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National College of Ireland


Exams guide: Revision Techniques


Sometimes college life can seem overwhelming, and that can be especially so with regards to exams. Below you will find some tips that can help you complete the revision required to do your best in any exams set by your course in the NCI. By getting to grips with your revision you will help to manage any stress that you might face during the year.

Quick links

Quick tips

Mnemonics are a great and simple way to learn everything from key points to more complex material. Remember, that knowing the type of learner that you are affects what type of mnemonics you should use. will give you further information about mnemonics.

The SQR3 is a popular and effective method of studying designed to increase comprehension of a text and retention of the key points. To find out more about this method, the University of Pittsburgh Bradford have an interesting PDF that you can check out.

Remember flash cards? Well, they've been updated for the 21st century and there are now loads of websites that offer free online flashcards. One brilliant example of this is Cram, which allows you to test yourself and even goes back over the cards that you got wrong.

Mind-mapping is a more visual type of learning and can be done as note-taking in class or as an aid for more intensive revision in the run-up to your exams. Learningfundamentals have a great and simple post explaining the basics. We also have an extensive range of books in the library on mind-mapping. A popular author is Tony Buzan and you can check if we have his most popular book on mind-mapping by clicking on this link.

The Mind Map Book

Getting to grips with revision

Get organised. Start your revision as soon as possible. Make sure that the notes you are taking are concise, legible, and highlight the important points.

Plan right!

Make a timetable. This will help you to get organised as well as making it easier to prioritise subjects that may require more time. You should get used to using a timetable as early in the year as possible and don't forget to keep it realistic. You should also try to include non-study related activities in your timetable as well, such as exercise, leisure/social activities, and so on. You can download a timetable template by clicking on the link at the bottom left of the page.

Set yourself study goals. These can be incorporated into your study timetable. For example, set yourself (manageable) tasks within the time alloted for a subject (e.g., 'I will read chapter 3 and summarise').

Know your subject. Most of the key theories regarding revision (such as SQR3, the VARK Method, and mind-mapping - all discussed on this page) emphasise the importance of really understanding what you're revising. Memorising material is, of course, all part of this, but most of the exam questions ask you to explain, describe, or discuss a topic which can only be done successfully if you truly understand the topic.

Balanced revision is key. Allocating time to all your subjects is really important. It can be tempting to focus on the subjects that you understand or find easy, but balanced revision will help you to prevent neglected areas that you find difficult. This might sound difficult, but if you have made your timetable (and are sticking to it!) you can 'force' yourself to focus on those difficult subjects. And by giving these subjects the time that they require, you will begin to gain a greater understanding of them.

Focused revision. It is important to identify the key topics for all your courses. Ideally, you should cover approximately twice as many topics as the number of questions you need to answer on the exam paper. So, if you have a four-essay exam, you should be revising at least eight subjects. This might seem difficult to pinpoint, but it is made a lot easier by using your course content on your Moodle page (see below) and by getting to know how the exams for your subject have been set previously. Familiarising yourself with previous exams will help you know what to expect in the exam as well as knowing what to revise. (If you want to know more about accessing previous exam papers, click here).

​Preparation. Make sure you have all the materials you need to study at hand. This might include lecture notes, class slides, notes you've made from books and/or journals, handouts, as well as assorted photocopies, past exam papers, and textbooks. Different people will have different ways of organising these elements, but now might be a good time to invest in some quality folders!

Make sure you don't neglect the importance of where you study. Figure out what place suits you best: it could be here in the Library in the NCI or in your own room. Where you study should reflect how best you revise: so, if you like to listen to some background music, a private room might be the best option. If it's a quiet space, then the library is the natural option, but you might want to invest in some earplugs or noise-reducing headphones. As long as it's a comfortable space, with good lighting, you will be able to focus on your revision.

Reflection. Try and finish your revision a week before your first exam. This gives you the opportunity to relax as well as giving you some extra time to go back over some of your more 'problematic' topics.

What type of learner are you?

Survival guide

If you're a visual learner, graphs, diagrams, symbols, or charts will help you to revise better. Some practical ideas that you could incorporate into your revision would include:

  • Writing your notes as 'mind maps'
  • Using different colours to highlight your notes
  • Using diagrams and sketches as you revise

The second type of person is the auditory learner. Some practical examples for this type of learner would include:

  • Listening back over lectures that have been recorded
  • Reading your notes aloud as you revise
  • Recording yourself reading your notes and listen to them for revision
  • Revising with others

The third type is the reading and writing learner. This is probably the most 'traditional' of learners and is relatively straight-forward: learners who respond best to this method do so through reading material and writing a lot of notes. However, sometimes it can be good to do things in a slightly different way. For example:

  • Always write out your notes, but try and write them out in a different way and using different terminologies
  • Read over your notes silently
  • Write out key points and theories from memory

The fourth element is the active learner. Active learners find it difficult to revise if they are in a stationary position and require plenty of activity to help retain information. Some ideas to help foster this type of learning include:

  • Move around the room while you are revising
  • Record your notes and listen to them when you are in the gym, doing exercise, or going for a walk
  • Mentally review material that you have been revising during an activity