How to Revise for… Essay Subjects!

by Maud Millar on November 12, 2018

This week on the Study Rocket Blog, we’re going to help you with some concrete tips on how to revise for different types of exams. We’re starting off today with How to Revise for Essay Subjects, but we’ll go on later in the week to think about how to revise for Science/Maths subjects and then how to revise for Practical subjects.


At Study Rocket, we help you by getting all your revision notes in one place and giving you structures to create and learn your notes. Aside from what we offer you, here are a few things you can do on your own to make sure your revision is as worthwhile as it can possibly be!


how to revise


Read, read, read.

Go beyond the textbook – read around your subject books. Ask your teacher for recommendations (your exam board will provide a list on their website).  Read quickly for pleasure, but also pick out evidence or arguments that look especially useful. (This tip is especially important if you plan to study your essay subject at university where you will spend three years reading this stuff). 


Know the chronology.

Memorising dates is less important here (though it can help) than understanding the order in which events occurred – this will help you understand how and why change occurred. 


Organise your notes.

Do this by module, theme, and especially by questions, arguments, and debates. Highlight the arguments made by historians in relation to your topic and what evidence they used. Pay particular attention to points where historians have disagreed. Revising material already organised in this manner will make it easier to think in terms of arguments in the exam.


Know the mark scheme inside out.

Your examiners will be marking hundreds of scripts – make sure you understand exactly what you have to do to achieve the highest mark. In the exam, show that you know this as quickly as possible. Ask your teacher to clarify any difficult terminology (and pay attention to the tips below). 


Examine past papers.

Make sure you understand exactly what is required of you for each section of the exam. Make a list of the past paper questions and organise them by theme. Be clear how long you should spend on each question. When those questions are collected together, what common threads emerge that you can concentrate your revision on? What are the key terms in the questions?


Be specific.

A correct, but very vague, sentence like ‘Religion was important in the Middle Ages’ screams to the examiner that you do not have the detail. Make sure you have specific pieces of evidence to deploy in the exam – examples, statistics, views of modern critics and commentators on the subject. Which pieces of evidence will prove useful for more than one topic? 


Know the vocabulary.

Find (or better, make) a glossary of the key terms of your modules and make sure you understand them. The use of specialised vocabulary is highlighted as a fundamental requirement on the front of the exam paper and you will need to show you can use such terminology with confidence. 


Answer the question!

The ever-constant and desperate plea of all examiners. You must answer the question set on the day and not regurgitate one swallowed in advance. Structuring your answer around the key terms of the question will help. 


Plan your essay.

Take at least 5 minutes in the exam to plan out your response. Think carefully about what the question is asking and make a list of relevant points. Use your introduction to summarise your argument and set out how it will proceed. Sign-post each paragraph with how it relates to the question. Conclude with your direct answer. Highlight what you are going to do, do it, and then remind the examiner you have done it. 


Most important of all – practice, practice, practice!

Practicing drawing up essay plans (in 5 mins max.) will get you thinking in terms of arguments to the question set. Better, completing past papers in timed conditions will allow you to a) avoid hand cramp in the exam b) pin-point any gaps in your knowledge c) improve your writing and demonstrate where you need more help. Be honest with yourself about the short-comings and compare your answers to the mark scheme (and ask if a teacher, parent, or friend to look over them if possible).  Exams feel scary, but you have a lot of information about what is required – practice will make you more confident to answer the question set on the day, safe in the knowledge you have done this a dozen times before. 


More tips on How to Revise


There we go- some practical tips on How to Revise for Essay Subjects. If you want some more specific tips, here are some for English Literature, here some for English Language and here some for Religious Studies. Come on over to Study Rocket if you want to find some structure, simplicity and calm in your own independent revision, but otherwise- happy revising!


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