Date of Publication: 25 January 2022
The run up to exam season can certainly be a stressful period for many students. Thinking about what, where, and how you’re going to revise all that information you’ve covered in class over the year can seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve not started any initial plans for revision.
Having good revision notes is essential to helping you feel more confident about your knowledge bank, entering into the revision process having everything you need to know in an organised, clean, and easily accessible manner.
Of course, making good revision notes takes a lot of time to do, especially if you’re revising for qualifications like your GCSEs where you will need to make notes for a number of different subjects.
It’s never too early to start putting some hard work into creating a solid set of notes with which to work from. Take a read through our guide to help you start the initial preparation, ensuring your revision notes are planned, written and organised ahead of that intensive exam season.
How to make good revision notes
Below, we outline 6 key steps to making sure your revision notes are made ahead of time, organised and formatted correctly in a way that helps you best recall the information.
1. Make a revision plan
In order to make sure your revision notes are as effective as possible in the run up to exam season, you first need to make a plan. It may sound trivial at first, especially if you’re already pushed for time, but without knowing a) what subjects you need to study for, and b) how far in advance you need your revision notes to be complete for you to begin a solid revision period, it can be really difficult to plan your time effectively.
Before you even consider starting the process of revising, create a study schedule that sets out exactly how far in advance you need to start creating your notes so that you can use them as an effective revision tool in the run up to your exam period.
Start by filling out your blank timetable with all your exam dates, so you have a definitive end date to start working backwards from. You can then break each week down into the days that you will study for each subject that you need to revise and make notes for. Outside of school, most experts recommend revising for an hour per subject per week, building this up ever so slightly more into the weeks closer to your exam period.
As a tip to make your timetable more specific and thus more workable for your day-to-day studies, we recommend that you chunk all your exams down into subjects and then by topics. This will allow you to schedule day-by-day and even hour-by-hour exactly what notes need to be created and when.
Remember to make space on weekends for social activities and hobbies, as well as any other commitments you may have such as part time work. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to stay committed to your revision plan, stay focused while studying for longer, and achieve your goals.
Note: For a comprehensive guide on how to create an effective study schedule, read our article here.
2. Collate all your notes into one folder or document
Once you’ve established your revision plan, it’s time to collate all the notes you have so far for each subject so that you have access to it in one central place. After all, when you’re in the busiest part of your academic period, there’s nothing worse than having to sift through old notebooks just to find a specific piece of information.
Think of this step almost like a decluttering mode; you want to ensure you’re pulling all the notes from your school textbooks, homework books, personal reading, tutoring, and any other scraps of paper you have lying around in backpacks on your bedroom floor into one place. You want to remove any duplicate content and have everything in long-form, in one easily accessible place.
It’s completely up to you to decide how you want to collate your notes; some students find that they retain more information by handwriting out all their notes, while others prefer the neatness that comes from typing notes out on a computer or tablet.
However you choose to collate your notes, just make sure that you follow the same format for each topic. For example, don’t write bullet point-style notes for your History exam to then draw a mind map for Mathematics. We are creatures of habit and find it easy to draw associations between things that are similar. Later, you’ll condense all your notes down into a more digestible manner. So even if you aren’t happy with the note-taking method you settle on during this first stage, there’s still plenty of time for formatting your notes in a more preferable way later on.
Also, it’s worth noting that this stage is probably going to be one of the most time-consuming. After all, you want to make sure you have absolutely everything in one place so that you can then begin to condense, condense and then condense some more in the run-up to your exams. It’s one of the most tried and tested methods for helping you memorise lots of information.
3. Add further detail to your notes using textbooks and revision guides
Once you’ve collated all your notes from school and other independent sources, it’s time to refer to those trusty revision guides to ensure you have all the key information and haven’t got any gaps in your knowledge.
At this stage, the textbooks you have are likely to have been recommended to your school based on the syllabi they cover. Most of the items in the textbooks should therefore be relevant, at your level of learning and written out clearly with good explanation. So, if you come across a topic you’re not as familiar with as your others, you should be able to go into more depth and gain a better understanding of it.
Go through the textbooks topic by topic and add any additional detail to your current revision notes that you may have otherwise missed out during your note-taking at school. Make sure anything you are writing down is clear and makes sense to you; don’t just copy and paste their text directly into your book. If you do come across a section that doesn’t quite make sense to you, make note of it and ask your teacher or tutor to talk you through it when you next see them.
When note-taking from textbooks, you don’t want to copy literally everything that’s written inside of them. After all, you should have most of the details written out as notes you’ve made in the classroom. Try and only copy across key statistics, dates, phrases or explanations that you may have otherwise missed, and not necessarily the full explanation. Make use of the end-of-topic quizzes that come with revision books, as these will test your understanding of that area of the syllabus and highlight any areas where you may need to fill in the gaps of your knowledge with additional details.
4. Establish a uniformed style for your notes
Now that you have all the information you need to make a comprehensive set of revision notes, you want to establish a particular style or aesthetic that you want to have for the next stage of the process: condensing.
Uniformity is essential for your revision. You want to make sure that you format your notes identically across different topics and possibly even subjects. Having set colours, fonts, or even styles can help your mind focus on the types of content you’re going to be learning. It can also help with memory recall during exams; if you can visualise your mind map and the colours in each section, you may just find yourself being able to pull essential information out for your exam.
