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Exams & revision: Active revision

“Active revision ... engages your mind in a creative effort. The more creative, the more memorable.”

Eileen Tracy, Student's Guide to Exam Success

In higher education, your examinations should not just be testing your ability to remember information; instead they test your understanding of information. It is therefore important to make sure your revision takes this into account and that you do things that actively involve your brain (rather than just reading through notes/books and copying things out).


Summarising information

Buy a pack of index cards, write a topic at the top of each card (nothing too wide-reaching). Look through your notes/text books and write a short paragraph that summarises each topic on one side of the card. On the reverse, write some key points or names and dates of the key research in the area (you don't need to fully reference everything in an exam but citations to key works are encouraged). Once you have done this, you can just look back at the index cards to remind yourself - great for last minute extra revision!

index card


Organising Information

Physically reorganise your notes - decide which notes naturally go together. This starts you looking for connections and also makes things easier to find throughout your revision time.

Look through your notes and colour-code them into different categories (you choose appropriate ones).


Finding points for and against an argument

Pick a topic and think about the different possible opinions on it. Divide your paper into the appropriate number of sections and find information to fill in each section. It is important in exams if you can give more than one side of an issue.

Meet with friends and have a debate. Taking sides and arguing the case can be a great way to remember things (it is often good to purposely take the side you least agree with).


Researching real-world examples

Pick a topic and do some online research to find examples that demonstrate points about it. If you have found your own examples you are more likely to remember them. If you have been given some examples, do some more research around them to find out extra information - again you are far more likely to remember your own research.


Preparing model answers

Look at some past papers (go to the Hydra Digital Repository and log in to access them) and draft answers to some questions (both in areas you are confident with and those where you are less so).

You don't have to write the full answer, just plan out what would be your main lines of argument, what you would use as evidence (both for and against). Think about different perspectives.

Look back over these after a few days and see if you have remembered anything else you could include.