Relaxation and revision: finding a balance

This week, BGS Director of Sixth Form, Mrs Woolley, guest writes on the Headmistress blog about striking the perfect balance ahead of the busy summer exam season.

For most of us this time of year is a delight, bringing longer days, lighter nights and better weather. In Sixth Form, particularly for the Upper Sixth students, it is a challenging time. IB exams have already started and A Levels loom and whilst all students are keen to do well, the added pressure of achieving grades in order to secure university places is incredibly daunting for our young people. Recent alumnae attest that Sixth Form study is significantly more intense than university study as a result of this. 

Not being certain of where you will be spending your next three (or more) years can be unsettling and our pastoral team are always here to support our students. I am always impressed with the determined, mature and open-minded approach our students are able to demonstrate as they enter the examination period. 

Our Upper Sixth cohort have been on a steep learning curve over the past two years. They have managed the transition to the independence and self motivation of Sixth Form study, setting them up for success at university, apprenticeship or the workplace. They have learned new approaches to learning and managing their time alongside developing leadership skills, navigating friendships and relationships as well as building resilience from the regular triumphs and disappointments of their academic journey. 

They have been incredibly busy in the Sixth Form; mentoring younger students, developing super curricular knowledge, running activities, coaching sport, attending and giving lectures, facilitating and driving projects, leading teams, setting up clubs and societies alongside their IB or A Level subjects and for some a part time job.

Now is the time they put a number of those things to one side for a short time as they go on study leave, to maximise their revision and exam preparation using key guidance staff have shared and practised with them throughout their two years and here would be my top tips:

  • Plan ahead: write a clear revision schedule in a calendar format identifying which subjects and subtopics they intend to cover at which times of the day. This ensures students can cover all the material before they sit the paper and no last minute cramming, which is of course not an effective way to revise. It’s important they stick to this and share with yourself, siblings or a friend!
  • Past papers and examiners reports: Ensure that once a student feels confident they know the material, it’s important that they incorporate past paper practice into their revision schedule. Marking their answers carefully and adding to their notes or revision cards the nuances they may have previously missed and key terminology that examiners are looking for. If they don’t perform well on a topic, then make sure they go back and revise this. In order to learn more from students’ previous mistakes and gain more insight into what the examiners are looking for. Reading the examiners reports for the papers completed is also incredibly useful, particularly in areas where they are consistently dropping marks.
  • Active revision: we have had additional tutorial and small group sessions for students on auditing their knowledge and using reliable revision techniques and modelling these. Not simply reading or copying material, but dual coding and fully engaging with the material by changing it in some way. Taking prose and converting into bullet point notes and then purely essential key terms, changing a table into a diagram or prose and focussing on measuring the success of revision, not purely by the length of time spent revising, but how knowledge and understanding has improved at the end and testing this with past paper questions. Thus ensuring the investment in revision is effective. The pomodoro technique can also help here where revision is broken down into four intensive 25 minute sessions, perforated by a 5 minute break and then a longer break at the end of this cycle. A number of students who have recognised they are procrastinators have found this particularly useful.
  • Sufficient revision, with down time built in: every year when I have conversations with students following their mock examinations the definition of ‘a lot of revision’ varies hugely. Depending on the subjects studied there will always be variation, but unfortunately for most students a couple of hours a day across all subjects is not sufficient to learn and practise in terms of the detail and sophistication needed to score top grades at IB and A Level. That said, students do also need to have breaks throughout a revision period and it should be perforated by periods of time off to relax, meet friends, read, exercise or just watch TV, so they can look forward to this. The most successful students build this into their original revision plan too.
  • Phones away: For most young adults they are never further than 10cm from their mobile phone, but to avoid distraction when a message or notification pops up and the temptation to look at all the exciting things it appears others are doing -that are not revision! The best thing is for phones to be away in another room until it is time for a break.
  • Here and now: During the revision period it can also be a good idea to focus on one day at a time. Rather like running a marathon, focus on each mile at a time and consider how far you have come, rather than how far is yet to go. 
  • Finally, Muddy Stilettos have put together a really useful ‘How to boss your revision’ blog, which features BGS Lower Sixth IB student, Emily Pinkney. Read it here

When students incorporate this guidance they will be equipped to give their individual best performance. They will have done their best and we can ask no more!

All that remains is to wish them the very best of luck, as staff we are deeply invested in their success and hope they are able to attain the results they deserve and entry to a course, apprenticeship or job which will fulfil and enthuse them. Providing that next step to wherever their future careers may take them. The world is their Oyster and we look forward to hearing about their adventures.

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