Happy Friday!  I’m going to try and post each week on a Friday so that you have the weekend to try out the ideas and suggestions that you like…

There are four key areas that need to in place for effective preparation. 



Effective revision strategies

Health and well being

In the ’13 weeks to go’ post we thought about getting motivated; helping your child to decide why exam success is worth the effort.  It’s important to keep revisiting motives, so do encourage your son/daughter to talk you through what it will feel like to achieve grades they deserve and have worked hard for.  We need to help them to see that this preparation is worth it!  Teenagers aren’t usually good at delayed gratification (the idea that if I work hard now I’ll get the reward in years to come).  They can be far more tempted by the here and now… “Why would I revise when it’ll be much more fun to play on the computer/go out/watch TV etc etc.  So keeping the ‘why bother’ at the forefront is key.

Last time we started to look at organising revision slots at home.  I hope you liked the Gold/Silver/Bronze idea and that your child is prepared to give that a go.  It tends to be popular because it is flexible.

This post aims to help prioritise revision, which is part of being well organised.

If revision is going to be effective, it needs to be targeted.  Many young people spend time flicking through a text book/revision guide/search engine looking for a topic that they ‘fancy’ studying.  There are two problems with this approach:

  1. In order to get through the volume of work that they need to cover, they need to have a strategy (remember we estimate that a GCSE student covers an average of 200 topics across all of their subjects).
  1. If they’re revising what they ‘feel OK’ about, they’re probably studying something they are reasonably good at, and good revision needs to target topics that require a bit more understanding!

They need a different way of methodically working through all topics, not just the ones they like.  Choosing what to revise is a great method of ‘pretend revision’… The kind of activity where they ‘look busy’ but they’re not being very effective!

Every exam your child sits has been taught by a teacher who uses the exam specification to find out what they have to teach.  The specification is a document published by the exam board that outlines the content that could be examined. Therefore, the specification is a really important document, as your child (and you!) can access what they need to know to be well prepared for the exam.  

Anyone can access the specifications on the exam board websites for each subject.  These websites can be complex to navigate, and you’ll need to have all the information about which exam your child has been entered for in order to locate the correct specification.  You may have been given this by your child’s school, but if you haven’t, I’m pretty sure that your child’s teacher would share the link to the appropriate specification.

Once you have the specification, you have a list of what your child has been taught in order to be exam ready.

I suggest that you ask your child to make a ‘topic sheet’ for each subject.  This is simply a sheet of A4 divided in two; one side listing the topics in that subject your child feels confident in, and the other topics they know need some work.

Here’s an example

topic list (3)

Many students start revising the things they feel OK about (it makes them feel better!), but they need to work on ‘less confident’ topics first. There is confidence to be taken by starting a revision session feeling less sure about a topic, and finishing that 30 minute slot with greater understanding.

This is also important because when we agree that an effective revision session is 30 minutes, that means 30 minutes of high quality, focused work.  

So, using this approach means that the student begins their 30 minutes knowing exactly what they are going to revise.  They get the resources for that session together, and begin 30 minutes of focused revision.

If you have difficulty getting the specification, another way to prioritise topics is to use the contents page of a revision guide.  Take each topic and allocate it to either confident or less confident on the topic sheet.

In order to revise effectively, your child will need certain resources to hand.  These should be gathered before the 30 minute session begins so that work is not distracted by looking for/collecting resources. 

The key resources are:

  1. Topic for revision taken from topic list (e.g. Vectors in maths)
  2. Specification (what do I need to know/understand about this topic?)
  3. Revision resources (revision guide/text book/ exercise book/web resource)
  4. Past paper question(s) on the topic and corresponding mark scheme
  5. Paper/note/pens/cards to work with

Make sure that each subject is getting its ‘fair share’ of revision sessions in the week… If a subject isn’t a favourite, it’s easy to ignore it (that’s why the topic sheet is important!).  A subject that is going really well may need less attention, and that session could be given to a less successful subject and topic.  

I’m often asked whether listening to music whilst revising is OK.

Here are my thoughts…

Many young people like to have music in the background, and this doesn’t appear to have a negative affect on concentration, but it does need some careful management:

Music shouldn’t be a distraction. 

Select 30 minutes of music before the revision session starts, so that study isn’t interrupted by changing track/playlist etc. 

Volume should be reasonable (In our house, if music can be heard beyond the room they’re in, it’s too loud)

It is possible that listening to music via headphones interferes with learning, and there is some evidence to suggest that it interferes with how we store information in memory (so listen to it on a device but not through headphones)

Use of other technology

There is research that suggests that if you are distracted or interrupted during periods of concentration, it will take several minutes to return to the previous level of concentration.  If you are a student doing a 30 minute session of revision and you are distracted by a text message half way through, you can see that the cost to effective study is high. There’s a great article about this here:


So 30 minutes of high quality revision means without distraction, which means that phones should be turned off (and preferably left in another room), if the student is working on a screen (to access websites etc.) all other distractions (alerts/pop ups etc.) should be turned off.  This obviously requires discipline and commitment, but I remind students that at the end of 30 minutes, they can turn everything back on and check that the works is still turning out there!

I have met parents who insist on phones/tablets being handed in at study time, and this works for them, whilst others say that they cannot convince get their child to do this.  Again, your unique set of circumstances come into play here.  You know what your values and expectations are, and how focused your child is (or is not) when they study. 

If this is an area for debate it’s time for another conversation whilst things are calm, to agree ‘what study will look like’.  You may also need to chat through where your child works.  You may feel that they will get on with work in a quiet and private space, but you may feel that getting them to work in a more public space would keep them on track (because you are around, and able to look over their shoulder every now and again).  Whatever you decide, now is a good time to set up some agreed ways of working for the crucial weeks in the lead up to exams.

In summary 

  1. Use the specification to plan and prioritise a very specific topic to cover during each 30 minute revision session.
  2. Allocate the number of revision sessions using the Gold, Silver, Bronze model each week
  3. Use the specification (or revision guide contents page) to make a topic list which prioritises which topics need particular attention (confident/less confident)
  4. Allocate each revision session to a topic from the list, so that study is focused
  5. Decide how many sessions each week will be spent on each subject (based on which subjects are going well, and which need attention)
  6. Make sure each session is high quality and focused (manage distractions)
Good luck!