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UAE Spring Break: How can a potato help you revise? Study advice for students over the UAE school holidays

In the busy world of school life, there is one thing every student needs: revision skills and knowing how to revise effectively. Developing effective study strategies as a teenager can serve as a foundation for lifelong learning, forging qualities such as adaptability, problem-solving, effective communication, time management, self-discipline, and confidence – all of which are essential for thriving in later life. But when is the right time to start revising? And how can you maximise your time so that you are balancing learning with leisure time over the holidays? We’ve asked the UAE’s top educators for their ultimate revision hacks – those little tricks that make studying easier and maybe even a bit enjoyable…

Do I Really Have to Revise over the Holiday?

Parents trying to encourage their children to revise during the holiday may well be met with some consternation. But, while the three-week Spring Break is a great opportunity to recharge and relax, it’s also an ideal time to refresh and revise your learning – especially for students with impending exams, says Michael Davies, Head of Secondary at Safa Community School (SCS):

“It goes without saying that whilst we want all our students to have a break during the holiday time, spend time with their family and friends, and travel, it is also essential to continue the momentum that has been built. A three-week absence without structured work can significantly impact the attainment and progress of any student.”

Safa Community School offers an optional, free revision bootcamp at the school throughout the holidays, so that students have the valuable opportunity of focused revision in smaller classes, face-to-face with their teachers. Mr Davies explains:

“During the Spring Break holiday, we will open our doors and encourage our exam students to undertake our live lessons on-site. Staff are timetabled to offer support and tailored revision sessions during the break.”

This extra tuition continues into the term time, says Mr Davies:

“In the months leading up to GCSE and A level exams, we offer ‘Saturday School’. Over 90% of our exam cohorts attend from 9am to 11am on a Saturday morning to access free revision sessions from their specialist exam teachers. We have been running this scheme for the past five years, and it has been instrumental in our exam success.

“This support continues even when our exam students have finished their courses and begin their study leave. Teaching staff will always be available for face-to-face support, revision and intervention sessions to support out-of-hours learning. This allows students to access bespoke and individualised support in the lead-up to and during exam periods.


“Our dedicated and committed staff will always be available by email and during school hours to support learning. Furthermore, our pastoral, counsellor and senior staff operate with an open-door policy to support families and students.”

When is too early to start revising? And when is too late?

The answer can depend on which exams you are studying for says Scott Goldstein, Assistant Head of Secondary at Dubai Heights Academy – which is opening a state-of-the-art new secondary campus in August 2024.

“For GCSEs, it’s advisable to start revising around 2-3 months before the exam period begins. This allows ample time to cover all subjects thoroughly and address any areas of weakness. A structured revision timetable can help manage the workload effectively.

“For A-levels, starting revision around 3-4 months prior to the exams is recommended. Given the depth and complexity of A-level subjects, an early start allows for in-depth understanding and practice of key concepts. Breaking down revision into manageable chunks over this timeframe can alleviate stress and ensure comprehensive preparation.

“In both cases, starting too early risks forgetting information, while starting too late may result in insufficient preparation. Finding the right balance is crucial for success in these important exams.”

Starting revision early is always a good idea, and there are techniques you can use to retain the information long-term, says Hitesh Bhagat, School Principal, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills:

“The German psychologist and researcher in quantitative memory, Hermann Ebbinghaus concluded that people will half their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days, if they do not consciously review the new knowledge and learned material. He outlined his findings in his research of the Forgetting Curve in the late1880s.

“Methods to combat forgetting is the use of Spaced Repetition, which is a study-method which revisits information at increased intervals. This is based on the psychological spacing effect which refines memory retention in a bid to optimise long term memory. New learning is strategically, reviewed in spaced sessions, to continue to enrich and solidify the learning by revisiting skills and content in repeated short portions.”

Interestingly, the most successful students all seem to practice a similar method of revision, says Hitesh Bhagat, School Principal, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills:

“Through discussions with our students who are continuing to excel, almost all have said they study 2-3 hours per day on a rotational cycle, offering a balanced approach to tackling all subjects. Most students revisit and consolidate their knowledge regularly; they review their class notes, hold online study groups with friends and meet after-school to refine their understanding and retention of concepts.”

All educators agree that leaving revision to the last minute is not advisable. Mr Bhagat continues:

“‘Cramming’ which is the attempt to squeeze information into the short-term memory, is not advisable. This can cause stress, panic and anxiety. Also, this type of studying does not always have successful outcomes. However, working from past papers and reviewing patterns in previous questions may be a quick way to practice and build skills.”

Rebekah Ricketts – Head of English at Safa British School – which is opening an all-new Sixth Form centre in August 2024 – agrees, adding:

“Sometimes, students will feel the pressure of a deadline and try to cram in as much as they can as they can feel the impending examination date looming. This will only create stress and panic, with any potential gaps in skill and knowledge becoming apparent too late.

“The best way to revise is to create a structured plan, over a series of weeks, where all subjects are covered in smaller chunks. Revision time will become second nature, and an organised timetable will help students to keep on top of the demands from each of their subjects.

