15- MINUTE READS BLOG

HOW TO REVISE

Revision tips your teachers don’t tell you

By Anshul Raja
11/03/2021

While my two books How to ACE Your GCSEs and A-Levels held the top spot on Amazon for almost 3 years, thousands of people emailed me asking for revision tips. My first response was always…

Achieving top grades is simple but not easy.”

To succeed in A-Levels, GCSEs or any other exam; you first need a decent plan that shows you what and how to revise. Then you need to get to the table and stay there consistently. However, you and I both know this is easier said than done!

Some people figure this out from an early age and breeze through to university almost effortlessly. While others flop, trip, fall and stumble their way through education; never truly fulfilling their potential, or worse yet convince themselves that they do not have what it takes to achieve A*s or 9s. The latter is a tragedy – don’t let yourself fall into that hole.

I was in that hole hanging on to the edge with one hand. Then for reasons that took me a decade to understand, the penny finally dropped. The sting of those bad grades combined with a series of conversations with mentors finally rewired my brain and motivated me to truly figure out how to win this academic game. This is what happened next:

For me, everything good in my life started happening after I challenged myself to achieve the same grades those ‘smart guys’ in my class did.

What you see below may seem just like another blog post on revision. However, it’s actually 15 years of tripping, stumbling, aiming, reflecting, climbing and succeeding – condensed into one article.

What will take you 15 minutes to read, took me half my life to figure out.

You’re welcome.

Better yet, here’s a 1-minute summary of this entire strategy.

You’re welcome X2.

How to achieve top grades? - The 1-minute summary

Friend: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

Me: “Any healthy and mentally able student can secure 80% + in most subjects (not all) purely through self-study, without any help from a school or teacher whatsoever”

Ever since I self-studied my way from DDDU to straight A’s, I’ve been championing this truth to every student I’ve come across. If you can swallow this fact and truly believe it, achieving a top grade will become much much easier. You’ll stop passively relying on your teachers, take matters into your own hands and control the pace of your own revision i.e learn faster than your school can teach you.

Schools teach you at a pace suited to the average student. If you can move faster, you should.

This is the secret to securing top grades and driving yourself into the top 5% of the 1.3 million students who take exams each year. Moving faster will also free up your time to take on activities that have long term benefits and, most importantly, enjoy your damn life without stressing about exams!

What steps do you need to take to achieve top grades?

1. Find out what learning resources to revise from

2. Calculate how many pages you need to learn each day – add up all the pages in each learning resource and divide this number by (the number of days you have left before your first exam – 30)

3. Learn these pages in your evenings and weekends – use the Scribble Technique to memorise facts and practice/past paper questions to nail exam technique

4. Complete all the past papers again

That’s how I changed my DDDU into straight As and got into my first choice university. This is also the same process outlined in my books. Take a look at the reviews to see how it’s worked for other GCSE & A-level students like you.

I told you it was simple.

However, as always, the devil is in the detail and this page contains all of the information you need to dominate exams and rise to the top.

Don’t have 1-minute? Enter your details into Yojana to receive a step-by-step personalised study strategy tailored to your subjects. Yojana uses the same principles that helped me and thousands of other students succeed. It will show you exactly what you need to do between now and exams to achieve top grades. 

You’re welcome X…

OK, I’ll stop being arrogant now and let you get on with reading this masterpiece.

Why should you achieve top grades? – Is it actually worth the effort?

There are a bunch of reasons why putting in the effort to achieve top grades is worth it. Instead of boring you with the obvious ones that you’ve heard 100 times from parents and teachers, I’m going to focus on one single reason.

Those who don't sacrifice early suffer later

I have nothing against nurses, hairdressers, bricklayers etc. But the truth is, their lives are hard. Not as hard as those in third world countries but harder than those who prioritised exams early on.

If you don’t believe me, talk to anyone who endures long stretches of shift work, where they have to work nights and days, for low wages. Then go talk to someone who took the GCSE, A-Level, University and Graduate Job path. Both people will diplomatically says good and bad things about their jobs. However, when you objectively compare their lives, there will be significant differences.

These differences are subtle early on, but become much more prominent the older people get.

