Tuesday, 17 February 2015

When is the right time to start revising?

I am advising my students to start their revision now. They have two big knowledge based exams in about 6-7 weeks time. For me, 6-9 weeks has always been an optimum time for revision. Enough time to cover everything… from the “but I don’t get it at all!” to the “Yeah, I think I got this…” 

However, there has been some resistance. Many students appear to be used to cramming at the last minute and getting by. I am not sure how well this tactic always works.

Summing up the comments I have had from revision refuseniks… 

“I’ll revise once I’ve finished all my classes”. 

“I have too many things to do right now, I’ll revise soon. I promise.”

“I’ll start revising for the exams after I’ve done such-and-such assessment.”

“I’ll start my revision when I’m ready to do it properly.”

Whether you realise it or not, these are usually lies we tell ourselves. False barriers and justifications for not doing the dreaded revision.

Why do you have to wait until you’ve finished your classes? 

Your brain is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Trust me. The brain is well able to cope with preparing for classes and revision in the same week. Why wait another couple of weeks, when your overall revision window has slimmed down somewhat? Are you sure you just aren’t looking for an excuse to put it off a little longer?

If you have too many things to do now, is that going to improve with time? 

Or are you going to find yourself in a bigger log jam of work all crying out for your time and attention. Start ticking tasks off your list…. The unexpected can happen, and you might find new calls on your time. 

Why would you wait until after you’ve done other assessments? 

Giving yourself a change of task, and a change of challenge will help you keep stimulated. “A change is as good as a rest” is a famous English saying. Break up the monotony of only studying for one subject or assessment at a time.

If you find revision boring, then you’re definitely doing it wrong. 

You need to learn actively. Go and look up active learning. Start using active methods for learning. Mix it up!

Being honest with yourself, when will you deem yourself to be ready to your revision “properly”? This sounds like pure procrastination to me….

And so I am now going to share a terrible secret from my past.  I may live to regret this, but I think that I ought to come clean. Whilst studying for my degree, my friends always knew when I had an essay to hand in. Why? Because suddenly I would go and visit the laundrette. I’d strip my bed, bag all the dirties up and make my way to the coin op laundrette on campus. If you knew how many sets of clean underwear I had (I could easily have survived a siege whilst remaining fragrant), you would realise what a big deal doing the laundry for me actually was…

I’d take a massive bag of dirty clothes and bedding, feed the machines with detergent and small change and spend half a day getting the clothes washed and dried. I revelled in watching the massive dryer going round and administering the 20 pence pieces for each timed burst of hot air. 

I would tell myself that “I can’t focus” looking at all those dirty clothes. They were “gnawing away” at me. 


I was procrastinating. I was finding a distraction, a displacement activity to defer having to write my essay.

It’s time to level with yourself. How much time do you really have before your exam? How much ground do you have to cover? 

I think you need to start now. 

Don’t be worried that you can’t put in whole days of revision yet. Don’t worry that you haven’t covered all of the course material yet.

Any learning you get done now is a head start. Any understanding you gain is money in the bank.

My student Aled came to class last week with the quotation he’d found “strive for progress, not perfection”. 

I couldn’t agree more. 

Every hour of revision you can get under your belts is precious. Every gain of understanding is marks in your pocket. Every new piece of knowledge will pay its dividend later. 

Stop putting it off. And no, you can’t go and wash your dirty socks. I’m wise to that trick!

Many thanks to Aled for putting so many things in perspective.