Why traditional revision plans don’t work for many students
Over the years I've seen many students who diligently create revision plans in the way most people advocate, but then lose confidence and motivation when their plan goes awry. This has also happened to me.
When you really think about it, it's no surprise that these traditional revision plans go wrong.
In this article we'll explore:
- How students traditionally plan revision
- Why these traditional revision plans don't work
- The consequences of failing revision plans for students
- What revision plans need to include instead
Why traditional revision plans don't work for many students
How students traditionally plan revision
A traditional revision plan would usually consist of a student sitting down and allocating specific topics to specific time slots over quite a long period of time. Sometimes months on end.
For example, in a half-term holiday they might divide their revision time up into eight 30 minute slots and allocate a topic into each slot.
In my experience, this approach has usually let the student down by about day 3. And, then all the carefully planned weeks or months of revision go out of the window.
Why doesn't this traditional approach work with revision plans?
This careful and detailed planning for long stretches of time doesn't work for these key reasons.
#1 It's really hard to estimate how much any particular topic will need for revision
Some topics are big, others are small. Some topics are much easier to understand, others are harder. Every topic is different and you won't know how the revision for that topic is going to go until you actually get into it.
#2 Humans are bad at estimating how long things will take
Most humans massively underestimate how long any particular task will take, unless they do that task on a very regular basis. I know roughly how long this blog post will take to write because I've been writing a blog practically every week for seven years now. However, if I had to sit down and get my head around a brand new topic or type of task I wouldn't be able to accurately say how long it would take.
Invariably, students underestimate how long each topic will take in their revision plan.
#3 There's no wriggle room
Students nearly always fill up every available time slot with a revision task or topic, because they feel under such pressure to cover all the content. However, with no wriggle room there's no way to catch-up if your estimates for how long particular topics will take are off the mark.
#4 Students expect too much of themselves
These days, GCSEs and A-levels are a real marathon. And, with a marathon you have to pace yourself.
There's only so long you can keep pushing yourself very hard. And, if students don't have a good understanding of how much revision is sustainable for them on a daily and weekly basis over a course of months, their revision plan won't reflect what they're truly capable of.
We want students to arrive in the exam hall feeling confident, well rested and with plenty of energy and creativity to spare if they're going to succeed. Burning themselves out with revision isn't going to lead to them really demonstrating their true academic ability in the exam itself.
#5 You need to experiment to find out what works for you
Many students don't know what their revision rhythms are when they create their revision plans. This means the don't know how long they're sustainably able to concentrate for before they take a break, what times of day they're best able to engage with their revision and what their overall optimum work pattern looks like.
You need to be able to flex and adapt as you find out what works for you, rather than pre-programming exactly what your revision rhythm will be for weeks on end.
The consequences of failing revision plans
When students create revision plans in the old, traditional way the consequeneces are that:
- They become demoralised and demotivated after just a few short days. This happens when one or two topics take long than expected, throwing the whole plan off. Some students will give up at this stage, throwing their hands up in the air saying that revision doesn't work for them.
- If they persevere with their plan, they get burned out, bored and overwhelmed, believing it's the only way to reach their academic goals.
Clearly, neither of these outcomes are good for students.
How to make a successful revision plan
These are the steps to creating a successful revision plan:
1. Identify how you learn best.
There's no point in wasting precious revision time on techniques that don't work.
2. Prioritise revising the topics that will make the biggest difference to your overall grade
Many students will start at the beginning of their specification, exercise book or text book and revise in that order. This would make sense if you had all the time in the world, but with limited time available you need to focus on the topics and sub-topics that will make the biggest difference.
3. Plan times to focus on subjects, not topics
If you have allocated time slots for a subject e.g. geography, rather than a topic e.g. landforms in the upper course of the river, it doesn't matter nearly so much if your topic takes more (or less) time than you originally planned. Just do what you can for that subject in that time and move on to the next topic in your next revision session for this topic.
4. Be realistic about how much you can do
Don't overburden your revision plan. If you're revising in the right ways, revision can be incredibly efficient. You also need to give yourself some wriggle room so that if something comes up, you're ill or you just have an off day it's not a disaster.
Make a successful revision plan
Now, it's over to you. Take on board the advice I've given about how to make successful revision plans, or come to my Revision Kickstarter workshop where I'll walk you through creating a personalised and sustainable revision plan that works for you.
The Revision Kickstarter is a live, interactive workshop on Zoom. You'll walk away with your very own revision plan that actually works and keeps you motivated to keep revising in the long term.