The case for the revision timetable
ossia: You’re Not Quite Screwed Yet
It’s always tricky to know where to start with revision, especially when you have a lot of subjects and seemingly a limited amount of time to get them covered. But, as with everything in life, organisation is the key to your freedom, and I promise you that you will feel significantly less stressed and more on top of your work once you have a revision timetable in place and know what you’re meant to be doing when (even if you don’t always exactly stick to it…)
With almost ten years’ experience as a private tutor, making the classic revision timetable for my students has been a skill I’ve been honing for quite some time. Mostly, students don’t realise how close exams are until after the December mocks and so I get a lot of bookings for “last-ditch” help in the months between January and May. These students are, inevitably, deep in the throes of The Fear (or their parents are) and they think they’ve messed it up and it’s too late to fix the problem. The good news is that this is patently untrue. It’s been my long-held believe that, if you know what you’re doing and you have a system, most GCSEs and A-Levels can be learned in about a month. But only if you’re organised.
Me, as an idiotic seventeen-year old
Let me illustrate this with an example from my own life. I was seventeen years old, fresh out of my AS exams, and I’d done well. Like, all As well (we didn’t have A*s). I patted myself on the back, went to a party and dropped Politics without a second thought. It wasn’t until the first week of January when I got my Cambridge offer- 3As- and my Spanish mock result- a B- that I panicked. Hard. I knew I couldn’t gamble on getting a B at the end of the year, or I wouldn’t meet my offer, and I also knew that Politics was easy. Or so I thought.
I went back to the Head of Sixth Form and asked him if I could sit the Politics A2; not go to the lessons, mind, I enjoyed my free periods in the coffee shop too much, but just sit the exam. He agreed (whyyyy?) and I set to merrily doing absolutely no work for Politics all year. I got to the start of study leave and opened the textbook- it was American Politics at A2- and I turned to my mum and said “Mum… What’s a Federal Government?” The look she gave me was pure horror. It turns out Federal Governments are pretty fundamental to American Politics, and I was, basically, screwed. Two weeks to go until the exam.
So, I went back to my trusty method, made a revision timetable, worked out how many hours a day I’d need to do to cover everything in time (every hour under the sun, as it happened) and set to writing out the textbook. I wrote it out, cover to cover, in one week. I then spent Week 2 turning every long chapter into a single page of notes and then a single flashcard of prompts. I cried on the hour, every hour, and I didn’t sleep. But, ladies and gentlemen, I went into that exam and emerged with my A in A2 Politics.
So if I can do it on literally two weeks, no sleep and copious amounts of caffeine, armed only with a textbook and a plan, you guys can do it in four months, no sweat.
(Remember, the key thing here is NOT TO PANIC. If you think you’re going to panic, try this.
Step 1: KNOW THY BOARD
We begin with a lovely easy task for you lovely people! First things first, you need to write down a list of your exams and which boards they are. If you don’t know these things, well, what a gentle first task to get you started on Day 1 of planning your revision timetable!
In the finished version, it should look something like this:
English Language: AQA
English Literature: AQA
Combined Science: AQA
Combined Science: AQA
Graphic Design: Edexcel
(This is an imaginary revision timetable for my GCSEs, when I did them many many years ago. I don’t actually know which boards I did, because I am old now, but you can bet your bottom dollar I did when I was sixteen.)
(Oh, and the reason there is no OCR is because who even does OCR. Like, twelve people. Seriously, check the entry stats. It’s deeply sad.)
Step 2: Dates
Once we have the board, we can then find out our exam dates. These are annoying to find, but absolutely vital to the success of our Ultimate Revision Timetable. This is where you need to go:
OCR GCSEs: (whooooooooooooo?)
Then, in our nice easy task for step 2, we just write in the date next to each of those exams in our list from yesterday (/earlier today, if you’re following along with me)
English Language: AQA (4th June AM, 7th June AM)
English Literature: AQA (15th May PM, 23rd May AM)
Maths: Edexcel (21st May AM, 6th June AM, 11th June AM)
Combined Science: AQA
- Biology (14th May PM, 7th June PM)
- Chemistry (16th May AM, 12th June AM)
- Physics (22nd May PM, 14th June AM)
History: AQA (3rd June AM, 6th June PM)
Spanish: AQA (Listening/ Reading: 22nd May AM, Writing: 5th June AM)
RS: AQA (13th May AM, 20th May PM)
Music: Edexcel (4th June PM)
Art: AQA (10h external assessment, done in school, by 31 May 2019; no exam)
Design and technology: Edexcel (24th May PM)
Step 3: Order it
We now need to break this bad boy down into an order. If you have a calendar, use that and write the dates in, it’s loads better, but I’m going to go for a table now.
