Why your revision isn’t working

With exams about to begin, you know that every revision session counts. 

So when you spend time revising just to find that you don’t remember any of the equations you just practised for maths or any of the land formations you thought you memorised for geography, you find yourself panicking and wondering…

“Why isn’t my revision working?!”

That’s the question I’m going to answer in this article. 

If you are doing the work but it doesn’t seem to be sticking in your brain, it might be because: 

  1. Your revision methods aren’t right for you. Or…
  2. You’re too stressed

Let’s talk about both so that you can figure out why your revision isn’t working and how you can put it right. 

Your revision methods aren’t working for you

I can’t tell you how important using the right revision methods is. It’s heartbreaking as a parent and as an academic coach to see students wasting so much precious time on revising in the wrong way for them. And, for students revising in the wrong way, it’s very frustrating and disheartening. 

Here’s what you should ask yourself to figure out whether your revision methods work for you:

Am I revising actively?

I’m not talking about reading through your notes while you pace around your house or run on a treadmill. 

Active revision is about using the input (the information you’re learning) and creating an output (summary notes, posters, teaching it to someone else). By using the information, your brain is more likely to store it, ready for you to recall it in your exam.

Passive revision, on the other hand, is what I see far too many students doing. It looks like sitting on your bed with your textbook, reading page after page, maybe highlighting a paragraph here and there. Or watching a revision video on YouTube, not making notes and hoping that your brain will just soak up the information. 

Do my revision methods work for my learning style? 

Different people’s minds study best in different ways. 

I get to grips with concepts best when I discuss them with other people. Talking it over and hearing what other people have to say really gets my brain working and helps me understand things. 

But, some students prefer learning visually. For them, creating a colourful mindmap or diagrams might help them remember information. 

Others learn better by seeing and experiencing things for themselves. 

So, how do you learn best and how can you revise in a way that works for your learning style?

Am I revising in ways that work for my specific subject?

Some subjects, like English, require a specific skill set. Effective English revision involves building and practising those skills, so you might spend a lot of time practising past papers.

Other subjects, like the Sciences, require a large amount of subject knowledge. Revision for these kinds of subjects is more about understanding and memorising the information from each topic. This means you’ll need to focus more on revision methods like making and testing yourself with flashcards. 

What’s worked for me in the past?

In my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, I walk students through an exercise to figure out what learning experiences have worked for them in the past. 

It’s really helpful to identify ways you’ve successfully learnt. You can then consider whether you can use this insight to tweak the revision methods you’re using now to work more effectively for you. 

This exercise is in the chapter of my book that I give away for free. You can download it now by clicking here

If you’re confident that your revision methods should work for you, it could be stress

A lot of students find revision and exam season incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing.

I know it’s a big problem for so many GCSE and A-Level students at this time of the year. 

A certain amount of stress is actually helpful. It gives you the drive to sit down at your desk and do the revision. 

However, when you’re too stressed, you don’t have access to the parts of your brain that learn and retain information. 

That’s why, when your stress levels are too high, the information you’re trying to revise just won’t stick in your mind. 

It’s really important to manage stress in order to revise effectively and to be able to recall your knowledge in your exams. 

There are a lot of different techniques you can try. Take a look at my blog post, How to release exam stress, to learn about the stress cycle and 7 really effective things you can do to reduce your stress levels. 

Would you like more help?

I know how frustrating it is to be doing everything right and to be putting in a lot of hard work and not getting the results you want. If that’s you, I can help. 

Inside The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub that supports parents and students through the exam years, there are lots of really helpful resources, including the self-care for the whole family in the exam years masterclass and a whole module on effective revision, Rev Your Revision. We also run Revision Kickstarter Workshops frequently throughout the school year.

Would you like to know more? If so, click here to find out more about how The Extraordinaries Club can help you and your family.

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