The SchoolsCompared Revision Guide 2022. Part 1. Top study secrets to score highly in examinations.
It’s easy for revision to feel like the enemy. On the run-up to major exam periods, students (and their parents and teachers) can suffer huge amounts of stress, and the tasks ahead can feel utterly overwhelming. Now, more than ever, teens have endured enormous disruption due to COVID, and unprecedented uncertainty about what form their exams will take, if any. It’s even brought to the fore serious debate about the value and purpose of testing children all together.
As the pandemic slowly slides into the past tense, we must not forget how severely it has affected the learning arc of today’s teens. Current A-Level students missed out on sitting GCSE exams, and had a vast amount of time out of school in year 11. The first half of this academic year was a patchwork of distance learning and disruption to ordinary routines as we dealt with varying degrees of new COVID waves, so curriculum delivery in schools has sometimes been uneven and rushed. SchoolsCompared has even heard reports of students now – a matter of weeks before major exams kick off – grappling with both new homework and revision as their teachers desperately try to deliver areas of the curriculum that are still outstanding. Ben Parkes, Deputy Head of the Senior School at Kent College Dubai, explains:
“We are in a fortunate position where all of our courses are complete and our students are able to spend this valuable time revising. However, it can be challenging for some schools to finish all of the course content in time given the educational dynamic that has unfolded over the last 2-3 years. For those students that find themselves trying to juggle revision and class time, planning is key: create a rigorous revision schedule around class times to review content that you’ve already been taught – don’t wait for the course to finish before you begin revising.”
But for those students staring down the barrel of traditional examinations this term, it’s all about maximising the effectiveness of what you do in the here and now.
We’ve mined the UAE’s top students and teachers for their ultimate study secrets, to dig up the most helpful, practical and inspiring advice to help tackle revision roadblocks, shed light on the study habits that work best for you, and leave you feeling motivated, focused and bursting with renewed enthusiasm.
Top 15 Unique Exam Revision Hacks
The first rule of revision club? Know thyself. Revision techniques are very subjective, and it takes a bit of trial and error to discover what works for you. By the far the most popular revision habits amongst all the students we talked to were: Planning a structured revision timetable well in advance (that means now, if you haven’t done one already), and practising past exam papers. But here are some of the more unique habits or hacks that have helped some of the UAE’s most successful students ace their exams – and they might just do it for you too…
Get Appy Motivators
There are a whole heap of handy apps that can harness the powerful dopamine-rush of smartphone usage and social media, and turn it into constructive motivation for your revision (see below for full list of apps). Jemma Arnold, Head of Year 11, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis, recommends an app called Streaks, which is essentially a to-do list that helps you form good habits:
“Each time you complete a task, your streak is extended. This works really well because if you fail to complete a task, the streak ends, helping students to stay focused and on track.”
“I also love the idea of the Forest app as a way to avoid distractions and stay on task. The idea is that when you set your mind to a revision task, you open the app and plant a tree. You leave the app open, put your phone away and complete your revision task. If you click out of the app, the tree will die, so it’s a great motivator. And the wonderful thing about it is that the team behind the app are partnered with a tree-planting organisation, meaning every time you use the app, real trees are planted around the world.”
Take it outside
“There’s something about fresh air and nature that just taps into the psyche and helps calm the senses,” says Zaheera Haujee, Associate Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Achievement at Al Yasmina Academy. “Feeling calm and centred is so conducive to really being present and focused on the task at hand. As it gets warmer outdoors, you could find an indoor space that you find calming and has plenty of natural light.”
Studies show that nature may promote learning by improving learners’ attention, levels of stress, self-discipline, interest and enjoyment in learning. But even getting a potted plant or putting up some pictures of nature can help: a positive impact on wellbeing and learning has been found in situations where there is simply a view of nature or even some form of nature indoors.
Instead of aiming for hours and hours of studying and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, try using the Pomodoro method – which was one of the most popular recommendations from the top UAE students we spoke to.
