7 things GCSE and A Level students get wrong about revision

Most GCSE and A-Level students are really bad at revising. They get multiple things wrong about how to revise successfully which leads them to get bored and frustrated, either giving up or getting marks that they're not proud of.

In this post, I'm going to talk about seven things GCSE and A-Level students get wrong about revision.

What GCSE and A-Level students are getting wrong about revision

1. Starting too late

This will be blindingly obvious to any parents reading, and feel incredibly pushy and annoying to some students. However, it's well known that spacing your revision out over time leads to much better retention of information. So, it's much better to start your revision early and do little and often rather than leave it until two weeks before the exam when you're trying to cram two years' worth of knowledge into your head under pressure.

Try the five-minute revision challenge as an easy, low-pressure way to space your revision out over long periods of time, and make it work for you.

2. Revising blind

Many students have no idea what they need to know to have a good chance of answering all the questions in an exam. This means they don't know when they've revised everything or whether there are whole topics they haven't covered. Effectively, they're revising in the dark.

It is absolutely essential that all students refer to their exam specification, or get a checklist of what they need to know from their teachers, so that they can make sure they know everything they need to know and tick it all off as they cover it.

3. Not breaking it down

When I ask students on my Revision Kickstarter Workshops how they feel about revision one of the most common answers is ‘overwhelmed'.

They say this for numerous reasons e.g. they don't actually know how to revise and there's a lot of pressure being piled on them. However, the biggest reason for overwhelm is that they see revision as this great big blob of insurmountable activity that is somehow going to suck them into it, leaving behind all the things they value in life.

However, when you show them how to break revision down into bite-sized chunks and prioritise it, in the way I show them to do on the Revision Kickstarter and in Module 6, Plan Your Revision, in The Extraordinaries Club, it suddenly seems a lot more palatable and they know exactly where to start.

The essence of this approach is chunking your subjects down into topics and sub-topics and revising the ones that will make the biggest difference to you first (i.e. your weaknesses).

4. Being scared to get out of their comfort zones

Many, many students are scared to face the things they find difficult and get outside their comfort zones. Instead, they'll stick to revising the bits of their favourite subjects that they find easiest.

The problem is that, although this approach may feel safe when you're revising, it's actually incredibly risky in terms of getting the grades. If you haven't revised something that you find difficult and it comes up in the exam, you're basically in trouble.

So, get outside your comfort zone and do the hard things. They'll make the biggest difference to your overall grade in the long-term.

5. Not taking enough breaks

If you're a parent of a GCSE student you may well be shouting, “But my teenager is always taking breaks. Every time I look they're on their phone!”

This might be the case, but the phone use could be a symptom of boredom because they're trying to sit too long concentrating. I know that when I was studying I couldn't concentrate for any longer than an hour before I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over again because it wasn't going in. I've worked with several students, often with ADHD, who could only concentrate for 15-20 minutes. Many students, when they first come into my world, are sitting trying to study for hours on end without a revision break and that's exactly where they're going wrong.

The secret is to know how long you can concentrate for, or just use the Pomodoro Technique, breaking up revision into bite-sized chunks of time so you never get over-tired or bored.

6. Working against their natural rhythms

Many students also work against their natural rhythms, particularly on exam leave or in the school holidays. I find that many teenagers say they find it hard to concentrate in the early afternoon, but just try to push on through. The most productive thing they can do is actually admit that this isn't the optimal time of day for them to be studying and do something else instead, and maybe revising in the early evening to make up for it.

We talk more about revision rhythms in the Revise For Results module inside The Extraordinaries Club.

7. Using sub-standard revision techniques

If your child is spending hours sitting on their bed reading textbooks or highlighting revision guides, they are wasting their revision time. These passive revision techniques have been shown to be hugely less effective than testing themselves using flashcards or doing past papers.

Is your child making any of these revision mistakes?

If you've recognised that your child is making some of the revision mistakes I've talked about above, please share this article with them and talk about how they can make their revision work better for them, so they can also have some balance in their life and do the things they enjoy. After all, no-one wants to be doing unproductive revision that takes hours when they could be doing something effective that helps them reach their full academic potential.

If you'd like more support with their revision (lots of families find that students are more receptive to methods I share than when their parents suggest them), you can check out The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub for families in the exam years, where you can access my Revision Kickstarter Workshops and all ten study skills modules which teach your child how to study in the best way for them.

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