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How to Revise at the Last Minute

Now that the GCSE and A-level exam period is upon us, I can almost taste the stress in the air. There are lots of students who have been working hard for months now! However, there are even more who didn’t revise and now have to do it all at the last minute. Now, they’re scrambling to figure out how they can make sure they know everything they need for their exam.

If you’re one of those students, know that you aren’t alone! If you couldn’t bring yourself to revise, there are lots of other people out there just like you. In fact, I can admit that I was the same back when I was at school! I was just as bad at sitting myself down and getting motivated. I regret it now, but there’s very little I can do about it!

So, while it was a bad idea for you to leave all your revision until the last minute, I can hardly act surprised or outraged. In fact, it would be pretty damn hypocritical of me! Plus, it won’t help you for me to type away some big rant now. It’s all in the past. Nothing I can say will change how things went before.

Instead, I’m here to tell you not to give up. It’s time to take a deep breath and get practical. There are still ways for you to revise before your exam. Here’s a guide to making the most of the little time you have left.

Recognise What Made You Procrastinate With Revision

There are many reasons why people procrastinate. In fact, there are hundreds! Whatever your reason, you have to figure it out. That’s the first step. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the same old traps and you won’t revise nearly enough – even at the last minute!

If you want to do this, you’ve got to do some soul-searching. You’ll have to be mature and critique yourself in a way that most young people don’t have to. It’s not a nice feeling, but it is the first step. The more you can think about your own role in the problem, the more you have the power to change it.

For me, I realised I struggled to motivate myself unless I had the stress of an upcoming deadline right in my face. Then there was the fact that I was highly anxious and had undiagnosed dyspraxia. All those things added up.

Look back at all the times you tried to revise in the past. What stopped you? Did you get bored? Was there something else distracting you? Did you only focus on the subject you like? Perhaps you got stressed and shut down? Did you even try to do any revision in the first place? Or did you just keep telling yourself, “I have more time”?

That’s only a snippet of reasons why people leave their revision to the last minute, and each of those reasons has its own solution. For example, if you keep getting distracted at home, it might be time to turn off your phone and head to the library. On the other hand, if you keep telling yourself you have time, you could make a revision timetable and keep a countdown of the days.

You might need to reach out for help with some of these reasons, too.

Ask Others For Help

Now that you’ve identified what the problem is. That’s great! As I said before, your next step might be reaching out to other people to help!

Once you figure out what stops you from revising, you’ll be able to do something about it. That might mean asking for help – from a friend, family member, teacher or parent. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

There are many things you might reach out to get help on. For example:

  • You think you might be neurodivergent because you have the symptoms.
  • You struggle to revise at home, so you’re looking for somewhere else.
  • It would help if someone could come and ask you about your progress every now and then.
  • Your revision resources aren’t very good, so you’d like to find some other books or sites to use.
  • You think you would work better with a friend, study group or tutor.
  • There’s a burning question you need an answer to.

Let’s focus on thinking you’re neurodivergent for a minute. It’s not too late for you to do some revision. However, it really might be a little late to get extra time or special provisions for the exam. Of course, you should still talk to your school about it. You never know! However, don’t stress if you can’t get an official diagnosis right now. Instead, for the next couple of weeks, treat yourself like you are neurodivergent and learn from how people with your suspected diagnosis cope with school and revision.

There is always help available somewhere. If friends, family and school aren’t options, find a forum or subreddit with good help and advice.

Keep Your Expectations of Last-Minute Revision Sensible

Let me be honest with you. When you revise at the last minute, there is no way you’re going to have enough time to learn absolutely everything. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. So, unless you were already getting high marks in your mocks, it’s not sensible to hold out for top grades so late in the game.

It’s not impossible! It’s just very unlikely! So, stressing about hitting those top marks is going to do more harm than good. It will slow you down and fill your brain with worry about getting the grades you need. How are you supposed to revise to your full potential if you’re filling your working memory with stressful thoughts? (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, read my blog post on why you can’t remember all the things you revised.)

In other words, stressing about getting high grades could actually lower them. Plus, it will leave you feeling devastated if the exam ends up being harder than you thought. More importantly than that, it will destroy your mental health.

