How To Revise: the advice I wish I had received as a student revising for my exams.

A golden guide to revising, particularly for those with SEN

~ as written by Christian B, a private tutor with 2000+ hours of experience over the last 5 years, both in person and online. Christian has helped young people obtain places at some of the most elite schools in the UK, such as Eton and Harrow, at 11+ and 13+. He has also helped students achieve top grades at GCSE and A level and helped prospective students to gain places at Oxford in Biological Sciences through interview practice and personal statement support. Email: to request his full profile.

Revising can be daunting. With so much information to organise and learn, and questions to do across many different subjects, it can all seem a bit overwhelming. Especially if, like me, you have Special Educational Needs (SENs). So where do you start? This is the number one question I’ve been asked over the 6 years i’ve been tutoring.

The good news is the process can be very simple. With a bit of organisation and forethought, revising needn’t take all your time. With my dyspraxia, I find it very hard to understand exactly what I need to know, find what I don’t know and then go about learning this information. The method below really helps remove the stress from revising, and allows me to spend time doing the important work necessary to achieve my goals, without wasting time repeating myself or working out what I need to revise.

I discovered the process below through my own trial and error, and the SEN help I received at school and university. The following process can be both physical or digital, but for the sake of simplicity I will talk about the physical side of note taking and organisation.

The Process

  1. Start by getting a separate labelled folder for each subject
  2. Fill them with plastic sheets to put your pages in, or you can just hole punch your pages and use reinforcement rings (if you’re feeling fancy and environmentally friendly)
  3. The first item in your folder should be the specification, which can found easily online (e.g. Edexcel Physics iGCSE Specification)
  4. The second item should be an index of all the topics and subtopics for the subject. This can be gauged from the specification or the contents page of CGP books (my favourite books to use)
  5. Using the specification and any relevant books (again I can’t recommend CGP highly enough), work your way through the topics quickly, ticking them on the index if you feel they don’t need so much work
    1. I use a “Three Tick” system, starting with “No Ticks” which means the subtopic needs a lot of work and ending at “Three Ticks” which means it needs little to no work. An alternative system can be colours from Green to Red
    1. If you’re not sure what you need to do, go ahead and do a past paper. This should tell you pretty honestly what needs work.
  6. Then it’s time to revise. Start with the ‘No Ticks’, and read through the material thoroughly to make sure you understand it. Any trouble? Use the internet for articles or videos. There’re so many resources out there now. It’s also time to take notes at the same time


Now. Notes. It’s completely unnecessary to write out the book word for word. It’s boring and not effective. It’s not even necessary to write out extensive notes. It’s not a good way for the information to stay in your head. Instead, I would recommend using Flashcards, something I’m sure you’ve heard of before. With Flashcards, the trick is to make them as you read long bit by bit, so you’re not doing all of them in one big go. “What can I make into flashcards?” I hear you cry. Well here are some suggestions:

  • Definitions
  • Processes (for sciences such as experiments, methods…)
  • Equations (for sciences and maths, with an example)
  • Diagrams
  • Key dates
  • Vocabulary (for languages)
  • Rules (such as verb rules in languages)
  • etc.

But make it simple! You should be able to read out the back of the flashcard in a few seconds. It’s not a novel. The whole point of flashcards is to put information into easy to remember chunks. If the back is full of text, it might as well have been written down on an A4 page. If you find yourself doing this, it may be worth separating the information into separate cards.

Also, only make cards on information you don’t know. If you think you know something, then realise later that you don’t, you can always come back and make a card. That’s the beauty of it. it’s flexible and forgiving.

By the end of reading through the subtopic, you should fully understand everything, and have a nice pile of flashcards on any information you don’t know. Now store those away using a rubber band in your folder in a plastic sheet. Whenever you need to revise this topic again, you have your cards.

Using Flashcards

It’s one thing to make a nice pile of flashcards, but it’s another to actually use them. Here’s how I go about using them.

  • I pick up my deck and start at the start (shock horror)
  • If I get it right, I put it on my right.
  • If I get it wrong, I put it on my left (always check the back for the answer even if you get it wrong)
  • If I kind of get it wrong, or maybe get it right but it takes a while, I put it in the middle
  • I repeat this with all my cards
  • Then I repeat this process with all the cards on the left (the “wrong pile”) over and over until I only have a pile in front of me and on my right
  • Then, I repeat this process with all the cards in front of me (the “medium pile”) over and over until I only have a pile on my right.
  • And you’re done! Or you can do it again. It’s up to you

This whole process takes a matter of minutes, and is a highly effective way of revising. In theory, these cards only contain information you don’t know, so you’re not wasting time on the stuff you do know. The process above also means you’re not repeating cards you’ve already got right, so you can focus on the ones you find hard.

Do a bit every day, and the information will begin to move from your “Short Term Memory” to your “Long Term Memory”. The more you do it, the more it’ll stay there.

Returning to the Process

  • You have now gone through all of your ‘No Ticks’ and made cards. You’re also in the process of using these cards every now and then. All you need is 5 minutes for each subtopic maybe just after breakfast or before you finish your day
  • Adjust the ticks on these topics appropriately. Maybe some are now ‘Three’ or ‘Two Ticks’. Maybe some need more work so are only ‘One Tick’.
  • Now go through and do all your ‘One Ticks’ and repeat the process. You should find there are fewer cards to make here as you’re more confident in these topics
  • Repeat with Two Ticks and Three.
  • Then make a list of all the past papers you can do as a table and put this at the front of your folder (or wherever you find most appropriate.
  • Start to work your way through the past papers, noting any topics you struggled with once they’re marked. This is a great way to reevaluate what needs to be worked on.
  • Make flashcards of these questions with the front being the question, and the back being the mark scheme/model answers
  • Re-revise these topics using your books and cards, and feel free to make more cards if you need
  • Repeat.

It may seem like a long process, but once you break it down it is by far the most efficient system I have seen. You will never wonder what you need to work on as your index will tell you. You will always have your notes in one place, but you haven’t spent half your life copying down unnecessary information. And you’ll know what past papers you’ve already done.

I hope this is useful to you. It has certainly served me very well through two degrees, and beyond!

Finally, the last bit of revision advice is the obvious (but necessary): sleep, drink water, sleep, eat well, relax and sleep.

Happy revising!

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