This is a very general ramble through all sorts of things to do with revision that I’ve gleaned over the years. To try and make some sense of it all I’ve organised it under question headings with the exception of this first one…
The one thing I would trumpet loudly from the start is do not make a revision timetable. Simply sort out a few things to focus on to start with (see WHAT and HOW). Work out what sort of times (see WHEN) and places (see WHERE) are going to be involved in the most immediate upcoming few days. Factor in who else you can involve and in what way (see WHO). Dive in, get going, and crack on. Keep the ball rolling. Line up what’s going to happen a few days ahead. Stay organised. Be flexible. Pull back when you need to. Go over things again as necessary. Press ahead when you can. Maintain an even productive tension. Don’t slack off. But don’t push to strain. If you are VERY lucky you might just run out revision and still have a little time left. More likely you’ll run out of time and still have things to revise that you haven’t got around to looking at. That’s fine. That’s supposed to happen. Doing all you can and doing it well is the point. Doing it all, come hell or high water, is not. So do not make a revision timetable! The pressure to have to stick to it will only generate unnecessary stress. Good luck!
This may sound like a silly question but it is, in fact, worth asking. If, for example, you are aiming solely to pass the course – and so marks/percentages/grades and all that jazz don’t (much) matter to you – then you might not need to revise at all. if you’re happy enough with your TMAs and feel you’ve done enough study week by week to get you through the exam then that’s perfectly fine; you really don’t need to revise.
Then again, perhaps you are counting this course towards a degree. If that’s the case then you might need, or want, to be aiming for a particular class of degree. This means you might need to get a certain minimum mark in this course. If that’s the case it is worth calling the OU and discussing with an adviser what mark you are aiming for. It’s worth remembering that your overall TMA average will usually be better than your exam average. If your TMA marks have been particularly good you might not need to do that well in the exam. Then again, you might have to push to get as best an exam score as possible to boost what you got for your TMAs. Once you know this it could mean that you have to dig deep and revise hard to get there; or it might mean you’re relatively safe coasting along less intensively. Your tutor may be able to help you judge this, too.
WHO to revise with?
Don’t think of revision as a solitary pursuit. Just because you do the exam in silence on your own at the end of the course, doesn’t mean that revision has to be done the same way. Involve as many people as you can. Get family and friends on board to help. Not just with the studying (the kids can test you on your vocabulary) but by taking the pressure off elsewhere. Can anyone else pick up other tasks for you to give you a bit of extra time (shopping, cooking, cleaning, the school run, child-minding etc.)? Can you get together with other students locally, or online? Can your tutor suggest something, or even just chat you through your approach to revising? Lean on anyone in any way you can!
WHEN to revise?
Generally speaking there are chunks of time when you can sit down undisturbed for half an hour or so and focus on something that takes a bit of concentration. Then there are bits of time where you might have 10-20 minutes to focus relatively intensively on something short. Then there are snippets of time when you might have at most a few minutes for a quick task. If you look back at all the tips from the past two terms this should ring a bell.
It’s most important NOT to expect sit down for three hours every evening to do your revision and then not think about it at all for the rest of the time. That is a VERY unproductive way of doing it. If you think I’m wrong because you know this does indeed work for you then it is probably a habit that you have become used to based on previous study behaviour (probably at school) and it is the feeling of reassurance which the familiarity of repeating that habitual behaviour gives you that makes you feel it is so right for you. To be (helpfully) brutal – you need to break that habit!
Revising properly (i.e. focusing intensively) for more than about 40 minutes exhausts your brain’s concentration capacity and it needs to refresh itself. That means ‘taking a break’ which is usually interpreted as ‘relaxing for a while’ or ‘doing something fun for a bit’. In fact, it’s far better simply to chop and change between study and ordinary activities. So study for half an hour, then prepare dinner, study for a while, then cook it, study for a while, then serve it up and eat it, study for a while, then clear away, study for a while, THEN ‘relax for a while’ watching telly etc. If you try to shoe-horn in ‘fun’ and ‘relaxing’ after every study stint, as well as doing all your daily tasks, you will simply spend your ‘fun/relaxing’ time stressing about not having enough time!!!
WHERE to revise?
Instead if thinking where to go to study, think instead where you’re going to have to be and how you can make sure you’ve got study to do while you’re there. What can you put in particular places so that there’s something there ready to be revised? What can you load up onto digital devices, or in data storage facilities, or access online? What can you carry with you all the time (digital or otherwise)? Be prepared! If you find yourself somewhere, for some time (however short) with nothing to do, then that’s a time/place to target doing some revision of some sort. If you look back at all the tips from the past two terms this should all ring a bell, too.
HOW to revise?
This has to be entirely up to you depending on what works best for you based on everything you’ve ever done. And if you’re not at all sure then the answer is that anything and everything you can do is certainly better than doing nothing at all. Yet again, look back at all the tips from the past two terms and this should rings lots of bells. If you’ve been following all those tips you should also, by now, have built up quite a lot of materials and resources of your own that you can review, develop, add to etc. Be as creative as you possibly can. And think, especially, about what sorts of activities best suit the time slots (see WHEN) and the locations (see WHERE) that provide you with the opportunities to revise.
WHAT to revise?
Be very sure, above all, to decide what you will not revise! Here’s why I say that…
Don’t ‘revise’ anything easy that you already know. It’s tempting, and admittedly very reassuring, to ‘go over’ things you’re familiar with and think ‘good, I already know all this’ BUT it’s a waste of time. Trust yourself. Don’t go back to anything you’re fairly confident you do know well enough. Beware! It is very tempting. Don’t do it!
Don’t ‘revise’ anything that you know in all honesty is beyond you. If you know before you even start that you will find something so difficult you’re unlikely to make much progress with it, then IGNORE it. There really is no point at all in putting in all that time and effort to achieve nothing. It really is a total waste. Don’t do it!
Concentrate on where you think you can make the most improvement. Think of it in terms of investments and returns. You want to make a reasonable investment in terms of time, effort, and energy to get the most sizeable return in terms of ‘stuff’ you then know which you didn’t before.
What it’s best for you to focus on will need to be tailored to target your own individual areas for improvement. In the very broadest general terms knowing as much vocabulary as you can is a priority because you’ll definitely lose marks if you get the meanings of words wrong; and that includes being careful not to mistake words that look similar (inter/iter, tamen/tandem) or fall into familiar traps (servus is a slave and NOT a servant [slaves weren’t paid!]).
Similarly, in the narrowest specific terms, is there any point agonising for hours over a few fiddly perfect tense forms of irregular verbs? Or, to put it another way, will spending a few hours on the perfect tense get you more marks in the exam than making sure you know all your vocabulary?
It depends, of course, on the exam; and on where your own strengths and weaknesses lie. If you do already know all your vocabulary really well, and most of your grammar too, then concentrating on irregular perfect stems may indeed be what would ultimately make the most difference to your marks. You, yourself, have to make that call.
The Nike sports slogan ‘Just do it!’ sums it up. Nike was the Greek goddess of victory. Here’s to each and every one of your individual academic victories. Good luck!
Steven Havelin (25/03/18)