Last Minute Revision
There are lots of reasons why you might not have started your revision as early as you should. Some of them may not be your fault at all. While the best approach to revision is always to start as early as you can, if this is no longer an option then you need to know the best quick ways to maximise your results. We want you to do as well as you can, and so we've put together a guide to last minute revision that can help you to get as many marks as possible from that exam.
This guide includes some of the sneaky and risky methods that lecturers won't tell you. Use these tips at your own risk - we are only offering this as help for those in desperate need! First of all, if you have a good reason for why you haven't been able to revise - such as illness, family problems or similar - then you should contact your university, as they should help you to get back on an equal footing. This could mean extra time or bonus marks. If you don't know who to talk to, go to your appointed tutor or one of your lecturers. There's plenty of support available, so never be afraid to ask for help! Now, to get to the essential tips:
First is a checklist of things you need to know - aim to get all this information as quickly as you can. You may know most of it already.
See how much revision time you have. This is vital - you would be surprised how big a difference just a single day of focused revision can make. It could take you from a fail to a strong pass! On the other hand, if the start of your exam is one hour away, then you may be in trouble. In most cases you will have multiple exams at the end of the year, so remember that you may need to revise for several at the same time.
If you have any gaps between exams this will be very useful. A day or two of focussed revision where you just cover one exam right before you take it will offer the best chance to boost your marks - especially if you haven't built up a strong memory!
Know what topics could come up. Almost all university modules will be broken up into separate topics. Check what these are and write a list of them. If the breakdown isn't obvious, check in these places: module guide (particularly a contents page or module overview), lecture titles, reading list (see if texts are grouped under topics). You should also ask friends to see if they know or can help you work it out.
Exams will consist of a certain number of questions - generally each question will relate to one topic, or a part of one topic. Sometimes they may cover two or more topics in one question, but this is surprisingly rare.
See what you know. You never know, you may surprise yourself! Check each topic on the list, and see if you can remember any of the key theories. If you know some topics quite well then these will be lower priority to revise. This step will help you to know just how much you need to get done.
Check the requirements of the exam. You will almost always be given some information about what the exam is going to be like. Such as; how long it is, how many questions, what type of questions (essay, multiple choice, calculations), whether it is open book or closed book, whether you will have a choice of questions, etc. You need to know what you are dealing with so that you can work out how to maximise marks.
You should also work out an idea of what sort of mark you are aiming for. Find out what the grade boundaries are and how much of the final mark is based on the exam. Once you have this essential information it's time to take action to start securing marks. The first thing you need to do is decide what topics you will revise, the best option is to revise all of them, but that may not be possible.
There are ways to pick out what you should revise, we will cover four here:
Try to find out what will be in the exam
Normally, this is a secret. But there are a few ways you can try to find out. Knowing what topics and questions will be in the exam means that you know exactly what you will need to learn. The best tip for this is to listen to the lecturer! They know what is on the exam, because they are probably the person who wrote it or approved it. It is common for lecturers to give hints about the topics that will come up - most often they will do this during the last few lectures of the year. Revision lectures are the most likely place to get these tips, especially if attendance is optional. They won't put these tips in the slides or handouts, so make sure you turn up and take notes. If you've already missed these, then see if you can find a friend who did go and ask them if they got any information.
Consider asking the lecturer if they have any tips for what topics are important for the exam. Be careful how you ask, as if you just ask 'what questions will be in the exam', they won't tell you anything. Make sure to ask for 'advice' or 'tips', to 'help focus your revision'. You could even do this just a day or so before the exam, they may not tell you anything, but it's worth trying.
If you do think that you know a topic or question that will come up, then make sure to look at that topic carefully. If you have spent a lot of time in lectures covering one topic, theory, method, etc. then it is very likely that that will be in the exam in some way. Things that are covered briefly are less likely. Revise the most likely things first.
This is a high-risk approach, but can save valuable time. The most appropriate time to use this is when your exam follows the format of giving you a choice of questions to answer.
