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Study Skills: Revision and Exam Preparation

Revision Gets Good Reviews

Revision means, literally, to 'see again' and this holds the key to your exam preparation and performance. 'Re-viewing' material, even briefly, on a regular basis helps to reinforce understanding and retention. It channels information to the long-term memory.

To help you identify areas for personal improvement, rate yourself in the following areas and then seek out practical solutions:

  • Do you have a good grasp of each exam paper and the marking scheme?
  • Do you have a systematic revision plan for all subjects?
  • Do you review material covered on a weekly/monthly basis?
  • Do you usually feel you make the most of your knowledge in tests?
  • Do you always answer the full set of questions on a test?

Top Five Revision Tips

1. Know what you have to do
Relate all your revision tasks to the structure and format of the exam papers you will face. Make use of revision checklists and exam guides plus information on the marking schemes available in all your subjects to match the main syllabus sections and exam topics to the time available for revision. Plan to get a certain number of sections covered each week. Devote more time to the more important sections of each course.

2. Revise in 'chunks'
Break up items into manageable 'chunks' that can be reviewed regularly. This makes it easier to tackle your least favourite areas and helps morale because you feel you are getting more done. Write specific material on 'flash cards' (small cards which can be kept in your pocket for quick review) e.g. verbs, vocabulary, formulae or definitions. These can be very useful towards the end of the year.

3. Prepare by doing
As effective study must be active, all your revision should be based around testing your recall and practising your output. Merely recognising material in your notes and textbooks is no guarantee of successful revision – you must be able to recall it without the aid of notes. Work with a pen and paper, write down points, sketch model answers to exam questions, and then check your results!

4. Revise from the top down
It is easier to understand and retain material that is well organised. Start with a good grasp of the main ideas or concepts, then follow with the sub-topics and supporting details. Try to retain an overview of the subject at all times during revision – how does this particular topic relate to the main syllabus sections and the likely exam questions? In this way, you will avoid getting bogged down in insignificant detail.

5. Beware of new material in the final weeks of term
Towards the end of the year, you should be aiming to consolidate existing knowledge and build on this foundation rather than trying to learn new material. Once the course has been covered to your satisfaction and you have a reasonable choice of questions in the exam, you are best advised to consolidate your main choices rather than chasing after new material for options which you are unlikely to take in the exam.

Practising Output

To prepare for an exam, you must practice doing what the exam requires you to do giving out information, not taking it in! This applies to regular class tests as well as the final exams.

Prior to June, you will probably have had the benefit of many class tests and a ‘mock exam’ where the Leaving Cert conditions are simulated for your benefit – you can learn a lot by reflecting honestly on your performance in these tests. You also have the benefit of a wealth of freely-available information about the exams. Past exam papers, marking schemes, study guides, even Chief Examiners Reports on some subjects are all there to be used.

Make use of past papers
These should be your constant companion in all revision tasks. For each topic you revise, consult the past questions on this subject and then attempt answers to them. Check your answers, fill in the 'knowledge gaps' where necessary, and file away the correct 'model answer' in your notes for future reference. You will also start to notice any trends in the questions asked. Consult our Past Paper Analysis for a handy overview.

Follow the marks
It is only in recent years that the Department have published the marking schemes for all subjects and these are an invaluable aid to exam preparation (2000 - 2002 papers available on the Department of Education and Science website,; 2003 papers available on ). You can see how the marks were allocated for each question on last year's paper, what the sub-division was between statement of point, explanation, example etc, and what quantity of answer was required in each case. This knowledge will greatly inform your revision work and helps to remove the mystique of the exam.

Try a dress rehearsal
Each exam paper contains its own particular structure and challenge, with varying emphasis on answering style and depth. While much of your ongoing revision will be based on individual topics and questions, it is a very useful exercise to tackle an exam paper in its totality (at least once before June). It forces you to consider your strategy – the questions you will want to attempt or avoid, the issues of timing, the number of points you will need to make in each part of a question. Having performed this exercise a couple of times, your confidence levels rise as you fix on your strategy for the exam and realise that there can't be any major surprises for you in June.

The Examiner's View

You can largely determine the end result if you want, simply by heeding the voice of experience. The job of examiners is to give you marks, not to take them away, but they are powerless to help you if you fall into the most common traps.

These are the biggest pitfalls they have identified:

Not reading the paper correctly
Examiners say that this is one of the most regular and fatal errors. They call it the 'triggered answer'. You have your pre-prepared answer on Hitler’s Germany ready, you see his name on the paper, you are delighted and you supply your pre-planned answer —and then you're shocked to find your grade so low. It is your fault. You didn't look at the exact terms of the question –it was looking for an account of his domestic policies, not his foreign policies.

Not finishing the paper
Mismanaging your time within the exam can easily cost you a full grade. The biggest exam 'crime' is to leave suitable questions unattempted. Remember: it is much easier to get the first 20% of the marks for any question than the last 5%. Therefore, if you find yourself stuck for time as you struggle through your third answer out of five, do not spend your remaining time extending and perfecting that answer. Instead, move on to questions four and five, even if your attempt is sketched or in point form. If you have answered only three questions instead of five, the highest mark you can get is 60%.

Ignoring the marking scheme:
You must take the marking scheme into account when you allocate time to each question or part of a question. If the marks allotted to a question clearly indicate that a few paragraphs are sufficient, do not write an essay on the subject. Avoid the temptation of writing everything you know about a topic – just give the appropriate amount of information. Sample model answers are provided for various subjects in our Exam Centre.

Make the point once. There are no extra marks for restating facts, even if you phrase them differently. Examiners say repetition is a very common mistake. It is also a time-waster and an irritant.

Missing part of a question
Sometimes, part of a question can be carried onto the next page and, in the pressure of the moment, you don't see it. As a consequence you might fail to do a compulsory part of a question or miss out on the chance to take an option that would have suited you better. Always take time to familiarise yourself with the whole paper before you start answering it.

Irrelevant quotations
In literary subjects, don't use irrelevant quotations you may have learned off, as it only irritates the examiner.

Rough work
Always include your rough work with your exam script – you might get some credit for formulae or calculations contained therein.

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