Alessandro Capozzi, Head of Sixth Form at Kings InterHigh says:
“The Pomodoro Technique is used by successful students worldwide! Instead of blocking out hours at a time of continuous study, set yourself a 25-30 minute timer and work solidly with no distractions for that time. Then take a break: stretch, a quick walk, eat for about 10 minutes. Then repeat! This works well to concentrate solidly for a shorter time, and then take a break to help you focus and stops you flagging.”
“Research shows that for most people the optimal focus range is around 25-35 minutes, after which it will begin to exponentially deteriorate if you don’t take a break,” says Moeed Hafeez, a student at Al Yasmina Academy who achieved nine level 9s at GCSE and an A* in ICT. “The Pomodoro method is centre around this idea. After every 25 minutes you can take a five-minute break doing something fun, refreshing your focus and keeping you going.” There are YouTube videos with Pomodoro timers, as well as apps (see App list below).
Hum a Revision Rap Song
“One of the most unusual revision techniques I’ve heard about is putting key information into a rap song,” says Jennifer Connell, Assistant Head Secondary (Years 12-13) at Brighton College Abu Dhabi. Neuroscientists have found that music stimulates the limbic and orbitofrontal regions of the brain, which are associated with long-term memory and concentration. The hook (the catchy part of a song) becomes an ‘earworm’, which gets triggered and then plays in your head again and again for hours. While you can try making up your own raps or songs, a US-based app and website called Studytracks has leveraged this phenomenon to create memorable ‘hooks’ out of school-syllabus content, making concepts and facts in subjects likes maths, science, English easier to remember.
Maximise your mind power with meditation
“A 10 minute meditation session before starting a period of revision has helped some of my students in the past,” says Zaheera Haujee, Associate Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Achievement at Al Yasmina Academy. UK research has found that ‘focused attention meditation’ – wherein you focus your attention on a particular object such as a burning candle or your own breath for a set period of time- can train our minds to learn faster from feedback or information acquired through past experiences. “There are a multitude of apps that offer short, guided meditation sequences,” adds Ms Haujee. The students we spoke to recommended Calm and HeadSpace (see below for full list of apps).
Use Active Recall
Maaluv Gandhi at Al Bateen Academy, who achieved 10 Level 9s in GCSEs, swears by active recall. Instead of passively reading and highlighting notes in the hope of absorbing the information into your brain, active recall prompts you to retrieve information from your brain.
“Active recall is entirely the opposite of just reading and highlighting your notes; it’s a better method of storing information in your long-term memory. One way of using active recall is by using flashcards, and instead of making traditional flashcards, I used to make them on an app called ANKI to access them whenever and wherever I wanted.”
Craft mini podcasts
Amit Patel, Teacher of Economics & Head of Sixth Form at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, says that self-made podcasts are taking the place of the traditional Mind Map for students at his school:
“Whilst pupils have often used mind maps as a way to aid revision, some have now begun to record their notes, and in effect creating mini podcasts for the revision. This gives pupils another medium through which they can revise and share with their friends.” This is something Rebecca Bendoumi, English Teacher at Al Mamoura Academy also advises: “I tell my students to create a voice note of key quotes on their phones and play it often whilst doing ordinary tasks at home, such as whilst brushing their teeth or getting ready for school.”
Incentivise yourself with brain treats
Sarah George, a student at The English College, shares a tip that her psychology teacher gave her:
“I set a particular goal and if I completed it, I was allowed a treat. I used skittles as they were my favourite and had one every time I finished a chapter. I also took long breaks in between studying and did something I enjoyed. This allowed me to slowly process all the information I had gathered.”
Study with a pal
Now teaming up with a study pal for revision ‘dates’ is nothing new, but working with friends can also end up being too distracting for some students. There are many Study With Me videos on YouTube, which lend you a virtual study companion to work alongside and stay focused with. Or apps like YPT (Yeolpumta), as suggested to SchoolsCompared by Nikoleta Todorova, a 15-year-old student at Brighton College Abu Dhabi who achieved a Silver award in the British Physics Olympiad:
“To track my studies, I use a mobile phone app called Yeolpumta (YPT). YPT allows you to study with friends. It stops recording your study time as soon as you exit the app. Therefore, it can be used as a way to stop yourself from going on social media when it is time to revise.”