So, it’s very important that you keep your expectations of revision sensible. If you got a 4 in your last mock, aim for getting a 5 – a 6 at max.

If you have reasonable expectations, it will be easier for you to prioritise what information you need to focus on and what you can add in if you have time at the end. That might make you realise that you write really slowly and focus on increasing your writing speed! It’s going to have much more value than learning one more literary device that you might not need.

So, be realistic with your expectations. It will help you to make the most of this last-minute time as you revise.


Consider Your Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

What is it that you do well? What could you work on? Is there anything that you know you just aren’t going to get in time for the exam?

When you need to revise at the last minute, you need to personalise your study sessions more than ever. Otherwise, you’re going to be focusing your attention on things that you just don’t need.

It’s really tempting to spend your time working on things you’re already good at. After all, it makes you feel smart and helps to boost your confidence. On the other hand, some people might stress and fret over the things that they just don’t have time to wrap their heads around. I get that, too. Other students get it. You feel like you need to understand it, too.

However, the best way to revise is to find subjects and topics that hit the sweet spot in between. They need to be things that you need to work on. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time patting your own back. They also need to be things that you actually have the time to work on. If not, you’ll waste your time with stress and frustration.

In fact, that super hard topic that you just don’t get will take you way longer to revise. In that time, you could have learnt two or even three more topics! When you have so little time left, it’s not an option to dwell on difficult things like that – unless they are completely essential to a huge part of your exam, of course! In which case, we’ll talk about tutors later on.

This whole process will be easier to do with a priority audit table, which I will explain in the next section.

Make a Priority Audit Table

When it comes to revision at the last minute, a priority table is a huge help.

It forces you to think about which topics are worth your time in revision, meaning you’ll have a clearer idea of where you should pool all your resources and energy.

Open up a Google Sheet, Excel doc or even just a pen and a piece of paper. Then, make (at least) four columns:

  1. Topic: List all the topics that could come up in your subject.
  2. Likelihood of Coming Up: Out of 5, rate how likely it is for that topic to come up. 5 is the highest, and 1 is the lowest.
  3. Confidence: Out of 5, rate how confident you feel in that topic.
  4. Worth in Exam: In your final column, weigh up how many marks that topic might be worth in the exam.

Use past papers or help from a teacher or tutor to decide how much it’s worth and the likelihood of it coming up.

A topic that is likely to come up, low in your confidence rating, and worth a lot of marks should take most of your energy.

The table might look something like this:

TopicLikelihood of Coming UpConfidenceWorth in Exam
Trigonometry42Not many marks.
Pythagoras’s Theorem55Quite a few marks.
Powers and Roots51Potentially very high marks. Could be in questions for other topics.
If I were this student, I would prioritise powers and roots because the likelihood of it coming up is high, and the confidence is low. Plus, it might come up in other questions. So, it might be worth quite a few marks in total. Please note: this is not an accurate table.

Focus on a Few Key Areas

With your exams coming up so soon, there is no way you can revise absolutely everything. Instead, you’re going to have to choose to focus on the areas that will make the biggest difference.

This might sound a little disheartening at first. It might feel like you left it so late that you haven’t given yourself enough time at all. Sure, that is true. You could have done a great deal more if you had started earlier. I hope you’ve learnt the lesson for your next set of exams! However, you don’t need to revise everything to have a big impact on your grade.

Instead, focus on the areas that will come up a lot and that you’re not very confident on. The priority audit table will help you with this. Even that might sound overwhelming, though. I mean, there are dozens of topics in subjects like maths and science. For exams like English, you should be splitting it up into themes or possible exam questions. There are loads!

So, focus on the topics that are the foundation of a bunch of others. They are the things that you need to learn in order to understand the rest of your work. That way, you can get some marks in as many questions as possible, rather than lots in a few questions.

For example, if you’re revising Macbeth, spend a lot of time on the theme of ambition. Ambition is the cause of so many other themes – death, madness, divine right. If you know ambition well, you have something to talk about no matter which question comes up!

You can find these foundation topics by looking over your work. What topic keeps coming up over and over? If you’re really stuck, ask a teacher or tutor for help.


