Revision Tips for History!
Today’s post is very much inspired by the lack of traditional exams this academic year. Many of us are facing different examination methods, or have had their exams cancelled entirely! I wanted to create a resource that may be of use to anyone struggling to get started, particularly any first years anxious about having to do their first university exams in the second year. In my experience (which to be fair is limited), university exams don’t differ all that much from A-Levels, but that doesn’t make them any less daunting. I’ll be taking you through what I did last year, what I’m doing now to prepare for my open book exam, and what I wish I’d done differently (hopefully that’ll make me do it next year).
My first piece of advice is a fairly obvious one, and that is to decide which topics you want to revise. I would recommend doing this as soon as possible because the sooner you know, the sooner you can get down to revising! Start by identifying which topics you have already written essays on as you aren’t allowed to repeat yourself in the exam. Next, have a look at past papers and see what has come up before. I find it useful to have a good balance between topics that are common and always seem to come up, and those that haven’t been included for a while, just to be ready for whatever is thrown at you.
Next up, remember that lecture capture is your best friend (if the module supports it, of course)! Once you know what you’re revising, listen to the lectures on that topic. This can fill in any gaps in your lecture notes, or clarify anything that doesn’t quite make sense. I would recommend downloading the app Echo360, which allows you to listen to lectures on the go. Last year I listened to lectures on my way to the library as it was a good way to get in the revision mindset without too much effort.
I personally find that flashcards help with revision. I took any key notes from the lectures (these often help identify chronology of events and provide a more descriptive approach to the topic), and then add arguments made by other historians in order to bulk up the analysis in the revision. Another technique I like to use for memorising information is ‘blurting’. Take a piece of scrap paper and perhaps jot down some headings that can be used as prompts. Then set yourself a timer and write down as much as you can remember on that topic in the time you allowed yourself. I would recommend doing this after you’ve studied the flashcards a fair number of times, or else this method can be quite disheartening if you’re going in blind.
The final part of my revision last year was answering questions! I started with the seminar questions, which allowed me to assess my basic understanding. If I couldn’t answer the seminar questions in detail I did more research! Then I took to the past papers, both planning and writing essays under timed conditions to give myself an idea of how much I could write in the time allowed. A top tip here is to plan as many questions as possible but to prioritise writing the ones that a bit more daunting and you would usually avoid in an exam. This allowed me to play around with my arguments and structures and if I felt confident with questions that scared me then I was sure to be okay with the others!
My revision for my second year exam has felt like a completely different ball game considering it’s format. I have, however, tried to ground myself by approaching it much like my first year exam, providing myself with a sense of familiarity. Like last year, I started by identifying the topics I would revise and have relied heavily on lecture capture to fill in any gaps in my foundational knowledge of the subject.
As this year’s exam is open book, my priorities are slightly different. Unlike last year, I’m creating concise sheets of notes with a variety of arguments and perspectives that could be useful in my exam. While it is an open book assessment, I don’t want to be spending time rummaging around looking for a particular quote when I could be getting on with writing. Hopefully this will combat that! I am also spending a lot more time researching arguments around certain topics, expanding my knowledge beyond that of the core reading set for seminars.
What would I do differently?
One thing jumps out at me when faced with this question, and that is to make flashcards or whatever revision materials I need as I go! This would save me so much time when exam season rolls around. I will definitely be doing this next year, particularly as I may have more exams next year than I have so far at university.
I hope that this post is of some use to people! Obviously revision is entirely personal and you should do whatever works for you. Don’t compare how you study to other people, be it memory techniques or the amount of time spent on revision. This post is intended to provide a starting point for anyone feeling a bit stuck with revision, or for students next year who have never faced a university exam before!
Good luck with your studies! I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!