Yeolpumta has to-do lists, 10-minute planners and time tracking for each subject, which visually deepens in colour as you study for longer periods of time. It also enables you to create study groups with friends and check out their statuses and study activities, and enters you into a ranking, so that you can compete to become higher up in the ranking for your particular study category.
Engage your senses
Zaheera Haujee, Associate Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Achievement at Al Yasmina Academy recommends using colour and texture for revision resources.
“Our senses are alerted by anything that stimulates them and coloured post-it notes, pens, highlighters or different textures of paper can help spark all those neurons that will work harder to retain anything you are learning.”
Rebecca Bendoumi, English Teacher at Al Mamoura Academy, agrees:
“I always suggest the use of visual techniques such as colour coding, highlighting key quotes and creating index cards of key quotes to stick up around the house which helps your subconscious mind to visualise and remember the key quotes or ideas.”
Using highlighter pens is a well-worn approach that many swear by, but experts point out that it’s important to be judicious with what you highlight – too many large blocks of text and it will defeat the object entirely. It’s also recommended to use a variety of different coloured highlighters and create a colour coding system that picks out different concepts in different colours; eg. Dates in blue; people’s names in yellow; statistics in green, and so on.
Take it one thing at a time
“The worst possible way to approach revision is seeing it as one big, uniform thing, instead of as a series of specific tasks and things to revise,” says Stylianos Zuburtikudis, a top student at Brighton College Abu Dhabi. “You are much more overwhelmed when you are ‘revising biology’ than when you are ‘consolidating your knowledge of genes’. Taking things one at a time allows you to see your own progress more easily.”
Pretend you’re the teacher
Sarah George, a Year 12 student at The English College, says pretending she is a teacher helps her revise: “For me the best way to revise was to relay the information to someone else and pretend I was teaching them. I did this constantly and included little facts and details which allowed me to repeat it constantly till it became stuck in my head. It also allowed me to help a different student as we constantly relayed the information back to each other.”
Change your phone screen saver
Stay focused on your goals with this simple visualisation technique, says Amit Patel, Teacher of Economics & Head of Sixth Form at Brighton College Abu Dhabi:
“Focus on why you are studying and what your goals are. This could be your university plans, so I often recommend changing your phone screen saver to a picture of the university that you want to attend. By focusing on your goals and believing in your plans, this should motivate you to have faith in your abilities.”
Zaheera Haujee, Associate Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Achievement at Al Yasmina Academy agrees:
“Visualise what you want things to look like in a month’s time? In 3 months’ time? In a year’s time? See yourself taking the next step in your life or your academic career. Remind yourself why this is important to YOU. Your motivation and goals have to be inherent because you cannot sustain motivation which comes from wanting to please anyone else.”
Schedule your fun
Schedule in self-care activities to maintain a balance, says Jemma Arnold, Head of Year 11, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis:
“My own experience as Head of Year 11 has demonstrated that students who balance their revision with self-care activities are more likely to perform well. Whether it’s watching a favourite show on Netflix as a way to wind down, or going for a walk and enjoying an ice cream with a friend, if we plan it in, we are more likely to do it because we have set and made the intention. This is incredibly good for our wellbeing and a lovely way to reward ourselves for sticking to the revision tasks we set. As with most things in life, balance is key, but we can plan this balance to ensure we are getting it right.”
As we get closer to the exam day, it’s time to get more strategic with your revision plan, says Ben Parkes, Deputy Head of the Senior School at Kent College Dubai:
“By this time in the year students should have devised their revision plans and started revising for all of their subjects, not just for the first exam. Students can sometimes spend too much time practising/reviewing content they already feel confident on. Instead, students should be aware of the areas they need to focus on, and review that content.”
© SchoolsCompared.com. 2022. All rights reserved.
This is Part 1 of the five-part SchoolsCompared.com Guide to Revision. Read Part 2 of the SchoolsCompared.com Revision Guide 2022 here.