Academic Skills Blog - planning revision

Let us shine a light on tips and tools to support your research process.This week: revision techniques.

Post its

It may seem a little early but we head downhill towards the end of term, you may be beginning to think about how to spend the Easter vacation. For those with forthcoming exams, no doubt some of this will be dedicated to revision.

This post is therefore dedicated to highlighting a few ways to make this as productive as possible. Revision tips are a combination of time management, critical reading and note taking, with a few extras thrown in. We’ve already posted on these and will only repeat the most essential points.This is more about your approach; there are two more posts forthcoming on memory skills and active revision techniques, which will neatly take us to the end of term.


The best way to reduce anxiety is to plan ahead. That means starting as early as is feasible. Over Easter you may have other work to finish, be undertaking paid or voluntary employment, or even going on holiday – all of which will limit your time. However, if you can spare a little time now to make a plan so that you know what the next few weeks will hold, you will feel in a much better position to maximise the time you do have.

First, decide what you will revise. Do you know what is likely to be on the paper? If academic staff haven't told you, then it is a good idea to look at past papers where they exist. They may be in hard copy on Moodle or there are paper copies bound in red volumes opposite Meg's office in the Reading Room of the Library.

Once you have identified themes, think about what you understood best and have done the most work on. If you know that you can't revise everything, then it makes sense to choose these.

Of the subjects you have chosen, decide what you need to commit extra work to, whether it is something you studied a while ago or didn’t quite grasp at the time. Recent work will be fresher and probably won’t need as much time spending on it. .

Identify if there are any areas you need more information on and how you are going to get this. Do you need to read more (and can you get the books before you leave Cambridge for the vacation or from a local library?), speak to a friend if you missed something, find notes or slides on Moodle or a departmental page? Acquire it in plenty of time and while you are still here so it is in place when you need it.

We will talk about methods for revision in later posts, but remember when planning that you will also need to build in time to test yourself with practice papers, and writing essay plans or recalling facts and figures (depending on your subject area). When planning, aim to imitate exam scenarios by giving yourself the same amount of time as you would have in exams, whether for short exercises or long essays.

Also take a bit of time to define your revision space and remove distractions. When you are away from Cambridge you will need to set up a regular space to work, whether at home or a local public or university library. When you are back in Cambridge think about where you are most productive. If you decide to work in your room, you may need to take extra steps to stop you spending time on your phone or computer for non-revision purposes. If you want to work in the library and find it full up, remember that you can work in any faculty or departmental library. Use Spacefinder to track down a suitable spot.

Supervision work during term and being in an exam setting require very different skills. If you have been used to working on a computer, make sure you get used to building up muscles in your hands by writing with a pen for several hours at time (if you'll be doing this in an exam). You’ll also be expected to work in a linear fashion; again something that is very different to editing a piece of writing over several days, with the help of a computer. It’s quite a change of mindset, so ensure that emulating this forms a regular and core part of your revision.

Look after yourself

Time management is as much about not working as working. Make sure that you take regular, short breaks at least every hour.

Schedule longer breaks that involve getting outside for at least a walk, or more physical exercise if you can. Make sure you are still doing some of the things you enjoy and find time to socialise. If you have timetabled these in then you don’t need to feel guilty when taking a break. Instead, look forward to them and hopefully you’ll be more productive knowing that you have to finish at a certain time.

Eat and sleep well and try to have a cut off time for bed. You’ll perform better after a good rest.

On Wednesday 11th March, we are running a workshop for all students on Managing Stress delivered by Margaret Bailey, College Counsellor. BOOK A PLACE.

The University’s Counselling Service also provides some useful self-help information for dealing with academic issues and low self-esteem. Contact them if you would like to talk to someone or the college nurse, Sally Maccallum