and Ladders and Television format quiz templates such as The Chase, Million Pound Drop etc. Perhaps you could ask students to be creative and create their own revision games they can use. One of my students created a revision game on his smartphone, with a well-known app called ‘Charades Free’. He showed me how he customised this game, by adding a new deck which meant he could input keywords of his choice, that were connected to the unit. Then the player has to hold up the phone to their forehead and in a random order, the keywords will appear on the screen. It is then up to the other players who can see the word on the phone screen to describe the keyword, without using the actual word, for the person holding the phone to guess. When an answer is guessed correctly the phone is tilted forward to reveal the next keyword.

The class loved this game and it is good to practice understanding of keywords or definitions required for some exam answers. There are so many interactive quizzes that can be used and is a great example. A smartphone and internet access is needed for the teacher to scan students’ answers then all the results are saved for the teacher to analyse and share with the students. If you haven’t used Plickers yet in the classroom then I recommend you check it out. It is a free and simple app to use. There are instructions on the Plickers website and tutorials on YouTube for further help.

Classroom Revision Displays

Classrooms displays often look wonderful but they can be very time consuming to create and sometimes we need to evaluate their purpose. A colleague in my department has made fantastic use of display space for revision with his exam classes, which I have now modelled too after it has worked so successfully in his lessons. The displays include instructions, advice and tips on how to answer different questions on the Religious Studies Short Course exam that students will sit in Year 11. Every lesson the display board can be referred to and I have seen students looking to the display board as they are writing or checking over their answers. This has really helped students gain an understanding of the requirements for each specific question. The students have taken photos of the display to help them when revising at home. This is an effective way to use classroom displays, as a way to aid teaching and learning. Clear and concise instructions that students will regularly use and refer to. Students have told me that in the build-up to their exams they have transformed their bedrooms with revision displays including posters, mind maps, diagrams etc. This helps them to create a learning environment at home and immerse themselves in their revision!

Good luck to all your students preparing for and sitting their exams!

*Quote from Professor Dunlovsky taken from a BBC report ‘Revision techniques – the good, the OK and the useless’, by Deborah Cohen.

This article originally appeared in the free March 2016 online UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.

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