Mapping your path to exam success: planning purposeful revision breaks along the way

This is the second post in a three part series. Read Part 1 first and Part 3 when you're done.

You've decided on your destination and made your desire to get there your own. You've mapped out a route and chosen a guide who has been there before and knows how to overcome the obstacles as well as all the shortcuts (that'll be me!). But it's a long journey, and your motivation to reach your destination wavers when you get tired. You need to take breaks and pit-stops along the way to re-energise yourself and give you renewed focus along the way.

The destination I'm talking about is your goal in life and I explained how powerful it is to know where it lies in your guidebook to outstanding results. Exam success happens to be one of the milestones on the way to your destination, and it's the thing you're working towards at the moment. I'm honoured that you've chosen me as your guide to help you get there, afterall I know what it takes to get 5 A grades at A-Level and win a place at Cambridge University.

Every good guide recognises a traveller's need to rest, take breaks, to eat and drink and take in the view along the way. You're the traveller and I'm the guide. Today I'm going to show you how to take purposeful breaks in your revision so that your breaks help you to improve your exam performance.

Take purposeful breaks in your #revision so that your breaks help you to improve your exam performance. Click To Tweet

How to plan purposeful revision breaks

It's widely acknowledged that it's important to take revision breaks. You've probably experienced times where no matter how hard you try your concentration is shot to pieces and your mind will wander anywhere except to the revision notes or practice questions in front of you.

This is the time to take a break.

I would suggest to you that it's best to plan purposeful breaks, acknowledging the times when you expect you'll need to take them.

Let me explain.

When I'm driving my car on a long journey, I know that I will get tired and it will get harder and harder to concentrate on what's happening on the road around 1.5 or 2 hours into the trip.

It's the same if I go for a long hike. I know that probably after an hour my legs will appreciate a sit down and I will need a good drink of water.

Knowing how far you can go before you need to take a break is powerful. You can plan ahead, looking at the map to find a pleasant place to pull off the road for a walk around or a visit to a coffee shop, or, if you're walking, a spot with a bench and a good view where you can ease your ruck-sack off your back and take a good long drink from your water bottle.

It's the same when you're revising. If you know that your attention starts to wonder after 30 minutes, plan for this. Set a timer for 30 minutes and stop working when the timer goes off. Set the timer again for 5-10 minutes and have something purposeful, but completely different to revision, to do in that time. You might decide you're going to go outside and walk round the garden, pop to the letter box to post something, do some star-jumps or even just let the dog out. But the key is to have a plan for what you're going to do in that time, and to make it a complete break from the revision work you've just been doing.

When the timer goes off again, get back to work, setting the timer again for another 30 minutes and having a plan for what you're going to do in your next break.

Your top ten ways to spend a revision break

I challenge you to sit down and think of your top ten ways to spend a revision break. Come up with 3-4 for each of these lengths of break:

  • 5-10 minutes
  • 20-30 minutes
  • 60 minutes

Make sure they're all things you enjoy doing. Your revision break needs to feel like a reward at the end of a short but productive period of revision. It's also important to make the break very different to your revision activity. It's great to build some exercise into your breaks, social time chatting to friends or family or relaxation such as reading your favourite book or watching your favourite TV programme. It's been proven, according to an article I read in New Scientist (28th March 2015) summarising the reasearch of Lila Davachi, that taking a break doing something completely different from what you've just been studying helps your brain to remember the information.

It's been proven that taking a #revision break doing something completely different from what you've just been studying helps your brain to remember the information. Click To Tweet

When you next sit down to revise, take a look at your revision plan and decide before you start which activity you're going to do in your break. By making your break more purposeful your revision will become much more purposeful too. You can make your entire day of revision even more purposeful if you plan out your revision breaks for the entire day before you start. This means you've always got something to aim for, and you might feel like you're achieving stuff above and beyond your revision e.g. getting fitter or learning to juggle, as my husband did during his revision breaks at school!

“But, I haven't got time to take a study break!”

Some people are always in a hurry to reach their destination. Or they feel the weight of their to-do list crushing down on them. I promise you that you have got time to take a break. In fact, you haven't got time NOT to take a break. When you're aiming for a milestone in your life, such as achieving outstanding exam success, you desperately need to look after yourself. You don't see Olympic athletes deciding to stop looking after their needs as they prepare for the race of their life, do you?

Taking breaks when you need them, and spending them in the right way, will mean you arrive at destination exam day happier, healthier, more-relaxed, better-prepared and more confident for what lies ahead. By planning purposeful revision breaks you're actually boosting your chances of exam success, and you'll keep your motivation higher because you've got the energy to forge ahead.

In my book ‘The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take‘ I give you permission to look after yourself and take care of your mind, body and soul in the intense study period leading up to exams. In my next blog post I'll answer your revision questions, the answers to which I've learned through my experience as a student, teacher and examiner and how you can get hold of the book.

What are your top revision break ideas?

Take this chance to inspire, and be inspired, by others and share you top revision break ideas in the comments below. You never know, you might come across an amazing way to spend ten minutes that you've never thought of before!

Now I've written this blog post, I'm going to give my brain a rest and go for a run!

This is the second post in a three part series. Read Part 1 first and Part 3 when you're done.

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