Exam Time – Productive Revision

open pen on notebook and book

With exams approaching, revision is paramount. But when it comes to revising, you need to aim for quality, not quantity: revising effectively, rather than revising excessively. Rather than moving into the library for the next few weeks and revising for 10 hours a day, it is important to set yourself realistic revision goals, while also having time for yourself. Below are some tips for how you can achieve this.

  1. Make a list of what you need to revise for each exam. You should have access to a practice exam paper and/or past exam papers which will help you to determine this.
  1. Determine which topics you need to revise more. You could “traffic light” the topics:

Green – topics you feel comfortable with / have already revised

Amber – topics you need to re-familiarise yourself with / revise more

Red – topics you lack confidence with, and need to spend time working on

  1. At the beginning of each week, determine when you are going to revise. If possible, rather than putting aside whole days for revision, put aside a few hours each day, spread out as much as possible. Rowena Murray talks about writing snacks rather than writing binges – writing is more productive in short bursts (even just 30 minutes) than when we put aside time for a writing binge of multiple hours in one sitting. The same applies to revision – putting aside 8 x 30 minute revision slots a day is more productive than 1 x 4 hour session. Make the most of 30 minute revision windows.
  1. Once you have identified times in the week you are going to revise, commit to revising in these times. Put them in your diary / calendar, and treat these times as immovable. If someone asks you if you want to go for a coffee in these times, say no, and arrange an alternative time.
  1. Allocate topics to each of your revision slots. Ensure that the time allocated to a topic is proportionate to how much of a priority it is. For instance, topics that you have colour-coded red should be allocated more time than those allocated green.


  1. If you have put aside a long time for revision in one sitting, have lots of mini-breaks. For instance, divide a two hour revision session into 4 x 30 minute slots, with 5-10 minute breaks in between these half hour revision bursts. This is the Pomodoro Technique, which is really useful for time management as well as boosting productivity. It involves setting a timer to work for a given amount of time (usually 25 or 30 minutes) – each one of these is called a Pomodoro. You have a 5 minute break after each Pomodoro, but after 4 Pomodoros you have a longer break – traditionally 30 minutes. You can amend these times however you like, as long as the principle of having short breaks and a longer break after four Pomodoros stays the same – for instance, working for 40 minutes with 10 minute breaks might work for you, with a long break of 50 minutes (so you can watch an episode of a TV series, or go for a walk). Make sure you have planned what you are doing during each Pomodoro before you start. You can buy tomato timers to help you with this (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato!) but there are also online versions or downloadable apps that have this function. Finding the timings that suit you might require a bit of trial and error.
  1. Make sure that your revision goals are realistic – don’t try to fit too much into a 25-30 minute session. Finding the right balance might take some time. For more about getting SMART goals, see our earlier ASP blog post on goal-setting.
  1. Once you feel more prepared, do practice exam papers in timed conditions. This will help you to identify if there are any areas you need to revise more, while also giving you practice answering within the time limits ahead of the real exam. After doing this, you could return to the traffic-lighting task (Step 2 above) and amend the colours according to how prepared you now feel.

screen grab from swansea university page explaining essential, permitted and non-permitted items for exams and rules for coats, bags and valuables

  1. Before exams, make sure that you familiarise yourself with the examination guidelines at Swansea University. One of these is taking your student card with you to exams. You can read about Essential Examination Preparation here and about DOs and DON’Ts for exams here.
  1. Finally, after the exam try not to worry about your performance, and avoid talking to your peers about the paper. You can’t change your answers, and as long as you did your best, that is all you can do. How you revise constantly changes and improves with practice, so it is important to reflect on how you learn, and what does and doesn’t work for you in order to revise more effectively in future years.

Heidi Yeandle