Revision Tips for Teenagers
OVERVIEW: Most revision tips and advice for teenagers who’re preparing for an important exam focuses on tools and strategies that they can use to revise. And while these are certainly very important, it’s also wise to respect some timeless principles for how to revise in a meaningful way. These are my top 3 principles for how students can organize themselves in a way that allows them to perform better in exams than they’ve ever done before – without suffering from meltdowns, or unhelpful levels of panic and stress.
No. 1) DEAL WITH THE STRESS, FIRST. THEN REVISE.
The most important piece of brain science that students need to understand is that when they’re feeling stressed, it is impossible to access the front part of their brain, which is the part where higher order thinking takes place.
This is because their ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in. As a result, they get stuck in primitive brain thinking patterns, as the part of their brain called the amygdala get’s triggered, which is the primitive, fear-based part of the brain. This in turn prevents them from gaining access to the front part of their brain – their prefrontal cortex.
How can you memorize, understand, apply, interpret, and practice challenging past paper questions, using two years worth of content (for every single subject…), when all you have access to is your amygdala?
High levels of academic achievement require advanced thinking skills. And advance thinking skills requires a reduction in students’ exam-related stress, so that they can revise in a way that utilizes their prefrontal cortex.
How can you revise in a way that gets you the good grades you’re aiming for, such as the A*-B grades in IGCSE/GCSEs, or the 7-5 range in the IB Diploma, when you’re feeling stressed? It’s impossible.
In my experience, the only way for students to be able to develop their higher order thinking skills when revising is to make sure they’re in an emotional state of calm, productive focus…before they start revising.
No. 2) REVERSE ENGINEER, AND DO THE MATH.
I suggest you add all of your exam dates to a wall calendar as soon as your school sends you the official dates and times of exams.
Once you have your exam dates, you’ll have all the information you need to reverse engineer how many days before each exam you need to start revising for each subject, so that you finish revising in good time.
Put your monthly wall calendar with your exams penciled somewhere near your desk. It needs to be somewhere where you can see and reach it, for easy access, so that you can keep track of what chapters and pages you’ve revised.
There are a lot of online tools you can potentially use to plan your exam revision schedule, which you or may not may find useful.
If you do choose to create an online revision timetable, you’ll certainly want to consider printing it out so that you have a hard copy version to plan your revision on and track your progress.
You may have already realized that it’s a good idea to remove distractions from the online world in these important weeks and months spent revising for your exams.
If not, you’ll certainly realize it, once you’ve done the math of how many pages you need to revise per day, in order to cover all of the pages in your textbook for each subject.
Deep focus is needed for deep thinking and effective revision, which is why you’ll see that you need to create a distraction-free study environment that encourages deep focus, so that you walk into your exams well-prepared.
I believe it’s very important for students to create a revision space where they’re disconnected from the online world as much possible, if not completely, in the weeks and months leading up to their exam.
No. 3) GO BEYOND REVISING TO SIMPLY "REFRESH MY MEMORY"
You often find that students believe the purpose of revision is simply to refresh their memory of what they’ve done for homework or what they remember from class discussions.
Yet effective revision is more than simply refreshing your memory of the past.
This attitude towards revision is a problem, because students will always have knowledge gaps in some subject or another (if not in all) due to school absences.
At some point in a one-year or a two-year exam preparation program (be that A Levels, the IB Diploma, the European Baccalaureate, national pre-university exam programs, GCSE, IGCSE or otherwise), students will miss a day or more off school.
Missing days from school can happen for a range of reasons:
an unexpected family circumstance.
leaving early on holiday or coming back late from holiday.
a heavy extra-curricular program that means lots of school days are lost to travel for sports trips, forensics tournaments trips, MUN trips.
Even if, on the rare occasion, a student has never ever been sick or missed a day of school for whatever reason, there will be days when students went to school, even though they weren’t feeling very well.
How can anyone experience deep learning in a lesson, if we’re not feeling well?
So even the best of students will, at some point or other, be more able to focus on some days than others. They’re human, for goodness sake!
Especially when we acknowledge the fact that many teenagers have problematic sleeping habits, which makes it impossible for them to be fully focused at all times in a lesson.
That’s why successful revision is about pro-actively filling your knowledge gaps and making new connections, as opposed to simply refreshing your memory of what you’ve learnt.
There will be gaps.
So when you revise, as a student, one of your goals is to fill these knowledge gaps so that you reach a whole new level of understanding.
Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Expand your knowledge. Develop your skills.
These are some key principles for how you can revise in an organized, effective, and meaningful way.
Which of these 3 principles for effective revision would help you the most right now?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleni Vardaki is a Middle School and High School teacher turned professional Youth Mentor for Stress Relief and EFT Practitioner. She offers private online support services for students, parents, and teachers who feel very stressed and overwhelmed.