Are you in a revision rut? Here’s 5 ways to dig yourself out!

You know the feeling. You’re finally on study leave and have time to actually get on with some intensive revision. But no matter how well you’ve planned or how hard you’re working, nothing seems to stick. The simplest questions have you drawing a complete blank, and there will never be enough hours in the day to learn everything you need to.

If this sounds familiar, you might be in a revision ‘rut’. Read on for 5 simple tips to shake you out of it!

1. Realise this is completely normal

Revision can feel like a lonely time. Whether you’re in class or at home, it’s so easy when you’re feeling overwhelmed to get the impression that everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing. But you’re only seeing what’s going on at the surface.

As a teacher and tutor, I happen to know for a fact that no matter what grade a student ends up with at the end of the exams, EVERY student forgets really basic stuff. EVERY student makes stupid mistakes in exam questions. We are all human beings, so give yourself a break. It may also help to realise that every time you find these stupid mistakes or easy things you’ve forgotten in revision, you are strengthening connections in your brain so that you are less likely to make the same mistake again. Try to take those little losses with good humour, realise they are part of the process and don’t obsess about how many marks you lost – you didn’t actually lose them yet!

2. Walk away

Nobody learns well when they’re stressed. If what you are doing is sending you into a pit of anxiety, put it down and walk away. Going for an actual walk is ideal, just for five or ten minutes as it helps reset your nervous system and rebalance all the stress hormones. If going for a walk isn’t an option, just leave the room and do something else. It’s important that what you choose to do is just for a few minutes though, and it’s best not to involve your phone or go scrolling online – partly because this is not helpful for stress, but also because it’s likely to lead you to become totally distracted and switched off.

Instead, maybe make a drink, tidy up some notes, make a few flashcards, do some breathing exercises, pick your clothes up off the floor, listen to a great song while singing along, paint your nails, clean the mud off your shoes… There are lots of small ways you can give yourself a few minutes of relaxation and distraction without disappearing for hours.

3. Change your activity

It’s really important to change your activities while revising. No one can sustain enough attention to do the same thing for very long, especially when that thing is stressful or tiring. As well as making sure you divide your time between different subjects and topics, you should also change the type of activity you do. Switch between short retrieval practice activities such as quizzes and flashcards, topic questions, practice questions and also checking your work with mark schemes. Whichever activity you’re doing, set a time limit and focus on just that. By knowing you only have a set amount of time to do something, you’ll be more motivated to make the most of it before you move on.

4. Beat procrastination

Let’s face it, revision isn’t fun. It’s not meant to be! When you combine the issue of an activity being not fun, and the feeling that you’re not making the progress you want, the chances that you’ll procrastinate and avoid it altogether are going to be sky-high. Procrastination sneaks up on everyone – that’s how it works and steals so much of our time! To beat it, you have to meet it head on before it gets a chance to take over.

The best way to beat procrastination is to remove choice. Schedule your day so you have a plan of what to do in the morning, afternoon and evening. If you haven’t already downloaded my A Level study planner, you’ll find templates here as well as suggested activities. It’s best to focus on open-ended tasks and set time limits rather than make a list of all the questions you’re going to answer or topics you’re going to learn, as it’s much harder to fail at a time limit (don’t forget to allow time for breaks!).

If you are one of those people who writes long and unrealistic to-do lists but then feels unable to prioritise any of them (I know this feeling well) try numbering everything on the list and using an automatic number generator to choose for you. You can also find loads of random retrieval practice activities that take away the choice of what to revise here.

5. Lower your expectations

Today’s society is obsessed with goal setting, meeting targets, being aspirational, reaching for the stars. This last piece of advice is therefore going to feel counterintuitive.

You don’t actually have to be your 100% best self for every waking moment of your life. There are many, many things in life that are not in your control, and accepting this is the best way to make sure that you use your limited energy and time on the things that are worthwhile, instead of wasting them worrying and living in imagined futures that haven’t happened yet.

The more you get distracted worrying about the final outcome the more difficult and less effective your revision will be. These fears might be hiding in the background, so try writing down a list of ‘worst case scenarios’ – anything bad that you might be feeling could happen in relation to your exams or your exam results. Once you’ve written as many as you can think of, try to decide how likely that thing is AND how much control you have over it. If there are things you have control over, focus on them. For the ones that you have no control over, try just for a moment to imagine that it actually happened, and what you would do.

If your brain is filled with panicked thoughts of ‘what if I fail every exam?’ then take a few minutes to indulge it, but in a rational way. What if you do fail? What would you do? What would your options be? Would the world stop, or would you just have to change your plans for a year or two? By letting yourself imagine that you might not achieve everything you set out to, you’re giving yourself space to accept that you’re only human, and that you can only do a finite amount of revision with the time you have left. There are always second chances and alternative routes, and there will always be factors outside your control.

Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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