So, why should you achieve top grades? Because alternative paths will make your life much harder. That’s the harsh truth, and that’s why you should figure out how to win at this academic game. And like all games, this one has its fair share of tricks, hacks, worst and best practices. All of which I’m about to share with you.

What does a winning revision strategy look like?

Your revision plan should show you what, when and how to revise for all your subjects. It should also incorporate spaced repetition and retrieval practice (more on this later). These are are the only two methods that are proven to work. I ruthlessly discarded most of the advice given to me and followed the academic evidence – it worked. I suggest you do the same.

What learning resources should you revise from?

“If you were learning this subject from scratch and didn’t have any teachers to help you, what learning resources would you use to achieve an 90%+ in the exam?”

– I looked each of my teachers in the eye and asked this question. If they hesitated or showed any lack of confidence, I asked them again until I got a straight answer.

– Then I got multiple 2nd opinions from other teachers, private tutors and successful students from the year above.

– Finally, to further reduce the risk of revising the wrong information, I cross checked the syllabus with each learning resource.

My learning packs only contained the relevant learning resources. When I actually got down to revising, I never second guessed the information on each page and wondered if it would come up in the exam or not. This was liberating!

It meant that every time I sat down to revise, my desk only had 3 items on it:

1. Learning resource

2. Pen

3. Pad

Our team used the research process outlined above to rank almost every learning resource available for iGCSEs, GCSEs & A Level. Enter your subjects into Yojana. Then buy, borrow and print all the suggested learning resources.

What if none of the learning resources don't cover all the syllabus?

Usually, your teacher would piece together the missing information and give it to you. If they haven’t done this or their work is sketchy, create your own notes and add them to your learning packs.

How to revise? – Why the Scribble Technique is the only revision technique you need to achieve top grades

It’s day one of your revision timetable and the first page of your textbook is open in front of you. It has 600 words and some diagrams. How do you get that information in your brain and keep it there?

Everyone asks themselves this question, a few take the effort to find the right revision techniques and even fewer (approximately 7% of students) use them. It took mediocre GCSEs and failing first year of A-levels, for me to set aside the drip fed humdrum of advice (even from teachers) and look at the academic evidence. So, what is the best way to learn?

Instead of sending you off to read 21 research papers, like I did, I’m going to share one simple technique that and helped me consistently outperform my peers during 6th form and university. It’s called the scribble technique and this is how it works:

Scribble technique

Instead of passively glazing over pages or highlighting, the scribble technique is essentially a memory game that encourages you to pull information out of your brain. This is called retrieval practice.

Scientists tend not to agree on much. However, there is an unusual consensus around the best way to study. An enormous review of hundreds of studies testing various memorisation techniques published astonishing results. It concluded that, above all other techniques, retrieval practice was the most effective at preparing students for exams. Those who used this technique often improved by a whole grade or more.

The Scribble Technique not only incorporates retrieval practice, but it has just enough characteristics of a game to make it ever so slightly addictive.

“Revision will never be ‘fun’, but the Scribble Technique makes it bearable. Also, I found myself wanting to ‘beat my previous score’ and do better on this page than the last page. It became less about learning to pass exams and more about competing with myself.”

– Kelly Bernard (A*AA) 

How much revision should you do a day?

Focus on PAGES per day not hours per day.

Calculate the total number of pages to learn each day using this formula:

After calculating this number, the rest is easy. Multiply your daily page target by 7 to get your pages per week then create a weekly timetableor alternatively Yojana can do this for you.

At the start of each day/week/month, you only need one number in your head – the total amount of pages from your learning resources you need to cover.

When should you start revising?

Now.

What?

There is nothing more to be said. The earlier you start, the fewer pages you need to cover per day and the higher your grades will be.

You know this. I know this. Next question…

How many hours should you revise a day?

This is the third most popular question students ask us. Look around the internet and you’ll see rules of thumb like ‘revise for 3 hours a day’. This is isn’t helpful, so here’s our advice…

Use your daily page target to calculate how many hours approximately you should revise a day.  

What should your revision timetable look like?

