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How to Create a Revision Timetable to Maximise Learning


With the exam season almost here, it is essential to make the most of one’s revision time. Researchers and teachers (Dunlosky, 2013) have been investigating the most effective revision techniques. Here are some tips on how to apply these strategies to create the ultimate revision timetable!

1) Create Revision Time Slots

The first thing to do is to decide how long you will revise on each day from now to your exams. You may be tempted to spend all your hours revising, but that is not productive. Research shows (Belham, 2018) that we learn more when we are healthy and having a good time. So, you should always leave time on your revision timetable for meals, a good night sleep, physical exercise and activities with friends and family.

There isn’t a magic number that tells how many hours a day to revise. Many teachers agree that around 4 hours a day is feasible and productive. But be flexible. It is ok to do fewer hours of revision on Thursdays if that is also the day you play tennis, or on Saturdays if that`s when you have lunch with your grandparents. You can compensate by spending extra time on Wednesdays and Sundays, for example.

Divide the period you will revise on each day in small timeslots, ideally between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Research shows (Vlach and Sandhofer, 2012) that we learn more by revising in small chunks than in long blocks, so you will likely be switching topics at the end of a slot. The slots should be separated by quick breaks.

2) Classify Your Subjects

Before deciding what to revise in each time slot, it’s helpful to rank your topics and subjects in different categories. Research explains (Carpenter et al., 2018) that we should revise content more than once. That is because our memory is not perfect and we will always forget things. “Re-revision” strengthens our memory for the important parts and let us forget the irrelevant ones. However, it makes sense to allocate more “re-revision” to the topics you struggle with. So, first, rank them from the easiest to the hardest.

Then, rank your subjects from the most fun to the least enjoyable. This is based on research showing (Rohrer, 2012) that alternating between topics improves learning. It makes revision less boring and more engaging. It allows you to compare concepts and gain a deeper understanding, while also improving your ability to apply information to a new context, making you more prepared for unexpected questions on the exam. Another line of research shows (Gruber, Gelman and Ranganath, 2014) that, once our brain gets “in the mood” for learning something we are curious about, it also learns other information better. So you will be switching between fun and not-so-fun topics.

The last step here is to rank your subjects according to the exam dates. Your revision shouldn’t stop after the first exam. Although you should ideally revise all topics since the beginning, it also makes sense to spend more time on the ones that will be examined first, and then spend more time with the last ones.

3) Allocating Subjects to the Revision Slots

The last information you need is your school timetable. Your home revision should be coordinated with your school revision. If possible, try to revise subjects at home just before you revise them at school. That way, you will come to lessons prepared with questions and will be able to make the most of your time in class. 

After you have completed your revision time slots according to your school timetable, use the rankings. If you like Literature and Biology but are not a fan of Geography and PE, try to have a slot switch between those, such as Bio-Geog-Lit-PE. If you think Chemistry is really difficult but can understand RS really quickly, allocate more revision slots to Chemistry than to RS. The same should happen using the exam dates.

In the end, you should fill all your revision slots, mixing fun and not-fun subjects, spending more time on the difficult ones and taking into account their exam order.

4) What to Do When Revising

The most effective revision strategy is to practice answering questions. Every time you answer a new question about a topic, it is as if you were creating a new memory route. If you imagine the answer to an exam question as the exit of a maze, all the questions you answered during revision become an extra way to get to the exit during the exam. So, when revising, spend most of the time with self-testing. 

That includes flashcards (as long as you actually think about the answer before reading it), past exams (usually downloadable from the exam-board website), questions taken from revision guides and revision websites, questions given by your teachers or exchanged with colleagues. The more variety you can add, the better, so that you are actually understanding that concept and not simply memorising the answer.

Another effective learning strategy is to use visual elements, such as mind-maps, diagrams, images, colour-coded answers. You may also try to explain things out loud. It can be to yourself or to your family. This process helps to consolidate the knowledge in your brain.

5) An Example

    Time                               Monday                                        Tuesday

Lessons at School TodayMaths, English, Biology, History, REMaths, Chemistry, English, PE, French
4:00English: PoetryRE: Buddhism^
4:30English: MacbethRE: Christianity^
5:00Maths: FractionsFrench: Self, Family and Friends
5:30Maths: Compound Interest*French: Healthy Living
6:00-6:30BREAKBREAK
7:00History: Egyptian MedicineMaths: Compound Interest*
7:30History: Durham CathedralBiology: Genetics*
8:00Chemistry: Hydrocarbons+PE: Skeletal System
8:30Biology: Genetics*PE: Healthy Eating


* Topics repeat as they are found difficult

+ Topic covered as it is a medium difficulty and understanding can be checked in the lesson the next day

^ Topic covered as is was found easy the previous day and learning is being checked the next day

Flavia is the chief scientist at Seneca Learning, a free GCSE revision platform based on cognitive sciences, and Nimish is a Physics teacher and Assistant Principal at Wrenn Academy.

When revising for exams, it is very important to ensure you are getting enough sleep. Read this break down on the importance of sleep, as well as the effects that sleep deprivation can have on learning.


Sources:

Dunlosky,. (2013). Strengthening the student toolbox: Studnet strategies to boost learning. [online] Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Belham, F. (2018). Emotions and Memory. [online] Blog.innerdrive.co.uk. Available at: https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/emotions-and-memory [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Vlach, H. and Sandhofer, C. (2012). Distributing Learning Over Time: The Spacing Effect in Children’s Acquisition and Generalization of Science Concepts. [online] NCBI. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399982/ [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Carpenter, S., Cepeda, N., Rohrer, D., Kang, S. and Pashler, H. (2018). Educational Psychology Review. [online] Using Spacing to Enhance Diverse Forms of Learning: Review of Recent Research and Implications for Instruction. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED536925.pdf [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving Helps Students Distinguish among Similar Concepts. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271922077_Interleaving_Helps_Students_Distinguish_among_Similar_Concepts [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Gruber, M., Gelman, B. and Ranganath, C. (2014). States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. [online] ScienceDirect. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627314008046 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

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