Revise Your Earliest Topics

If you haven’t read my blog post on why you keep forgetting what you revise, I highly recommend you do. It has a whole lot of brain science stuff that will help you to understand how you work. That’s going to help you understand how you revise, which will give you the facts you need to do it well – even at the last minute!

Basically, there’s this thing called the Forgetting Curve. It shows us how much information we lose from our long-term memories over time. If you want a piece of info to stick in your brain, you’ve got to keep recalling it over and over. The more you use it, the quicker you’ll be able to remember it, too.

The info you learnt recently at school is more likely to be fresh in your mind. The stuff you did at the start of year 10 is much harder to remember – especially if you haven’t looked at it since! So, it’s worth spending time on those.

The funny thing is that old topics can trick you. You might remember that you were good at it, so you avoid it. However, it’s been so long that you only have the memories of being good – not the info you need! Then, you go into your exams and have a complete blank.

So, make a list of topics you haven’t looked at in a while. You might even want to add a column to your priority audit table to let you know how long it’s been!

Of course, check if you’ve really forgotten it by doing a few practice questions first. Don’t dedicate hours of your time to something that you already feel quite confident about. However, the chances are, you don’t remember as much as you think you do.

Order Some Revision Books – With Prime Delivery!

Revision books can be a real lifesaver if you’re revising at the last minute.

They work so well because they summarise all the important things you need to know in your subject. They do their best to make sure each important topic is contained in a page or two for you to do a quick review. So, for maths, you’ll have a short spread on quadratic equations!

They also save time by compiling the topics for you. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted just figuring out what it is I need to revise. When you’re so short on time, that’s not an option. So, revision books can be a big help there. You can just look at the contents page and flick through each topic to see how much you know.

They give your revision structure and help you to plan by working out how many pages you can do per day.

My favourite books for last-minute revision are in the Pearson Revise collection. I love the explanations. Plus, there’s a checkbox area on each page for you to self-assess your confidence! That might sound like a small detail, but it can make a huge difference when you’re studying at the last minute. It works a like my priority audit table!

I love that they have book packs for to help lockdown students catch up with what they missed. They include a revision guide, workbook and self-assessment test! It’s perfect for the last-minute revisers out there! They have them for:

The CGP books are also a great choice. They’re fun and easy to use! Just make sure you pick up the workbook, too, no matter what you go for.

And use Prime Delivery to get them ASAP!

Use Visual and Audio Revision Tools

It’s not just the revision books that can be a big help to you. Sure, they help you to work out what you need to study and give your revision structure. However, there are other ways you can revise a lot of info efficiently!

When you study the science of learning, there’s this term that keeps coming up: “dual coding“. It is a valuable way to make sure that you’re studying efficiently!

In short, it means that we learn best when we are given the same information in lots of different ways. We might read it in a book. Then, the teacher will explain it to us in their own words. Then, we see examples written down. You might follow this up with a picture, graph or chart. You might try it yourself. Or, you could watch a video on the topic.

The more ways that you use, the firmer the information will be planted in your head. If you combine that with the Forgetting Curve stuff I mentioned earlier, you’ll remember so much more than you did before! And quicker, too!

So, try to use videos or podcasts to help you learn. I listed some of my favourite resources in an old post, but Crash Course and Ted-Ed are what I’d recommend. They’re entertaining and easy to follow. Plus, they’re short enough that they don’t take up too much of your time.

This is nice because you can build these revision tools into other activities. If you’re walking to school or eating lunch, you can stick your headphones on and listen to a video. At this stage, every little helps! Just make sure you’re revising in a healthy way with breaks when you need them!


Use Flashcard Software

Adding to my point about the Forgetting Curve, flashcard apps can be a huge help.

As a teacher, there’s plenty I need to learn. The obvious thing is that I need to focus on learning new info about teaching. However, there’s also my subject! As much as I already know about English and history, there is always more to discover. I forget subject terminology I haven’t seen in a while or have new words I need to learn. I also find words in what I read that I want to add to my own vocab!

Just like you right now, I need to learn these things quickly so that I can feed them back to my students. So, I rely on software that is based on the science of how we remember things.

There are plenty of apps out there that work like this. In the past, I’ve used Memrise regularly. I just love to see the flower grow when I keep recapping a piece of info! It’s a real motivating factor for me.