Revision timetables should incorporate spaced repetition, which involves learning the same information again and again at decreasing increments of time. But, how many times should you cover a single topic? Scientists aren’t clear on this, so we took an educated guess and encouraged our students to split their revision into 4 phases…

Those who came to us early or started revising in the summer were able to cover their subjects 4 times or more, and secure top grades. However, those who found us late and attended school or 6th form full time struggled. Very few of them were able to complete their school work and cover the syllabus using our methods more than 3 times. It was just too much work and not enough time.

Then two years ago, instead of 4 phases, we split the revision timetables into 2 phases, and the results were remarkable. Both the 4-phase and 2-phase groups achieved pretty much the same results!

Therefore, if your daily page target is less than 20 pages per day, you’ll have enough time to cover your syllabus twice and should split your timetable into 2-phases. If your daily page target is more than 20 pages a day, contact us for help.

What should you do in Phase 1?

If you have enough time, work through the recommended resources suggested by Yojana using the Scribble Technique. On average, our students spend 13 minutes per page, so it can take a couple weeks to cover the entire syllabus. Be sure to complete all the relevant practice and ‘end of topic’ questions as you work through textbooks and revision guides. After you’ve finished, complete all the relevant past papers. For…

short answer questions, mark your own work.

long answer essay type questions, mark your own work then have a tutor or teacher mark it too.

What should you do in Phase 2?

By hitting your page target each day, you will cover all the material for all your subjects and complete all past papers by around March. Now skim over the same learning resources you covered in phase 1 to jog your memory. Our students spend an average of 5 minutes per page during phase 2. Then after you’re done, have a 2nd go at all the past papers, this time under timed conditions.

Take an average of the last 3 past papers you completed under timed conditions – this is probably what you’ll get in the actual exam. 

What do you mean by 'Skim'?

While most students using the Scribble Technique work through their textbooks at a rate of 17 minutes per page, skimming involves working at a much faster rate.

In the weeks running up to your first exam, quickly read through your suggested learning resources at a maximum rate of 5 minutes per page. This is to jog your memory. If you encounter a topic that hasn’t ‘stuck’, scribble it out on a piece of paper and move on fast.

If you completed the first phase of this strategy well, all the information that you assumed was forgotten, will now come rushing back as you skim through your learning resources in this way.

Why do you need to re-learn the same information?

Learning the same information multiple times helps you remember it – no surprise there. Scientists call this method spaced repetition, and is the second most effective way of revising for exams. By combining this with the Scribble Technique, you create a powerful learning cocktail that almost guarantees a top grade.

How do you revise for humanities subjects?

Law, Politics, Sociology, Geography, History, Religious Studies – subjects like these involve using words more than numbers. Exams usually contain short and long form answers that require little to no problem solving or maths. Your revision approach for all these subjects should be the same.

If your textbooks or revision guides cover most of the syllabus, do not summarise these into your own notes. Exclusively use the Scribble Technique to learn directly from your textbooks and revision guides.

“I learnt my History textbook front to back using the Scribble Technique. I started in September and finished at the end of October. Then several months passed where I didn’t work on the subject at all. Our teacher surprised us in January with a mock past paper and I got 72% – the highest in the class. The second highest mark in the class was 53%. I then completed phase 2 in April. I achieved an A* in History and my average mark was 94%”

– Lucy Gill (Academic Underdogs Class of 2019)

 

After working through your textbooks it will seem like time has erased everything you painstakingly learnt. This isn’t true. All the foundational knowledge and key facts will be sitting somewhere dormant in your mind. This is when you should complete all your past papers and mark them yourself (have a tutor or teacher mark your essays). You’ll soon realise how much you actually know.

How to revise for science subjects?

Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Chemistry, Physics, Business Studies and Economics. Unlike humanities or languages, you can achieve an A* or 9 in these subjects without any help from anyone else. Learning a science requires a combination of: 

1. Learning facts

2. Understanding methods & problem solving

Again, if your learning resources cover most of the syllabus, don’t highlight or summarise them into notes. What’s the point? It adds hours to your revision process and very little value.

Instead, exclusively use the Scribble Technique to learn all the facts on each page, complete all the practice questions within each topic and complete all the past papers after you’re done.

