Taking an exam is a high-intensity experience that requires long-term preparation and commitment. Failing to prepare properly for exams could lead to your brain going blank or foggy at the worst moment.

When you've been studying for an exam for a long time, for example with A-levels and GCSEs which are studied across 1-2 years, you'll find yourself needing to revisit topics of the exam that you haven't seen for a while. However, there’s more to revision than trying to cram in as much information as possible. You must train your brain to remember information in the right way – retaining the key points that can make that all-important difference between a pass and a fail in your exam.

If you’ve struggled with exam revision in the past, then there are several techniques to try which can help make things easier. Here, we’ve put together a guide on five revision hacks that can improve your memory, as well as some additional tips which you may find useful the next time you’re swatting up for a big test.

Exam Revision Hacks: 5 Techniques to Try

If you put your all into revision but find that the information doesn’t stick, you could be relying on the wrong strategy. To maximise your retention of knowledge, give these five useful techniques a try in the run-up to your next exam.

1. Memory palace

A memory palace might sound grand, but it’s actually a very simple method for retaining information. All it means is visualising a familiar place, such as your home, and imagining a particular route through it, taking in its key features along the way.

From there, you then place topics or information you want to remember at these key points  - developing what’s known as ‘associated memory’. The last step is to practise mentally walking this route through your home until you have retained the information – thus creating a ‘memory palace’.

student revising

A memory palace can help you recall important information for exams.

2. Mnemonics

 Mnemonics are a learning technique specifically designed to aid memory. In fact, the word mnemonic itself derives from the ancient Greek word monikos, which means “of memory”.

There are many different types of mnemonic strategies. One of the most common is the use of word mnemonics, which involves using the first letter of each word to form a phrase or sentence.

An example of this is “never eat shredded wheat,” which many people use to remember the four compass points – north, east, south, west. Of course, the technique can also be applied to lots of other things, making it a powerful way to remember the salient points of a particular topic.

3. Diagrams

 Another useful technique for aiding memory is using diagrams, which work particularly well for people who are visual learners. Simple diagrams are hugely effective for committing theories or processes to memory, and are much simpler to remember than text or digits.

A mind map, which allows you to capture the most relevant information through a series of links branching out from a central theme, is one such diagram that is very effective. This tool is useful for making associations between key topics, and also allows you to use key points rather than having to read through lots of notes – a must for revising broad subject areas.

4. Flashcards

 Flashcards display key pieces of information, such as words or numbers. They trigger what is known as the active recall part of your brain by making you review your knowledge through visual prompts.

By looking at a fact on a flashcard, you are activating the part of your brain that makes a connection between the key bits of information. This technique is very useful for repetitive learning associated with detail-rich subjects.

Use flashcards to help you recall knowledge.

5. Smell

This memory technique involves using specific smells to trigger different types of memory. The principle comes from cognitive psychology, whereby scientists establish what odours evoke specific memories from the past.

You can apply the same principle when it comes to revision. For example, if you wear a specific perfume while studying and then spray the same perfume on the day you attend your exam, it may boost your ability to recall the information you were reading at the time.

How to Revise for Exams in 4 Simple Steps

We get that exams are tough. That’s why having an effective revision strategy that you can rely on time and again is so important to giving yourself the best chance of success.

Here’s our tried-and-tested four-step strategy for revising for exams.

  • Step 1: Start early

While cramming works for some people, others will find revising much easier if they start early. Where possible, treat revision like a job, with set hours and break periods to stay focused while maximising retention.

  • Step 2: Don’t overdo it

This might sound contrary to the point above, but be careful not to overdo it on the revision front. Piling on the work will make things harder to stick, so focus on retaining little pieces of information at a time to build on your understanding of a specific topic.

  • Step 3: Stay healthy

We can’t overstate the importance of staying healthy in the run-up to exams, and that means eating the right foods, drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough sleep. Your brain needs all three to function at full capacity, so don’t take it for granted.

  • Step 4: Reward yourself

Positive association can be a powerful technique when it comes to the success of your revision. Reward yourself regularly, and take comfort breaks to recharge your batteries.

student on an online lesson

Make sure you take some time for yourself.

No matter what course you’re studying, from A-levels to GCSEs to Accounting, these tips are sure to come in handy. However, be sure to also check with your personal tutor regarding other memory and revision strategies they may be able to suggest.

We hope this guide helps you put your best foot forward when it comes to exam revision. At Oxbridge, we provide distance learning courses that can help you realise your potential, whatever your aspirations for the future. For more information or to learn about our courses, visit the homepage or call our experienced learning advisers on 0121 630 3000.