If your exam doesn't offer a choice but you are really in trouble, then you could try skipping topics that you find very difficult in order to focus on the ones that you know you can do well. You will almost certainly have to give up some marks on the exam if you do this (as the hard things tend to turn up on exams), but it may work well if you are just aiming to get a basic pass.
Prioritising topics and reading
Some topics will be easier than others, or some topics may make up less questions or marks in the exam - try to work this out. Also consider how easily you think you can revise the topic. Some things need very specific knowledge, such as where you need to remember formulae or specific parts of a model or theory, or facts - these take more time to learn and remember. Topics where you just need to remember more abstract concepts and idea can be revised quicker, and will also be easier to write about in the exam even if you don't fully understand them. So, prioritise learning the hard theories, formulae and facts that you know you will need to reproduce with 100% accuracy in the exam.
You won't have time to go over all the reading and all the materials in depth for your exam if you just have a few days left. Instead, you need to make sure that you are just reading and learning the most important bits and leaving the rest. You will have been given a list of textbooks and other reading that your lecturer says is essential to pass - but don't worry, the lecturers often exaggerate this, you can easily get a good grade from only reading a very, very small part of these. The key thing is to focus on the lecture material - this has to give you the key parts of the module, it's the whole point of the lectures! Use the textbooks to look up key theories and academics that are mentioned in the lectures. Just reading a page or two can give you the extra understanding and information to make it look like you have done much more background reading. One key aspect is to understand who came up with the ideas/theories/models and whether any other theories influenced them. Knowing links like this suggests a strong knowledge and will impress examiners. You can find this information quickly using the internet, or in a little more time in textbooks.
Lecturers will often specifically tell you not to do this - that's because it is risky. However, if you are desperate, it may be a big help to find what to revise. Question spotting is trying to predict the questions that will come up in the exam. One way to do this is to look at past papers to try to spot patterns.
This often won't work, but sometimes can provide useful information. It is always worth looking at past papers regardless though - they will give you a good idea of the sort of questions to expect. See what topics have featured on the exam in the last few years, and whether there are any that always seem to get asked.
Another thing to consider is what appeared on the exam from the previous year - it is unlikely that the same exact topics would appear again in the next exam - so expect that a few topics from last year won't show up. Pay attention to who wrote the exams, this should normally be stated on the first page. You may find that different lecturers move between modules and so the exam might be written by different people. There is less chance of any meaningful pattern between exams written by different people, so take this into account.
Be sure to use other information such as hints from the lecturer to try to work out how likely the different topics are to appear. The best thing is to find the ones you are confident will appear, and focus on these - it is more risky to decide that something won't appear and then ignore it.
One key thing is to try not to panic, even though you may feel unprepared you need to have confidence in yourself in order to be able to write effectively in the exam. If you act confident then it will show in your writing, and similarly nerves will show up too. Even if you have to write about something you don't fully understand, do your best to work it out as you go and then write confidently and in a way that makes you sound like you are familiar and experienced with the topic.
Linked but focussed
In the exam, try to provide links between the different topics and things you understand, this can help you show knowledge even when asked about areas you don't know. But, definitely don't write about things that are unrelated, and don't 'waffle' (i.e. write more than is needed about just one point to try to fill space). Examiners hate both these things and they definitely will knock off marks.
This will depend on the subject you are studying, but in some it is considered good to use examples to show knowledge of the subject and also demonstrate the application of ideas. Examples can be a great way to get marks when you aren't certain about the details of the theory. Just make sure to keep them relevant and focused.
Quality not quantity
The only thing worse than making your examiner read a bad answer is to make them read a long bad answer - they won't be in a good mood after that. So, don't just write for the sake of filling up space, it doesn't work.
Spend more time on the questions you know you can answer well and less on the ones you know you can't. But, always make sure to write something for every question you have to answer. Even a few lines can get one or two marks.
Now that you have learned some of the techniques that can help to make last minute revision more effective, you can maximise the marks that you can get from those last few days. Remember the risks, and don't make any reckless decisions without having good reason to do so. There are no guarantees with these techniques, but they may make the difference that you need.