How to Take Revision Notes
It’s that time of year. Exam season is looming and in a few weeks, your knowledge of what’s been covered in your lessons will be put to the test. Revision is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and while you know you need to start making notes on everything you’ve learned so far, you may not have received any guidance on how to do this well.
The most effective revision notes condense a year’s worth of lessons down into easily absorbed nuggets of the most important information. They outline key ideas and give prompts to nudge your memory so that you’ll be able to expand on ideas in an exam environment.
As with most things, the key to success is preparation, so the more thought you put into how, where, when and what you revise, the more likely you are to get good marks.
In this article, we’ll take you through some of the best ways to write notes and prepare for your exams.
How do you take revision notes?
To write revision notes that will help you as much as possible in your exams, you should go over everything you’ve learned so far, identify any gaps in your knowledge and summarise it all in easy-to-digest pieces of information.
Some of the best ways to make your revision notes as clear and concise as possible include writing bullet point lists, drawing charts and tables, and highlighting the most important concepts in different colours.
Continue reading to find out how to make great revision notes in just three easy steps.
Step one: Type up or make handwritten notes from what you’ve learned in class
Repetition is one of the best ways of remembering something. So, the first thing you should do when putting your revision notes together is to go back through the information you learned in class and copy it in a more succinct way. This will refresh your memory and make it more likely that everything you need to know for your exams will stay in your brain.
Whether you prefer making notes by hand or on a computer, it’s wise to stick to your chosen method so that all the information you need is in the same place. It’ll make it much easier to refer to if everything is kept together.
If you decide to take notes on your laptop, make sure you always back them up using an online data storage service like Google Drive in case of any technical disasters. And even if you’re keeping handwritten notes, it’s a good idea to back them up digitally, using a mobile phone app that can quickly convert written pages to PDF documents. You can then upload these files to Google Drive, or email them to yourself, so you can access your revision notes any time you need to.
Step two: Type up or make handwritten notes from textbooks
As well as going through your own notes, you should refer to textbooks and study guides too. You might find that you missed something important when you were taking notes in class, so this will ensure there are no holes in your knowledge.
When making these notes, everything should be clear with the right level of detail. For the most part, your revision notes should be concise, but you might need to go into more depth if it’s a subject you find particularly difficult.
The most important thing is to make sure you understand everything you’re writing down. Rather than simply copying out someone else’s words mindlessly, you need to be confident that you’ve grasped the key concepts. Answering practice questions and looking over past papers are good ways to determine whether you have a solid understanding of the subject. If you do, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to write out what you’ve read in your own words. (It’s also useful for observing the different ways in which the same question can be worded and topics that crop up frequently.)
If anything is unclear, you can ask your teacher to explain it to you when you see them next. To remind you of what to ask, it can be helpful to leave a little space for any questions you might have at the bottom of each page.
Step three: Condense your notes down into an easy-to-read format
Now that your memory has been refreshed and you understand the subject matter, you can combine your notes and abbreviate them further.
If you have lots of notes all over the place, you could end up wasting time trying to find everything you need, instead of actually revising.
That’s why it’s important to use folders, files and binders for handwritten notes, and virtual folders that are clearly labelled if you’re revising on a computer.
Ensure you have separate folders for each subject, as this will make it easier for you to focus on one area of study at a time.
It’s important not to be overly organised, though, as this can be a form of procrastination.
Summarising is particularly important when revising for GCSEs, as you’ll likely be studying more than ten subjects and you need to make sure you’re using your time efficiently.
Just like with step one and step two of the revision note-taking process, you’re not aiming to copy everything out in great detail; you’re just rewriting your notes in an even more abbreviated form.
One of the best ways to take concise, easy-to-read revision notes is to use the Cornell note-taking system. It ensures that all your notes stick to the same structure, as you divide each page into three sections rather than writing across the whole width. You write the key prompts or headings in a column on the left, the main notes section is a wider column next to that, and you use the bottom of the page to write a summary.
As well as being well-structured and succinct, Cornell notes make it easy for you to refer to a particular topic, as the summaries at the bottom of each page mean you can find what you’re looking for quickly. These summaries also act like cue cards. All it takes to refresh your memory is a quick glance when you have a spare minute. For this reason, you should only include key points and things you’re struggling to remember. You can always refer back to your full notes if you need to.
There’s no denying that revision can be boring. But getting creative and having a little fun with how you write out your revision notes can make it a less tedious process. Here are some revision techniques you could try:
Make revision cards
Go one step further and transfer your revision note summaries onto stand-alone flash cards. Again, remember to keep the information as brief as possible.
Think about layout
Bullet points are usually the number one go-to for ensuring you only note down the most important information. Post-its are also a popular way to force you to write concisely, as they’re so small you can only write down a couple of pointers.
But it shouldn’t stop there. Graphs, charts, tables, diagrams and mind maps are also handy for breaking lengthy subject matter down into bite-sized pieces. And spreadsheets are useful for any subject where you need to remember lots of numerical data, like chemical formulas or historical dates.
You don’t have to stick to just one method, though. Mixing and matching your methods for note-taking can make revising much less monotonous.
Use highlighters and different-coloured pens
Colour coding your notes breaks up blocks of text so that you only have to read the most important information.
So use different colours to highlight important words, key points and formulas – but don’t go overboard as too much colour can be overwhelming to look at. Plus, highlighting huge chunks of text defeats the point!
Make up silly sentences
Ever wonder why you still know all the lyrics to that pop song from ten years ago, but you can’t remember the names and order of all the planets in our solar system? A good tip is to use funny rhymes and silly sentences to summarise content succinctly and help jog your memory.
A common mnemonic for remembering the planets is: “My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets”. It stands for: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto (although Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet, so remember to leave that one off!).
There are many more well-known acronyms like this one, but there’s nothing stopping you from making up your own. You might even find that the ones you’ve come up with yourself are easier to remember.
More revision tips
- Draw up a study timetable – and stick to it. You’ll be much more likely to remember everything you need to if you tackle your revision a bit at a time.
- Organise study sessions. Getting together with friends who are studying the same subjects as you can help determine and rectify any gaps in your knowledge.
- Give yourself plenty of time to revise. The last thing you want is to be up until 5 a.m. cramming the night before an exam. You’ll be in a much better headspace walking into the examination room feeling focused and rested after a good night’s sleep.
Look after yourself
- Know when to call it a day. It’s natural for your concentration levels to drop after hours-upon-hours of study. Staring at your revision notes, feeling frustrated that nothing is going in will just be a waste of your time. Take a break and come back to it when you’re feeling more refreshed.
- Eat so-called “brain food” like fish, nuts and berries – and don’t skip meals.
- Whether it’s the library or at home when everyone else is out, find yourself a quiet place to study.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remember everything immediately after reading it, so have patience and set realistic study goals.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, don’t be afraid to air your concerns to a parent or teacher. They’ll be able to help you make your revision plan more manageable.
Revision season is a stressful time for most students. But taking good revision notes can help ease the pressure.
The best way to do this is to go over everything you’ve learned in class and write it down in a more succinct way. Then, do the same thing with textbooks and study guides to ensure there are no gaps in your knowledge and that you understand everything correctly. Finally, combine these notes into effective study aids, like cue cards, post-it notes, charts, tables and diagrams.
When taking notes, you should use bullet points and different coloured pens to highlight the most important pieces of information. This should help jog your memory when it comes to exam time.