So my first exam is 13th May, so it’s in Week 2, which is where I’ll start (Week 1 is full of weird stuff, it’s unlikely you’re in there). My last exam is 14th June, which is in Week 5, which is nice. I only have four weeks of hell, then I’m done and free for what I assure you will be the best summer of my life. (If we ever run into each other, ask me about the concussion and the musical theatre songs and my dad’s Face of Thunder. Great times.)
God, that’s so satisfying. I’m not even sitting these exams and I feel significantly less stressed now I can see them all in one place in a neat revision timetable.
Step 4: Prioritise it
Not all exams are equal. And we all know which ones fill us with dread. I always knew, for example, that English was fine, as were Music and Art. Some others needed some work, and some were absolute horror all round. So I prioritised my revision timetable. Do it with me:
Pretty much fine
English (I’m good at it)
Music (Not much I can do; listening exam. Hope the ears are ok on the day!)
Art (No exam, just long coursework. Score)
DT (Like 90% coursework. Exam is a bit of a joke. Also I just don’t care.)
Needs some work
History (Can revise during study leave, get some key dates down, basically English but with facts, just make some flash cards you’ll be fine)
Spanish (Gotta learn my daily routine off by heart for the written exam, but the rest of it is pretty much on the day; listening exam, reading exam. Que sera, sera!)
Maths (WHY CAN’T I DO IT???)
Science (SO MUCH CONTENT)
RS (curveball, no? But promise me, it was- ironically- hell.)
So I basically decided on the basis of this separation when I was going to start revising for each of these and factored this into my long-term revision timetable. The “pretty much fine” ones are just going to slot into the exam season, so when I have a free morning/afternoon/weekend before that exam, I’ll cram it and get it in my head for the day before forgetting all about it.
Then the “needs some work” ones need a bit more careful prep. These are going to have to start being covered as soon as I go on study leave, and are going to take priority during half-term.
The “utter carnage” ones are START NOW OH GOD START NOW. I was lucky enough to be able to go and cry to my mum about maths and my utter inability to understand any of it, and she agreed to get one of her friends’ kids over to tutor me in the evenings a couple of times a week. He was doing maths at Uni, and an absolute godsend. If you have a maths friend and you’re bad at maths, make them tutor you. Then you can tutor them in English or whatever you’re good at. Remember, it actually helps you to learn if you teach other people, so find a way to get extra help with your top priority subject. Or you could always come on over to Study Rocket for your nightmare subject; we basically are online tutors. And let me tell you, we are cheap. Think about it.
Anyway, that left Science and RS. Science was the one I knew I could do without tutoring but would take a lot of hours. So I locked myself in my room over the easter holiday and- can you guess?- wrote out the textbook! Eight solid hours a day! It was horrible! I had no fun at all!
But then I made that long handwritten textbook into one-sided sheets of A4, and then into flash cards, and because I started early enough I had well enough time to do this before study leave even really started. So, by prioritising it early, I was ahead of the game come crunch time and just had to cram it the day before/weekend before like I would with history or spanish or any of my other “meh, it’s fine” subjects. Remember, that’s the aim with starting early, it’s just to get yourself to “meh, it’s fine” with as many subjects as possible BEFORE STUDY LEAVE STARTS. Then study leave becomes a process of cram, exam, cram, next exam, cram, next exam. It all goes very quickly and becomes super normal. But you need to be not in panic phase when it starts.
(I’m not really going to talk about RS, because it doesn’t exist in the same way any more, but back in my day we had to learn an entire Gospel off by heart. Yeah, no joke. For that one I recorded the entire Gospel onto a Dictaphone (old schoooool) with soothing piano music behind it and listened to it all the way to school and back every day on the bus, and also when I was going to sleep. Pretty much worked. Give it a go for equations and that.)
So, with my priorities in mind, my outline of revision looks like this:
Easter Holidays: Science long-writing and record RS onto dictaphone
Last few weeks of school term: shorten Science long notes into short notes and then flashcards, listen to boring RS recording all the time, make some History flashcards.
This gets me to Point Zero in all subjects when study leave comes around, where I am ready to cram the hell out of them for four hours before the exam, splurge everything onto the paper and then forget it all basically immediately. Yay for the English educational system!
THEN, this is what the study leave revision timetable begins to look like:
Note: “Get up early” means 5.30am. And TBH, I think I actually did this a lot more than I’ve put down, but that’s because I always hated revising in the evening after a day of exams. So I’d just cram furiously for two hours, leave for school, cram on the bus for an hour, cram with my friends in the corridor, go in and dump all my knowledge on the page. Oh, and I got 9 A*s and 2 As.
Right, that’s Part One covered; the overview of how you plan your revision timetable long term and prioritise your subjects. In the next post, I’ll cover how to organise those long weeks of writing out textbooks (eg easter holidays) and fitting revision in around school in April/May