Revision: Getting started

Getting started… Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do…

So the day has come. The glorious day when revision will be done. Facts will be learned, knowledge will be gained and success assured. Unfortunately as you might suspect, it might not be quite that simple. 

Having worked in schools for the best part of 20 years, I think it’s fair to say that I have seen a level of procrastination which is on a completely different scale to anything else. Students are remarkable in the way they can argue their case. Let me give you some examples. 

Student 1: So the teacher asks a question. “How is the revision going?” A simple, non-threatening question. The students responds, “Well Sir, I haven’t done any because I want to see what I get without revision, so when I do the real thing, I will know how much to do”. 

Student 2: So the teacher asks a question. “How is the revision going?” The student responds: “Good thanks”. 

Student 3: So the teacher asks a question. “How is the revision going?” The students responds: “I’m planning on starting tomorrow when my mum has purchased the revision book I need”. 

I could continue, but I fear I may lose you dear reader. My point is this, getting started is the difficult bit. I liken it to bump starting a car. For us old enough to know about this ancient practise, it involves pushing your car, often in the rain or on the busiest road possible, until you build up enough momentum to be able to drop the clutch and hopefully engage the engine into some kind of action. Resulting in forward momentum and a plume of black smoke, slowly disappearing in your rear view mirror. The key then is to maintain engine revs and allow the car to warm up. Hopefully topping up the battery and drying out the fault. 

Revision can feel a bit like this too. The student needs to start pushing. Often with some kind of support. They need to get things rolling. The initial shove, making the wheels roll in a forward direction. Once things are moving, they should notice that the strength required to start the process can now be reduced. They have to keep pushing, because soon, they will need to drop the clutch. That’s when the magic starts. They then become lord and master of their own destiny. Sat behind the wheel of the revision bus. Hurtling full tilt to the summer exams. 

So here is my advice. Start with a revision plan. I will outline what this looks like below in a step by step process. Here goes…

  1. Find a quiet workspace and grab yourself a sheet of A4 plain paper. 
  2. Next start by putting in all the days of the week. 
  3. Once you have all the days of the week on your paper, divide each day up into blocks. For example Monday AM, Monday PM, Monday Early Evening and Monday Late Evening. 
  4. You should now be faced with a weekly grid containing almost 28 blank squares. 
  5. Next write into all the squares when you are at school. This should take out Monday to Friday AM and PM. 
  6. Now you need to think. What are my non-negotiable? What are the activities outside of school which I have made a commitment to? These activities could include paid work, team sports, volunteering, caring for a relative, church, youth club, swimming, the gym and so on. 
  7. Once you have thought about your non-negotiable, cross these times off of your plan. 
  8. What you are left with is the reality. The gaps you still have are when you can choose to revise. 
  9. I then encourage students to put 1 session of revision onto the plan. 
  10. This is the beginning of a habit we are going to grow over the coming weeks. 

If you are reading this in March and thinking this could be a winner for my GCSEs, you are probably a bit late to the party. Revision for GCSE examinations needs to start in the September of Y10. Likewise, A-level revision needs to happen right through Y12 and Y13. Revision needs to become a habit, not simply a response to exams. Ongoing revision will not only improve outcomes, but it will also lead to a deeper level of learning and understanding. 

Once the metaphorical car is rolling, we need to add to its speed each week. Habits can take a few weeks to form, so once the 1 hour a week is comfortable, push for 2. Then 3 and possibly 4. I liken it to becoming an athlete. Nobody in their right mind would hit the gym on Monday and spend 10 hours running. Your body wouldn’t thank you for it and untold damage would be done to your knees. Like any training plan, you would build up to it slowly. Starting small, with the goal in sight. Learning and revision is similar. Day one should be an hour. A quick jog around the block. Remembering where your trainers are, having a basic route and downloading your Strava app. It’s about getting yourself in the zone. Both physically and psychologically. 

In the next part I will write about the importance of location when it comes to revision. 

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