Making revision work: When less can be more

In my school years, I didn’t realise that you don’t need to do more and more revision in order to fare better in exams.  In fact, doing too much revision can lead to negative effects.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to make the most of my revision time so that a little time can go a long way.  Here are some of the things I found that helped:

Constant revision = bad news

travelougue 10 - photo by Tim Caynes

A good tip to start with. There are some people who don’t do much revision at all. There are others who revise instead of sleeping and who revise while they’re already revising(!). There are also a large number of people in between. What do you consider yourself to be?

We know it’s no good ignoring your revision.  But it’s just as dangerous to revise too much.  It can lead to stress and unhappiness; exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve.

It’s difficult to accept that less can be more when you have upcoming exams, but if your attitude is screwed up and you’re getting dizzy with work, no amount of revision is going to be particularly effective, is it?

Work with a timed goal in mind.  Set a time limit that you’ll work to and stick to it.  Once the time is up, stop working and find something else to do.

While there is no optimum amount of revision time, it’s bound to start tiring you greatly after 4 or 5 hours in a day.  I’ve seen some peeps getting restless after a few hours, but who were determined to continue doing another couple of hours of fruitless revision.

What’s the point?  After a couple of hours of in-depth work, it’s no surprise your mind starts wandering.  Let it wander, do something else, and come back to the revision when you’re fully refreshed.  Listen to your mind and body and they will love you for it.

Make the most of external factors

Other side of the wall - photo by cobalt123

I’ve always been a true believer of working in many different places and under different circumstances in order to get the most out of my mind. Not only can it open up different channels for the brain to work its magic, but it can also act as a memory jogger when you’re trying to recall information.

It’s great to associate different elements of your revision with different study areas. Your desk, your bed, the kitchen, the bathroom, outside, in the library, in the laundrette, on a wall, anywhere you like!

And how about focusing on who you’re with too? Maybe even go as far as using some of your social conversations at the time to jog you into remembering the work you were meant to be doing at the time… 😉

Like some memory masters, they use techniques when remembering something like a random deck of cards, by picturing a large room in their house and associating each card with an object in the room, or in a particular part of that room.

That’s why associating locations, faces, conversations, and so on, with your study can all help trigger memories for you.

Embrace the wonders of time

Every year - photo by

For some students, revision is a reluctant last resort choice, completed only when spare time is available.  With no defined structure, you may be doing yourself an injustice.

Let’s say the only free time you seem to use is around mid-afternoon.

Who’s to say that your mind and body hate mid-afternoon more than any other part of the day? If it’s the only time you give yourself to revise, you’re fighting a losing battle from the outset.  No wonder you’re so reluctant to revise.

Time is more important than you might think. One person’s dream of a 6am start is another person’s worst nightmare.  To make sure you’re working at your most productive times, try getting 20-30 minutes of revision done at different points in the day and see where it takes you.  While it’s unfortunate if you find your best time to be the evening when you’d usually go out, it’s a sacrifice worth making for a few days.  A few days will not spoil three or four years of good fun, will it…?

I must admit that I’ve never had a natural ‘best’ time of the day, but many others swear by a few hours in which they’re most productive. For some, it’s very early in the morning. For others, it’s when most people are tucked up in bed. Even if you discover, like me, that you have no reliable pattern for time, at least you’ll have tried.

Find motivational anchors

Motivation Board - photo by Simon Clayson

Do you break out in a nervous sweat when it’s time to knuckle down? Do you look around and suddenly find lots of terribly important stuff that must be sorted before you could possible do any revision? Are your friends too much of a draw for you to bear to be without them for a couple of hours while you put in some quality reading?

If any of these ring true, you need to find some motivational anchors to keep you at the books.

Your motivation can come from:

  • Your head
  • Your heart

If your head motivates you more, tell yourself why the work is so important for your future. Note down the factors that make this the most sensible thing to be doing right now. Be strong in your belief that the more effort you put in now, the easier you’ll find the work and the quicker it will be finished.

If you’re happier to let your heart decide what motivates you, consider just how good it will be to have taken in the necessary information and what a boost it will be for you. Then think how bad things could be if you didn’t get the work done. Ask yourself if putting off your revision for some supposed short term gain is actually worthwhile in the long term.

You may feel you have more choice and flexibility, but imagine what it would be like in the world of employment…If your boss told you to do something, it would be unusual for you to do anything other than get on with the work. And if you want to be your own boss in the future, it’s even more reason to start getting the work done!

Enjoy yourself

Enjoy Life - Smile - photo by Springsun

A good tip to end with. While those around you are unlikely to be whooping (or w00ting) with joy at the prospect of sitting down and taking in mounds of information for impending exams, that doesn’t make it the end of the world either.

As a student, it’s just part of life.  The sooner you come to accept that, the more time you can spend getting on with it as positively as possible.  Yes, it’s a pain, but we all need to revise.  Just get the work out of the way and tick the work off your list with pride when you’re done.

Your life as a whole is far more important than your work in isolation.  The more you treat your study as part of that bigger picture, the more likely you are to deal with the work without worrying about it.  As soon as it takes over your life, you’ll start losing out.


  1. If you asked me, I would say:

    (1) form a study group — the group doesn’t have to have all members from your club/class but a small group of 3 or 4 is sufficient; and the most important thing is not the attendance of the group each time you meet, but the discussion that takes place.

    I have seen students who get annoyed or angry because “one of us didn’t turn up”. Well, I said, that’s his loss 😀

    (2) have fun once in a while. ‘Nuff said?

  2. Absolutely for point 2, pelf. If a student’s not having fun, no wonder they aren’t getting the most from study and revision.

    I’ll said it for the squillionth time (and to regular readers’ annoyance), it’s all about the balance!

    As for study groups, I found them of use when:
    a. I had broad topics to explore;
    b. I was totally confused about a particular issue.

    With a selection of peers (and the wisdom of crowds!), you can understand a lot more.

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