How do you know if your revision is working? 4 factors that show progress

The other day I was asked this great question on a Revision Kickstarter workshop: “How do you know if you're making progress in your revision?” Basically, how do you know if your revision is working?

This is such an important question as your child will probably spend many hours on revision, and they need to know that the time they're investing is worthwhile if they're going to stay motivated and keep revising.

In this article I'm going to outline the four key indicators that tell you whether your revision is working:

  • Do you understand more than when you started this revision session?
  • Do you know / remember more than when you started this revision session?
  • Do you have any better insights than you did at the beginning of this revision session?
  • Can you get a better mark than before you did this revision session?

This article is also available as a podcast episode. To listen, click use the audio player above, or find The School Success Formula on Apple podcasts, or your podcast listening platform of choice.

How do you know if your revision is working?

Do you understand more?

In the early stages of revision, you need to make sure you understand the topics you're working on. This is for two reasons:

  • It's much easier to remember things that you understand
  • You'll be able to apply your knowledge better in the exam situation if you understand it, which will enable you to access higher level marks on exam questions

How do you know if you understand more than when you started?

Good measures of whether you understand something are:

  • Can you confidently explain it to someone else so that they understand it?
  • Can you explain it in your own words on paper?
  • Can you answer an exam question and get full marks (or close to full marks)?

It's really important that you don't just go over things that you already understand, but you tackle the difficult work of getting to grips with topics that you don't already understand. This might be uncomfortable or challenging, but this is the work that will help you to increase your grade/marks. If you need help identifying the things that are most worthwhile to work on, download this free chapter of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take.

Do you know more?

If you've taken the time to understand something you'll probably know quite a lot of it already. However, there may be facts or details that you need to commit to memory to get full marks. Or, you might need to memorise exam board approved definitions of keywords, quotations for English Literature or vocabulary for foreign languages.

How do you know if you know more than when you started?

This is simple – you need to test yourself or get someone else to test you.

To test yourself, you can use flashcards and the Leitner box method where you focus on learning the cards you're least confident with. You can find out more about flashcards and the Leitner Box technique here.

You can also use flashcard apps like Quizlet or Anki.

The real measure of whether you know more than when you started is whether you get more definitions, meanings or quotations right at the end of the session than at the beginning.

But, don't leave it there. You need to test yourself on the same things again tomorrow, in three days time, next week etc because the more often you retrieve this information the more securely you will know it.

Do you have better insights now?

Many students focus all their revision time on knowledge and understanding. However, the best students will also be focusing on exam technique.

To improve your exam technique you have to have better insight into, or understanding of, what examiners are actually looking for.

You can get this in two ways:

  • Doing past papers and marking your own work, using the Revision Power Hour method. By marking your own work you develop detailed insight into things like the language the examiner needs you to use to give you the marks, the structure they're looking for to answer the questions and how the marks will be awarded. If you don't know this stuff you're at a serious disadvantage, no matter how much work you do on securing your knowledge and understanding of the content.
  • Reading examiners' reports is an advanced way of getting insight into what examiners are looking for. They are reports written by the chief examiners at the end of every exam series. The examiners' report will highlight things that all students who took this exam did well, which areas were generally weak and what they'd like to see in the future. By reading these reports you can get an insight into the areas you should work on to improve your knowledge, understanding and exam technique. You can generally find examiners' reports on exam board websites in the same place as the exam specification and past papers.

Can you get a better mark?

A great way to spend a revision session is doing a past paper question to work on your exam technique. The Revision Power Hour is a great way to do this.

The thing that lets so many students down and prevents them from getting the grade they deserve, based on how much time they've spent revising, is poor exam technique. By practising particular question types and marking them yourself you become familiar with the mark scheme and get a better understanding of how to achieve higher marks.

This is particularly important for longer questions worth higher amounts of marks e.g. the essay style questions you find at the end of science or geography papers or all the questions on exam papers for subjects like English, history or R.E.

It's very easy to tell whether your revision has worked by this measure – has your mark gone up!

Recently, a member of The Extraordinaries Club who was really struggling with GCSE French did the How to Revise GCSE French Masterclass in the club. She gained insight into how to learn her French but also how to approach the questions – and her marks went up by 50% for a particular type of question in less than a week.

I've seen similar results for people using the How to Revise GCSE English Language masterclass – one student went up from a grade 6 to a grade 9 overnight after watching the masterclass and understanding how to structure the answers to questions to access the higher marks.

You should be making progress in every revision session

When you sit down to revise you should have the intention of improving one or more of the things we've talked about today:

  • Understanding 
  • Knowledge/memory 
  • Insights
  • Marks

If you can demonstrate to yourself that you've improved any of these things you know that your revision is working.

And, if your revision isn't working check out this blog for what to do then.

Do you need more help with your revision?

If you're still a bit stuck with your revision we'd be happy to help you. You can check out our 1:1 academic coaching options or join The Extraordinaries Club where you'll find all our subject-specific How to Revise masterclasses as well as three study skills modules which teach you how to revise in a way that works for you.

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