The 3 Ms of Successful Revision

“How do you do successful revision?” That's the key question that parents and students alike ask me. What they really want to know is:

  • What kind of revision will lead to the best exam results possible?
  • What kind of revision will feel like it's productive and effective while you're doing it, so that you stay motivated to keep doing it?

In this article, I'm going to outline the three ‘M's of successful revision.

What are the 3 ‘M's of successful revision?

The 3 ‘M's of successful revision are:

  • Motivation
  • Mindset
  • Mindfulness / metacognition

Let's dive in so you know what I'm talking about.

1. Motivation: the first ‘M' of successful revision

There is nothing more important than motivation for successful revision. You have to want to do well in your exams, whether they're GCSEs, A Levels or some other exams, in order to put the hours and hours of hard work in that are necessary to achieve your best.

When I was at school and studying for my own GCSEs and A Levels I was highly motivated by my dream of studying at Cambridge University, which I had had since I was nine years old. I knew this was a tough ask and that I had to get the very best grades possible to stand a chance of getting in, but, because my dream was so important to me I was willing to make the sacrifices and put in the hours to ensure that I did successful revision.

Not every student's dream will be the same as mine, and rightly so, but the students who don't know what they're aiming for, what these exams are for are the ones who struggle most to revise successfully. That's why in my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take and in my study skills programme, The Extraordinaries Club, motivation is one of the first things I cover. I give students a series of exercises to work through that help them to understand:

  • What they're aiming for in life, even if they haven't got a specific career goal. This could be a lifestyle or a set of experiences.
  • How doing well in their exams will enable them to fulfill their dreams, whatever they are.

I also teach students methods to keep their motivations and goals ever present in their minds so that they stay focused on the task in hand.

For some students, this just starts the thought processes about the future when up until now the furthest they've thought ahead is to the next time they'd be on their Xbox. For other students, it gives them something very concrete to aim for. It's a valuable exercise for both as it moves them closer towards achieving their dreams or goals.

2. Mindset: the second ‘M' of successful revision

Mindset is really all about attitude. It's about understanding that if you do the work in the right way you will see improvements in your results. It's also about grit and resilience: when you face obstacles or set-backs you pick yourself up and carry on regardless, never giving up.

I see too many students who either:

  1. Don't believe any amount of revision is going to help them because, for example, ‘Maths just isn't my thing' or, ‘Languages are hard for me because….'. These attitudes are never going to lead to committed hard work, successful revision and seriously improved results because the student's heart isn't in it.
  2. Don't give revision a fair try. They will say that ‘flashcards don't work for me'. When I question them further it turns out they've made a couple of flashcards and looked at them once or twice and then concluded that they don't work. What's really going on here is that they haven't got the commitment or the resilience to make them work.

When I was revising for my own GCSEs and A Levels I would test myself on each flashcard maybe 15 times before I'd learned it perfectly, and I made literally hundreds of flashcards. That's the kind of commitment it takes to get the top grades.

Mindset is, again, a chapter in my book and a module of my study skills programme, The Extraordinaries Club. One parent member said this about the Mindset module:

We found this one a big help as we both had fixed mindsets before starting this module last year. My daughter is much more positive about maths now, wouldn't say she loves it but does think differently about it.

3. Mindfulness and Metacognition: the third ‘M' of successful revision

Mindfulness is a big buzzword these days, and rightly so. Not only does a mindfulness practice help you lead a calmer, less anxious life (several members of The Extraordinaries Club have taken it up and found that it really helps them to control their stress and emotions) but it also gives you a greater sensitivity to what's going on in your body and mind.

What's that got to do with successful revision?

Well, it all starts with metacognition.

Metacognition is a long and complex sounding word, which really means having an awareness of how you're learning.

The more aware you are of how you learn, and how you're learning in every moment, the more successful your revision is going to be.

Most students won't have taken the time to reflect on what's working in terms of their learning, and the mechanisms through which they are actually understanding and memorising what they're studying. However, it's this reflection and, through the reflection, awareness, that really has the potential to supercharge the effectiveness and therefore success, of revision.

This all sounds a bit lofty and theoretical, so let's think about what this actually looks like in action.

What do mindfulness and metacognition look like in action?

On my Revision Kickstarter Workshops (you can watch recordings at any time in The Extraordinaries Club) I take students through an exercise where they have to think about their most successful learning experiences and least successful learning experiences. They then have to reflect on why those experiences were successful or unsuccessful. This is metacognition. When they know what's working and, importantly, why it's working, they'll be more committed to the successful revision techniques in their toolbox.

When they're actually revising, successful revisers will not only be thinking about what they're revising, but they'll also be having a ‘meta' conversation with themselves in their heads that goes something like:

“Is this working? Am I understanding this? Am I remembering it?”

It's a bit like if you set off on a journey and you put all your effort into travelling. However, if you only put your effort into covering distance without actually reviewing whether you're getting closer to your destination, you might actually take a lot longer to get there. However, if you review your progress as you're going along, you're more likely to stick to the fastest route and get to your destination much sooner.

When students ask these questions of themselves, they might discover any number of things. For example:

  • The revision technique they're using isn't quite right for the material they're trying to memorise
  • They don't understand the source information so they need to go somewhere else to get an explanation that works better for them
  • They're a bit tired/hungry/bored so it might be better to take a short revision break and come back to it later, because as it is they're banging their head against a brick wall

When students ask themselves these questions they can always be making sure that they're revising in an optimal way and that they're doing successful revision.

Over to you

Now, it's time to take the three ‘M's of successful revision and put them into practice in your own revision. This will be easier for some than others, and developing a good mindset and building up your metacognition and mindfulness will take practice, but if you're committed you will get there. However, if you need a bit more help and guidance, join my study skills programme, The Extraordinaries Club, or if you feel you need more 1:1 attention, sign-up for 1:1 academic coaching, and we'll help you develop your motivation, mindset, metacognition and mindfulness to make sure you're doing revising in the best way for you in the build up to your exams.

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