How to revise for maths?

Mathematics is another one of those subjects where you can learn it without help from anyone else. If there are answers at the back of your textbook, you have everything you need to achieve 100% in the exam.

Complete as many practice questions as humanly possible. Only peak at the answers after you’ve exhausted all efforts to figure it out yourself.

Maths Mechanics was the first exam I started revising for after failing my first year of A-levels. I challenged myself to do every single question in the textbook. Why? For years I held this internal debate over my own intelligence and whether I had what it took to achieve top grades in maths or any other subject. If I did every single question in the textbook and still failed, it would prove that I was ‘thick’ and end this endless debate. Then I could go get a job.

I was so bitter and annoyed at myself, that I actually did every single question in the textbook. It took me a month. Sometimes I stubbornly minced over single questions for over an hour and refused to look at the answers at the back. This is how extreme my revision got.

Several months later, low and behold, I achieved 91% in my final exam. I don’t doubt my own intelligence so much these days.

Can you revise for English language & Literature?

You can’t achieve a top grade in English Literature or Language purely through self-study. There’s a lot you can do on your own, but at some point, you’ll need a skilled teacher to step in and provide feedback. Knowing the anatomy of an A* essay will help you understand why.

How do you write an A* essay?

Writing a good essay is like preparing a gourmet meal…

How to: history

While you can use the Scribble Technique to memorise facts and quotes, cooking these up with your own opinions and presenting them neatly into well written prose requires continuous practice and feedback.

History: how to

A good teacher will mark your essays with comments like…

“This isn’t clear…”

“Maybe you can write it this way…”

“In my opinion…”

By reading their feedback, you will gradually generate better opinions and improve your writing.

Foreign languages – secure a top grade with half the effort

How do you learn a language, like Spanish, in 8 months and achieve a level 9 in your exam? You combine immersive learning practices with the Scribble Technique (or similar). I’ll expand on this in a moment, but first let me ask you…

If you grew up in Spain and was fluent in the language, could you walk into any Spanish exam and get a top grade? You would think so, but now let me ask you – assuming you are fluent in English, if you had to sit an English exam now, would you get a level 9 or A*? Both scenarios are unlikely.

With languages, your grade is strongly dependent on both…

1. Understanding the vocabulary

and

2. Knowing what the examiners are looking for

The Scribble Technique can be used to learn the most important words. Each language has about 1000 of them. Then immersive learning techniques like watching foreign media without subtitles and talking to a native speaker once a week, will help you string those words together into full sentences. Add on regular exam practice, and you’ve got a winning formula. 

How to motivate yourself and break out of long unproductive periods of doing no work

Scientists don’t like studying motivation because it’s subjective and difficult test. The Pomodoro technique is the only method that has some semblance of evidence behind it, but even that is built on shaky ground. We advise all our tutees to try each one of our 12 most effective motivation tips to find out what works for them. Some of them are silly and downright crazy, but if they can help squeeze out an extra 15-30 mins of productivity out of you every day, why not use them!?

These tricks can give you an edge, but true motivation comes from a place deep inside us and forms as a result of changes that occur outside of our own awareness. Picture this…

You are standing at the bottom of a staircase that represents your future. The staircase is long, filled with various obstacles and has a hologram of your future self ahead of you. This hologram represents your fantasies and dreams; it is a depiction of where you see yourself in the near future.

The brighter, exciting and more vivid your hologram is, the easier it will be to move up the staircase.

Throughout my life, there have been moments where this hologram was uninspiring and boring. There were also times when it was exciting and vivid. The latter periods were those where I didn’t have to motivate myself and worked consistently without having to push myself too hard. Working hard felt normal and I was on autopilot. What was the difference between these periods of time? Where did my desires come from? What changed my hologram? It’s difficult to answer these questions as there were many factors at play but both of my most productive and successful periods during education came as a result of influence from older mentors.

You’ll be surprised how a chat with someone who’s been in your shoes can rewire your brain. Keep talking to people and look for mentors outside of your family. Connect with people from the year above on social media. You are only one conversation away from developing a winning mindset and achieving your goals.

Good luck!