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Revision tips from an Oxford PhD

Photography of Library Room
Exams can be daunting, but if you're well prepared they can also be an opportunity to show what you're capable of...


 1. Know the syllabus! This may seem obvious, but far too often students ask us for help with what they believe to be problems with their exam technique. What usually transpires is that there is no issue at all with the reproduction of knowledge during the exam. Instead, their preparation is inadequate. Vital details have not been learned, so students are unable to articulate precise and accurate answers and instead write vague statements worth little credit.

2. Compile excellent notes. Notes should be, well...notes! This means that they comprise everything you *need* to know, and nothing more. As these must be learned by heart, they must be concise, neat and visually appealing. Bright colours, annotated diagrams and bullet points will

3. Have all the notes for one module/subject in one place. In general, ring binders aren't a great idea. Pages are liable to fall out, and they are bulky and awkward to transport. Exercise books are a far superior choice.

4. Learn as you go. Regardless of how intelligent you are, trying to memorise notes in the weeks leading up to the exam is stressful and many students simply leave it too late to get everything done. Revision should be a continuous process that begins at the very start of your course. The ongoing review of material that has already been taught will mean that the details are committed to long term memory, and you avoid the last minute panic of trying to learn everything at once.

5. Incorporate revision into your daily routine. "Little and often" is a phrase we like to use. Rather than sitting down for 2 hours after school to revise, use the smaller pockets of time throughout the day that would otherwise pass unused. If you take a bus to school, use the journey to read your notes. For A level and IB students, make sure you are working in your free periods!

6. Teach a topic to someone else. This is by far the most effective way to ensure that you fully understand a topic, and you know the details by heart. This is the gold standard, and students who can effectively teach another do exceptionally well.

7. Have friends, or relatives test you. The tester need not know anything about your subject if you create revision cards with a question on one side and the answer on the other. Have them highlight anything you get wrong or miss out, so that you can focus on what you don't know.

8. Learn what you don't know, not what you do! Another obvious statement, but many students gravitate towards parts of the subject that they can already do well, because reviewing this is reassuring. This leads to weaker areas being avoided, which of course makes them even weaker and even more daunting to tackle.