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3 Steps for Creating an Effective Revision Plan

The most effective first step for revision is to get organised with a solid plan of action. But, how do we go about planning our revision? In this article, we’ll look at three tips for creating an effective yet flexible revision plan such as, scoping your subject, understanding exam requirements, and implementing retrospective revision timetables.

Planning your revision can be an overwhelming task. You might feel the need to delay revision until you have created a timetable, or spend more time carefully crafting the perfect plan rather than starting your revision. Naturally, when planning out your timetable, you might worry about how much time is enough for revision, or how you can cover all your subjects and balance them well. It’s hard to predict what topics we may struggle with and how much time we will have available. In this article, we’ll look at three steps for planning your revision in a way that is both flexible and effective, focusing on the quality of your knowledge, in contrast to the amount of time you spend revising. 

Scope Your Subject

This is the first and most important step of the process! To grasp both the bigger picture and the finer details of your subject, you need to understand the outline by scoping your subject. By identifying the core topics, you can begin to draw connections between the material you’re learning. This is particularly useful when studying a wide variety of modules that may link together, or a large subject that has many interlinked sub-topics. 

A good way to assess your current understanding of the subject outline is to draw up a mindmap, or list from memory - this engages your ability to actively recall information. You can start with the core subject and break it down into subtopics. After, you can use your specification or textbook to flesh out your outline, adding in missed out topics, sub-topics or correcting any mislabelled information. 

This might sound simple but by actively working through your specification, you will begin to understand which topics have the most content, or hold the most importance. You’ll also start to understand how confident you are with the subject’s content; certain topics might have interested you during lectures, while others made no sense. This outline of content can guide your revision process and as we’ll discuss later, this scope of your subject can essentially become your revision timetable. 

A few practical ways to implement scoping your subject include creating a simple bullet pointed list, with indents for subtopics. You can do this in Notion, Word, Google Docs or a spreadsheet and add tick boxes to track your progress. Similarly, you can use this structure to begin organising revision materials. You can create pages or folders in note-taking apps based on each topic and store any resources you’ll need access to. This gives you easy and organised access to material during the revision process, and will help you identify if you need better resources, or will need to create some active recall based revision material, such as question lists or flashcards.

Understand Exam Requirements

For our exam revision to be the most effective, we need to have a good understanding of the assessment method and criteria. How will your knowledge be tested? This can guide the revision techniques you use, and how you make sense of the information. For example:

  • For an essay-based exam, your ability to craft a well-written and critical argument under a time constraint, is just as important as understanding and memorising the theoretical concepts.
  • Alternatively, for technical subjects, you might find it’s better to spend revision time engaged in problem solving. This would test your ability to apply formulae or concepts from memory, and help you to fill in the gaps when you struggle. 

Likewise, by understanding your assessment method and criteria, you’ll be able to pinpoint what is testable knowledge. Some content might have been given for context, and research examples that were given might need to be replaced with your own examples, to show the breadth of your learning. This way, you can avoid wasting time revising material that is not directly beneficial to your exam method. 

Ideally, the best way to understand your assessment method is to use past papers, and if this is unavailable, perhaps exam feedback from the last examination period. Alternatively, improve your general skills, for example, you might not have any example questions, but you can practise your essay writing skills, or use previous assignments as a guide for effective essay writing. 

The Retrospective Revision Timetable

As we mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult aspects of planning your revision can be organising your time. A fixed timetable can easily start to go off track, and leave you feeling demotivated or overwhelmed. An unexpected event might pop up. You might realise one topic needs more attention than another. This is why a retrospective revision timetable is ideal for getting started with minimal planning, and allows you to revise with flexibility. After scoping your subject, this outline can now become your retrospective revision timetable. This method of planning focuses on what you have achieved, rather than focusing on the future goals of what you hope to achieve. 

For this timetable, you have a list of topics for one particular subject. Each time you revise the topic, you write the date of revision and use colour coding to indicate how well this session went. Preferably, revision sessions should involve some guide of ‘active’ study methods that require you to recall information from memory. This creates a visual representation of how well you understand and remember the topics, making it easier to identify areas of weakness. Ideally, when you start this process, input your list of topics, and identify how confident you currently are, this will highlight areas of importance and provide a starting point.

This method focuses on the quality of your revision, and allows you to work backwards, focusing on what you don’t know. By having a complete overview of your progress, you can switch between topics with ease. For example, if you mark a topic ‘red’, leave some time before going back. Instead, take a break and come back to study a topic that is marked ‘amber’ or ‘green’. This is known as interleaving, and is known for improving your ability to retain information. Be intentional when switching subjects, and careful not to confuse this with multitasking. 

A retrospective timetable can also make it easier to implement spaced repetition. This method is about leaving ‘spaces’ between your revision, and recalling information at various intervals. You aim to recall information just as your brain begins to forget it. These intervals are based on the forgetting curve that highlights how we forget information overtime. As you’re already noting the dates of revision, you can then use the concept of spaced repetition to guide when you should next revise the topic. You can automate this in some way using a spreadsheet or tools like Notion. Alternatively, you can set reminders in your phone once you have revised a topic. 

Finally, while we don’t want to make use of rigid timetables, we can still use time management techniques to implement our retrospective revision timetables. Time blocking can be a good way to ensure you always have time set aside for studying, and these sessions can be guided simply by the colour coded topics on your timetable. Similarly, you can use pomodoro timers, or focus apps to ensure you’re able to have a quality revision session and are engaged in deep work. 

In Summary

  • Scope your subject to understand the structure of the content you’ll be learning, and how familiar you are with it.

  • Check your exam methods and assessment criteria to guide your revision, and ensure you’re able to convey your knowledge in an effective and relevant way. 

  • Implement a retrospective revision timetable paired with time management techniques, which makes it easier to engage in other study techniques, such as interleaving, spaced repetition and active recall.

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