There are so many different questions that students have when we start to look at study skills.

  • What is revising?
  • How do I revise?
  • What do I revise?
  • How on earth can I learn it all and remember it for the exams?

These are all important aspects, but one of the first things to consider is when to start.

When to start revising – that doesn’t match the title of “When to start studying?” but it is this latter question that I want to address.  When we call it “revising”, students imagine that a few sessions of reading, about three weeks before the exams, should do the trick.  The reality is that studying and reviewing the material should start at the beginning of the course – no matter whether that be GCSE, A Level, Degree or a professional qualification.

I’ll write that again so it can sink in a bit.  Studying should start at the beginning of your course!  Studying just means learning the material you need to cover. 

Many people think that revision starts a few weeks before the exams.  You could leave it that long before you start, but that way is not as effective as regularly reminding yourself of what you have learned.  It is also super stressful as you try to cram it all in over the last few weeks before an exam – or lots of exams.  Last-minute cramming is not the same as learning.  It can be done, if you are lucky, but you are likely to forget the material almost as quickly as you have learned it, which means it won’t be available for future use.

So, here are my tips on when to start studying and how to plan that time:

  1. Get a schedule ready for the beginning of the new academic year.  It may help you to write your weekly and monthly schedule on a planner.  Write in your non-academic commitments as well as your academic ones.   Be specific.  Instead of just writing “Revise”, give a topic name or a chapter number.  If you allow time for all the hard thinking at the beginning of the week then you can just follow the schedule for the rest of the week, rather than wasting half your study session working out what you are meant to be doing.
  2. Allow time each week for going over the notes you made in class.  Edit or re-write those notes, using information from the textbook as well as your class notes.  Make flashcards if they will help.  At the end of each chapter or module, make time to revise that chapter/module to make sure you understood it.  If in doubt, ask your teacher!  They are much more likely to be helpful if you ask for clarification just a week or so after finishing the topic, rather than a week or so before the exams!
  3. Remember to do your own research on a topic instead of just relying on the teacher to spoon-feed you all the information you need.  Use textbooks, look things up using reliable internet sources, watch good documentaries. 
  4. In order to perform at your best academically, you need to take care of your mind and body just like an athlete who is preparing for a major competition.  Feed your brain well by eating a balanced diet, allow for exercise and for relaxing time and look after yourself by getting enough sleep.  That starts from the beginning of the course, too!

They key take-aways here are that last-minute cramming is not the same as learning and studying should start at the beginning of your course. Prepare for exam success by getting a good study routine going as soon as possible, so that you don’t end up in a mad panic as the exams draw nearer.