This can be one of the more exciting parts of the process. Of course, no revision is ever that ‘exciting,’ but colour-coding and formatting your notes can give you a little creative break, making it a far less tedious approach.
Different ways to format revision notes
If you’re looking for inspiration on how to format your revision notes, try reading through some of these different methods below and incorporating one or a few of them into your work.
- Bullet-point style: Traditionally, many students like to write out their notes in a bullet-point format, allowing them to write short sections of text out at a time. Break sections up with headings and use highlighters to draw attention to important information and key dates, equations and phrasing.
- Mind-maps: For students who already have a good baseline of knowledge about a particular subject or topic, then mind maps can be a visually-stimulating format for revision notes. Place your topic in the centre of the page and draw branches off it for each differing viewpoint or idea. Add ‘buzzwords’ and key information off each of the secondary branches to help you recall further detail.
- Revision cards: For students who consider themselves to be more kinaesthetic learners, revision cards can be a great way to format notes in an active, engaging way. You can write down buzzwords or questions on one side, with explanations on the other, and ask friends or family members to test your knowledge.
- Annotations and drawings: For students with a more creative and visual preference for learning, then transforming written text into drawings or diagrams can be another effective way to format revision notes. Take a process like photosynthesis, and instead of writing out an explanation of how it works, you could try drawing the process as a diagram.
- Aesthetic revision notes: Recently, there has been a surging trend in the term ‘aesthetic revision notes’ online, which essentially refers to any notes that are visually-appealing, clean and carefully formatted. There are so many students on social media sharing ideas on how to create informative, colourful, clean, and detailed revision notes, with colour used to differentiate between different subjects and topics. You can take a look on Pinterest or TikTok for style ideas, or even on YouTube for a walk-through of how to design your own.
- Digital Presentation: Suffer from scruffy handwriting? Typing up your notes via your laptop or tablet and into a presentation format won’t just make them easier to read, but also force you to condense them down, making you think about everything you’re writing onto the document.
There are so many different ways that you can format your revision notes and you should experiment with a few different methods to see which style works best for you.
As a helpful piece of advice: just ensure that whichever style or format you use, that it actively engages your brain.
It may sound silly, but it can be so easy to plug in headphones and write out streams of text, without ever consciously thinking about what you’re writing down. Next thing you know, you’ve written down reams of text, only to have to re-read it through again and had to adapt your notes in a way so that it all makes sense for you.
Find a method that makes you think about the way you write or types of information you’re writing down, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.
5. Summarise everything
Once you’ve found a format that works for you, it’s time to start summarising your notes, shortening your original ones so that they’re in a more abbreviated form for you to reference from.
You’ll need to allocate a lot of time to this process, as you’ll need to summarise notes for each topic for each subject. If you’re currently working towards revising for your GCSEs, then this could be nine or ten different subjects that you’re needing to make notes for, which will take you at least a few weeks to complete.
After spending much of your school years copying notes word-for-word from the board or textbooks, it can be difficult to know how to summarise sentences without losing the meaning or explanation of what you’re trying to say.
Start by removing any non-essential words from sentences like “and,” and “the,” using symbols instead where necessary. You could even write down a topic keyword, followed by a dash and three or four words that summarise its explanation. Reflect on what you’ve just written, making sure you understand what it means. If it does, and you think you still have non-essential words on the page, then keep trimming sentences down until you have just a few words to explain one idea.
It may take a few times to work out a method of summarised note-taking that you can understand, but once you have found a way, you’ll find you save yourself a lot of time in the long run, being able to write shorter, more precise notes that are easy to understand.
Just like the initial collation stage, this process of summarising your notes will take you quite a chunk of time to complete – but it will be worth it. Once you’ve finished this step, you’ll have a clean set of revision notes for each topic and each subject, so you’re ready and organised to start the revision process.
6. And then keep condensing
Finally, the most beneficial stage for creating good revision notes is to keep them as an active, working document. It’s all well and good writing out some beautifully handwritten notes, but unless you keep referring back to them, tweaking them, and condensing them down until you know the material off by heart, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be able to remember all the information.
By following the stages laid out above, you’ll already have everything you need to know for your exams in one place; a long-form document of notes to refer back to whenever you need them.
So in this stage, we suggest you try cutting your long form notes down into a shorter form document, something that only contains buzzwords that will trigger your memory into being able to recall more details about that particular area of knowledge. It may also be handy to write down numbers, equations, specific words or phrases that are essential snippets of information you need to remember.
Condensing your notes activates your brain into thinking about the types of words and phrases you need to remember and include on your fresh set of notes. The ultimate goal is to keep condensing until you no longer need to use notes; but of course it’s always a good idea to have the condensed notes to reference as a gentle memory jog, should you need them.
You may find it beneficial to condense your notes two, three or even four times, giving your brain lots of time to process exactly what each topic is about until it really sticks in your head. The time spent will be different for each student, but the ultimate end-goal remains the same: you should be able to recall lots of information easily with just one or two word prompts.
As you edge closer to exam season, you want to start putting your efforts into making good revision notes to help you feel as best prepared as possible, alleviating some of the stress.
Spend time collecting all your notes from school, independent study and any tutoring you may have had, and organising them in a way that is easy to navigate to for the information you.
Condense everything as much as possible, without losing your understanding of what you are trying to recall. Colours, diagrams, and symbols will help with reciting key bits of information, which will help your memory recall during your exams.
It’s never too early to start pulling together your revision notes; start now to ensure you’re in the best position possible for your exams.
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