Lately, though, I’ve spent much of my time using Anki. It’s great for pretty much everything. I love the fact that it gives you so much control over how you learn and what you put into it! The only difference is that you have to be more honest with yourself. You’ll have to self-assess whether you remembered the info properly or not.

Quizlet is another favourite of mine. The good thing about it is that you can probably find people who have already made flashcards for your subject. You can work with those, which saves you the time of having to put the terms into an app yourself. So late in the game, every second of added time counts!

Try Out Some Quizzes

Quizzes are another useful way to revise when you are running out of time.

They help you to self-assess what you need to work on and what you can leave until later. The more you understand where you need to put your revision energy, the easier it will be for you to make the biggest impact with your last-minute studying. It will mean you can dedicate your limited time where it will be the most helpful!

On top of that, many quizzes give you the answers when you get them wrong. That way, you can record the right info in your notes, and you know exactly what questions you didn’t do so well on!

So, it’s a good idea to do some quizzes to help you. I

I recommend BBC Bitesize as a good starting place. It does some quizzes for GCSE students, along with info to help you if you get stuck. The way it’s set out means that you can easily switch between learning and testing your knowledge. Plus, they’ve been making exam content for years. They know what they’re doing.

You might also want to check out good old Kahoot for some more niche quizzes. I know I’ve got some of my own on there for you to check out! You just need to log in on the desktop app and press “Discover”. Or, you can ask your teacher if they can open up the Kahoots they use as an assignment or add them to a course! That way, you can try them yourself outside of the classroom!

Ask Your Responsible Friends If You Can Test Them With Last-Minute Revision

Back when I was studying for my A-level exams, I discovered how great it can be to help your friends.

We all have a responsible friend or two who does all the revision weeks before they need to. If you don’t have a friend like that, it might be time to think about who you’re hanging around with. Spending too much time with revision procrastinators means there will be no one to ring that alarm bell and make you see how important it is to revise.

If you do have a friend who’s done all the work, you can test them on their revision. It’s a win-win, really. For them, they have someone that they can talk through important topics with. For you, you can sit there with an exercise book in front of your eyes and have them tell you the info you need to know.

I don’t think my friends knew I was benefitting from this arrangement as much as I was, to be honest. They were just happy to be revising with someone for a change. It saved me from being too embarrassed, too. I could ask questions I really needed to know the answer to. But, I made it seem like a quiz for them. So, it never seemed like I was the lazy one who didn’t revise.

This might sound like a sneaky way to get some revision done but don’t be too stressed. As much as it seems cheeky, you can help your friend as much as they help you. It’s great for them, too! Just make sure you’re asking questions that will actually help them, and pray they don’t say they can test you for a bit.


Consider if You Might Need a Tutor to Help You Revise

If you’re really lost with your revision, it might be time to find a last-minute tutor.

If you find a good tutor who knows a lot about the exam you’re taking, they can help you in so many ways. Here are some of the big ones:

  • They will be able to test you and tell you what you need to work on the most.
  • You won’t get distracted because they will keep you on track.
  • The fact that you’re paying for their time means you’ll take revision more seriously.
  • They can come with extra resources to help you.
  • A good tutor will also be able to hear you out and lessen your worries.
  • They will give you a realistic idea of how good your grades can be at this stage.

Of course, tutors are the most expensive option out of the bunch. However, if you get a good one, it will make a huge difference in your life. That’s because a good tutor is so much more than a private teacher.

They get to know you on an individual level quicker than any teacher could. So, they should be able to tell if you’re stressed. A good tutor will be a safe person to share your thoughts and fears with. Stress and worry won’t help you to do well in your exams, so letting it out with someone who’s been there before will definitely help you.

Plus, they can help you to cut out all the crap to get to the stuff you really need to work on. A teacher has to prioritise all the knowledge you need to know. A tutor, though? Well, if it’s 2 weeks before your exam, they can be real with you. They can tell you if you need to stop wasting your time on question 3 and just smash that 40-mark question 5.

Whatever you do, relax. It’s only too late once you’re in the exam hall. Keep your expectations reasonable and your stress low. Plus, make sure you learn for next time!

Good luck!

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