Exams: managing revision
Welcome to part 2 of this riveting post about exams. If you haven’t read part 1, go read it – if only to suffer through my puns. I may have gone slightly overboard…
It’s the Easter holiday. Holidays, by definition, are days of rest and leisure.
However, we also have exams. And, as I am in my third (and final) year, I’m also writing a whopping project report to seal off my degree with an academic flourish.
Therefore, we now have to walk a fine line between doing work and relaxing (because relaxing is important).
When do I revise?
Time management is key.
First things first, start early. I think it’s must better to start revising early and do it bit by bit rather than cram a bunch of stuff a few days before an exam. Not only is cramming not effective (especially for problem-based exam questions) and stressful, but it can lead to burn out.
People have different ways of managing revision. Those who have self-discipline are able to stick to strict revision timetables.
(If this is you, please teach me, sensei. I do not work this way; I cannot wake up early for a self-imposed timetable.)
Instead, a solution that works well for me is to work in terms of very short-term goals, or deliverables. This means setting a list of things to do on a certain day, or by a certain date. The key thing is making goals very short-term, (e.g. ‘make a list of techniques for X by the end of the day’). I do set working hours, but which item in my list to do depends on how I’m feeling at a particular time.
This year, I’m going to try making SMART objectives for revision, as I think this will help me measure my progress and manage my time better. For example, saying that ‘I will do 2 hours of revision’ is not specific enough – what will be achieved in these two hours and how do I know that I spent these two hours well?
Past paper schedules are a good idea. They provide structure around revision, in the sense that they are like self-imposed deadlines.
There are a number of ways to represent timetables and lists. Gantt charts are popular for schedules – but I personally think that they’re only useful if it’s absolutely clear what needs to be done in a block of time, which is information that is often missing/limited in this format. Another is using a Kanban board such as Trello, which can be used to make to-do lists.
When do I NOT revise?
In order to be good at revision, it’s also important to know when not to revise.
Take breaks! If you feel like you are tiring out, don’t push it. You don’t want to be burned out by the time exams roll around.
We’re told that regular breaks are good for concentration. The pomodoro technique is useful for breaking up work into short bursts (e.g. 25 minutes long), and I’ve found this useful for note-taking. However, one thing to keep in mind is that too much context-switching can actually be harmful, so if I use this technique I do consecutive 25-minute bursts working on the same module, rather than switching modules after every burst.
While timetables typically contain blocks of things you are going to do, I think it’s also useful to schedule time for not doing things. Or at least, things that aren’t revision. I keep my time after dinner free to creative things like drawing or writing this blog post, and weekends for being social and doing other stuff.
Remember, it’s the holidays. I think it’s really easy to feel guilty about not working, but we’re human beings, not robots!
Good luck with revision and have a nice Easter!