“Regular retrieval practice and rehearsal will identify any gaps in knowledge and enable students to plug these early, to avoid any last-minute panic.”

Nevertheless, a student should never be discouraged from getting started with revision – whether that’s at the beginning of the Spring Break, in the final few days, or even much closer to the exams. Ms Ricketts continues:

“When it comes to revision, there really is no such thing as ‘too late’ because if we do something today, it may prompt us to do more tomorrow.

“In an ideal world, students will start the revision process early, by reviewing and rehearsing key knowledge and skills, however, the thought of revision can sometimes feel quite overwhelming and becomes something that students avoid.

“With regular assessments and calendared mock examinations, students should be able to use these key points as opportunities to revise and then use teacher feedback to guide their next steps.”

How Can a Potato Help me Revise?

In the focused and often solitary world of revision, some students end up devising unique, and sometimes quite unusual, strategies to help them, says Scott Goldstein, Assistant Head of Secondary at Dubai Heights Academy:

“The most unusual revision technique that I have come across is “The Talking Potato Method”.  A previous student of mine used to carry out the following routine:

“Get a talking potato: Find a small toy potato or any other object you can easily hold in your hand.

“Assign the potato as your study buddy: Pretend that the potato is your study buddy and that it loves to learn about your subjects just as much as you do.

“Teach the potato: Sit down with your potato buddy and explain the concepts you’re studying out loud to it. Act as if the potato is eagerly listening and responding with enthusiasm.

“Engage in dialogue: Have fun with it! Ask your potato questions and imagine its hilarious responses. Make the learning experience as interactive and entertaining as possible.

“Review and recap: After your study session with the potato, recap what you’ve covered together. This reinforces your understanding of the material while adding a touch of whimsy to your revision routine.

“While this method may seem silly, it encourages active engagement with the material and helps alleviate study-related stress through humour. It was clearly successful for the student as well as he went on to achieve 9s in every GCSE that he took!”


And If I Don’t Want to Revise with a Potato?

If you’d rather study with a human than a potato, teaming up with a study pal for revision ‘dates’ is a well-worn method for many students.

However, working with friends can also end up being too distracting for some. 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) enable you to create study groups with friends so that you can study together virtually. You can check out their statuses and study activities, and the app enters you into a ranking, so that you can compete to become higher up in the ranking for your particular study category. 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 stops recording your study time as soon as you exit the app, so it can be used as a way to discourage you from going on social media when it is time to revise.

Make revision musical

When you’re struggling to recall information, setting your studies to music can be surprisingly effective, says Hitesh Bhagat, School Principal, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills:

“Some students have adopted Slam Poetry to memorize and retain information through rhyme and rap. This builds on the use of mnemonics, which is a highly effective way to aid memory and improve recall.”

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.

Take it Outside

Scientific evidence shows that green spaces (parks and other areas with grass) and especially blue spaces (lakes, ponds or the sea) can have a tangible impact on wellbeing and reducing anxiety. It’s also good for revising; studies show that nature may promote learning by improving learners’ attention, levels of stress, self-discipline, interest and enjoyment in learning. Make the most of the wellbeing benefits of being in the UAE and take an early morning or sunset swim at the beach, or even just go and listen to a meditation podcast while looking at the sea. No time to do that? 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. As it gets warmer outdoors, you could find an indoor space that you find calming and has plenty of natural light.

Little and Often

There is no point in setting aside entire days to revise if you only end up dreading it and procrastinating on TikTok the whole time. The best revision tip is to do little, but often, scheduling in regular treats and breaks, says Rebekah Ricketts – Head of English at Safa British School:

“Students are often daunted by the thought of revision, and it can seem like an impossible mountain to climb.

“To minimise the torturous feelings that can be linked to revising, setting goals and rewards will help students to stay motivated.

“For example, rather than staring into a vast 3 hour period that has been put aside for revision, where the time gets lost to procrastinating, breaking this down into 30-40 minute chunks, with a scheduled break, will make the time pass quicker and allow for more focused revision goals.

“Students tend to see this as unusual as they tend to see revision as an arduous task, and it is important to change this mindset first.”

A great way to start changing this mindset is to use the Pomodoro technique. 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.

Keep it Fresh

Mixing up the subjects you study and how you study is important, says Scott Goldstein, Assistant Head of Secondary at Dubai Heights Academy:

“Recent research by Kornell and Bjork (2020) looked into the impact of interleaved practice on learning and retention among teenagers.

“Interleaved practice involves mixing different types of problems or subjects during study sessions, as opposed to practicing one type of problem or subject at a time (blocked practice).

“The study found that interleaved practice not only improves learning but also enhances students’ ability to transfer knowledge to new contexts, leading to better exam performance.

“This research highlights the importance of varying study materials and subjects during revision sessions to optimise learning outcomes for teenagers preparing for exams.”

If in Doubt, Meditate

A 10-minute meditation session before starting a period of revision can work wonders. 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; we recommend Calm and HeadSpace.

© A WhichMedia Group publication. 2024 – 2025. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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