I cried during my AS Levels. Revision got to me. I couldn’t hack it and it destroyed my soul. You feel under such pressure to succeed that you want to curl up in a ball and make the whole thing go away. Trouble is, it doesn’t, and it makes you feel worse. I hated revision as my technique was poor. I used to read the textbook from cover to cover, and, whilst doing so, daydream about scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford, or going to Australia backpacking. Turns out, osmosis only applies to water and not knowledge.
I became a revision guru by the time I finished university. I spent less time revising in final year than anyone else, and I got the highest marks in the year. I had honed my technique to perfection, and here are 5 tips that I think will help yours.
1 Learn advanced memory techniques
This may seem like wasting time initially but stick with me on this one. I spent a whole day in first year reading a book on advanced memory techniques by Harry Lorayne (link below). The book describes how to remember a whole manner of things, from lists, to numbers to names to facts to a complete deck of cards. Some things you just have to remember. This book helps you develop techniques to help you do just that. The techniques saved me HOURS in revision time. It is a day well spent.
2 Routine is king
Your brain hates to choose. When Henry T Ford first made cars, he had a famous sales phrase: “You can have any colour car as long as its black”. Although this seems a little strange, there was method in his madness. Ford knew that people hate choice. By eliminating choice, he removed a friction point from the buying process. Creating a strong routine removes choice from your life. This is especially important during revision time, as you will want to save mental energy for your work. A great routine should leave trivial decision to autopilot: – What time do you wake up? What do you do when you wake up? When do you revise? How long for? What will you study? When will you break? How long will you break? When will you finish for the day? What will you eat? etc etc.
The more of these decisions you can leave to autopilot, the more mental RAM you can free up to concentrate on your revision. Here was my routine at university. You may find the wake up time absurd, but the reason for such an early rise was that I got my work done before midday. I could enjoy the rest of the day without the mental anguish of needing to revise.
05:15 Wake up
05:30 – 11:00 Revise for 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break after each stint (4 1/2 hours revision total)
11:00 – 12:00 – Go to the gym or for a run
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 13:30 Nap
13:30 – 16:30 Revise for 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break after each stint (2 1/4 hours revision)
16:30 – 10:00 The day is mine!!!!
My revision sections are 45 minutes long, with a 15 minute break. This worked best for me. You can even do 30 / 10, or 20 / 5. The idea is that you are “full concentration” for your revision time, and then you switch off.
3 Past Papers First
I started out my revision life by reading notes and textbooks as the first port of call. As I progressed in technique and confidence, I commenced my revision with past paper questions. This does two things: –
1) Makes you ACTIVELY think
2) Highlights your weaknesses
Only once you have exhausted all your mental capacities, and become stuck on a question, should you resort to reading a book and your notes. When you do read the book, your goal should be to find out the right answer and WHY it is the right answer. Understanding WHY something is the answer is more important than knowing it IS the answer. If you understand why, you will fully grasp the concept and be able to apply it to any context.
You should aim to do as many questions as possible. Look in textbooks, at past papers and on the Interweb.
4 Avoid procrastination
How to avoid procrastination could be a blog topic in itself. In fact, IT IS!!!! Read more here. I’ll leave you with that one!
5 Negative stakes are your friend
Psychological studies have shown that human beings are hard wired to avoid loss more than pursue gain. We fear negative consequences more than positive outcomes, and so do more to avoid them. Use this innate psychological behaviour to your advantage and create negative stakes. For example, partner up with a “revision buddy” (I hate the word buddy). Send each other a horrendous selfie that would make you die of embarrassment should anyone see. The stake is that the other person will share your picture on every conceivable social network if you do not revise for 7 hours that day.
I am sure you are creative enough to think of better negative stakes than this. Just make sure they are painful and out of your control. Oh, and make sure your friend is trusted. You wouldn’t want them to post a horrendous picture out of malice…..