How to Plan Your Exam Revision – with an Eight Times World Memory Champion
Revision is so easy to avoid sometimes, and other things always seem more important. But with just a little bit of preparation you’ll be able to stop procrastinating build a fantastic revision routine, and make working for exams a lot less painful. So follow these simple tips from 8 times World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien and his book How to Pass Your Exams.
Planning your revision
The first thing to do when it comes to revising for an exam is to make a plan. It is vitally important that you organise a timetable to ensure that all the subjects you need to revise receive adequate attention.
How much time will I need?
Quantify the amount of work required for each subject. You must have some idea of the size of the task in hand before you can divide up your revision time, as some subjects will require more attention than others. Study the syllabus for each subject so that you know exactly what you are supposed to have covered, and get hold of past exam papers. Most important of all, seek advice – if anyone knows what work is involved, your teacher will.
Keep to your plan!
Having devised your exam revision timetable, keep to it! We humans are creatures of habit, which means we all too easily fall into the habit of avoiding tasks by using delaying tactics and allowing distractions.
Creating a timetable is like making a pledge: once you’ve agreed to it, it cannot be broken. Regarding it in this way will help prevent procrastination because you will not allow yourself the alternative of, ‘Well, never mind, I can always catch up tomorrow.’
You can turn this otherwise negative side of your habitual nature into a positive advantage by developing a study ritual. If you plan to work from 7.30 p.m. till 10 p.m., for instance, give yourself a countdown of activity starting, say, from 7 p.m. This could involve doing a crossword, playing computer games or engaging in some form of physical exercise. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it becomes a routine preamble for studying.
I speak from experience. Having an active imagination, I am vulnerable to the lure of distraction and am not naturally disciplined in the art of ‘getting down to it’. But I have found a very effective way of overcoming this problem.
Banish exam stress!
One of the reasons that we find it such an effort to settle down to work is that the mere idea of study can evoke in us so many negative feelings, emotions and associative images. A typical split-second flash of associations may follow a line of progression rather like this:
In short, study = pain, which is hardly an incentive to get started on an exam revision timetable.
There is a reason for stress. Its function is to warn us of impending danger, and so it protects us by prodding us into taking counteractive measures. Unfortunately, though, this incessant prodding can go too far and end up being counterproductive.
OK, so you realise that you should have started your revision much earlier; now you’re prepared to do something about it. The trouble is that stress levels are high, and the images of the exam room and your relatives’ disappointed faces loom ever nearer, which means you can’t concentrate. This is unfair; you’ve accepted intellectually that there is an urgent need to act, but you’re hampered by the physical and emotional effects of the stress triggered by your realisation.
Try these 8 steps to de-stress and get ready for revision
Some may compare the following remedy with practices such as meditation, self-hypnosis, or neurolinguistic programming. I prefer to call it ‘getting in the right frame of mind’. It is a method that I cultivated independently, and it not only banishes stress, but allows me to tackle any form of study head-on.
1. Lie on your back or sit comfortably in an armchair.
2. With your eyes closed, focus your attention on every muscle in your body, starting with your feet. As you work your way up, let go of any tension in those muscles until your whole body feels like a heavy, dead weight. Feel the tension go in your face muscles and let your jaw sag as it succumbs to the gravity.
3. With the rest of your body taken care of, you can now concentrate on your breathing, heartbeat, and any feelings of nausea caused by the anxiety of stress.
4. Breathe deeply and slowly, even though your heart may be pumping furiously.
5. Now, using your imagination, try to translate whatever feelings of tension, pain and nausea you may have into an associative tangible image. For example, the occasional nauseated sensation I feel at the back of my throat I picture as a slow trickle of tiny, greyish pellets. Lower down in my chest they gather into a heaving mass of sticky, soot-covered ball bearings. Whatever your representation, imagine a hand gently dipping into your body, grabbing the offending objects and throwing them far away. Continue the process until most of the stress has been removed.
6. With your body relaxed, your breathing deep and your nausea reduced, conjure up an image of a place or person that gives you a peaceful, happy or relaxed feeling. This could be a scene from your childhood, a holiday location or a loved one. Latch on to that image, and try to immerse yourself in those pleasant feelings.
7. Now, slowly superimpose that pleasant picture on to the image of your anxiety. You might, for example, visualise walking into the examination room and seeing your loved one standing there. In my case, I use the scene of a quiet casino with a croupier standing at an empty blackjack table (that always gives me a good feeling!). But sitting on the table is not a pack of playing cards, but … a word processor, which normally represents work, deadlines, accounts, and other aspects of responsibility. By blending or mixing the two images together – one of happiness, the other of anxiety – I am in effect neutralising the object of my fear.
8. Having stared my worst fears in the face and removed any bad feelings associated with them, I can now approach the job in hand in a completely relaxed, positive state of mind.
Try this method yourself. It certainly works for me, and it could help you too.
Once you have your routine in place, maximise your revision with You can use Dominic’s speed reading tips to read more in less time, and remember what you’ve read!
Wouldn’t exams be easier if you could remember more? In How to Pass Exams by Dominic O’Brien – eight-times winner of the World Memory Championship – offers us tried and tested strategies and tips that will make your memory bigger, better and sharper, and pass your exams with flying colours!
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