13 Ways to Make the Most of Lessons in School to Make Revision Less Stressful Nearer the Exams

Image shows schoolchildren sitting in an art gallery, sketching. Most students are familiar with the rising sense of panic experienced as the exam season draws near, but few have the forethought to take steps earlier in the year to reduce stress levels during the revision period.

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Many students make the mistake of drifting aimlessly through lessons for the majority of the year, not taking knowledge in, thinking that they’ll make up for it later on – and then realise, as the exam approaches, that they’re having to learn a lot from scratch that, had they paid attention in lessons, they would already have known and been confident in. The secret to exam success – and a stress-free time during revision – therefore lies in early preparation. Engaging with each subject early in the year, and seeing every lesson as valuable exam preparation, ensures that revision becomes a time when you simply refresh your memory of knowledge already well-learned. In this article, we look at the things you can do to make the most of your lessons, so that you can make revision stress and cramming a thing of the past.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Study Skills articles."1. Be on time

Image shows a clock.
Missing one or two minutes of a lesson doesn’t sound that important, but the time adds up.

It sounds rather a basic piece of advice, but ensuring that you’re on time to all your lessons is the first step towards establishing a good relationship with your teacher, and therefore making the most of teaching time. Being late shows a lack of respect to your teacher, and of course also means that you may miss out on some of what’s being taught in that lesson – meaning that you have extra work to catch up on by yourself later. Being late for classes on a regular basis will reflect badly in your school report, and may even have a longer-term impact, because your teacher may mention it in your university references. If you’re the one waiting outside the door for the start of class every time, you’ll give the impression of being enthusiastic and eager to learn, which is sure to go down well with all your teachers.

2. Sit at the front

Try to get a seat at the front of the classroom, as near to your teacher as possible. There are a number of reasons for doing this. Firstly, it shows that you’re keen. Secondly, it’s easier to hear what the teacher is saying, and to take notes from the board. Thirdly, you’re in the firing line for being asked questions by the teacher, which, though it may sound scary, is a good thing, because it encourages you to get involved in class discussion (more on this later). And fourthly, the more disruptive pupils tend to get seats towards the back of the classroom, where they’re comparatively hidden and can chat without being so noticeable. You don’t want to be sitting with them, because if you’re trying to make the most of your lessons, you need to be giving 100% of your concentration to the teacher.

3. Take excellent notes in class

Image shows a notebook, written on in beautiful handwriting.
You’ll be grateful for high-quality notes when you come to revise.

The most obvious way to make the most of lessons is to take good notes, so that you have plenty of useful work from which to revise. Write up everything that your teacher writes on the board, particularly if this teacher doesn’t tend to give you much in the way of handouts, and note down any other important points raised even if they’re not written on the board. When you get home, type up your notes while the lesson is still fresh in your mind, using a bullet point for each item so that the information is organised in a way that’s easy to read and revise from. If extra things occur to you that you haven’t already written down, add them in now. When you’ve finished, print out your notes and put them in the section of the file you’ve devoted to this topic and subject. Also save them on your computer in a folder for this topic, within an overarching folder for the subject. This means that you’ll have a clean, clear set of notes ready for you to use when writing an essay or revising, and you’ll know exactly where they are. Add to your notes the points covered in our next suggestion.

4. Summarise points raised in academic debate

One of the benefits of learning in a classroom environment is that it encourages debate, which is a great way of learning because it forces you to think carefully about the issues involved in whichever topic you’re studying. In a group, different people will be able to offer different perspectives, and may see things in a slightly different way to you. They may notice things that you haven’t, or questions may occur to them that hadn’t occurred to you. Pay attention to all this and note down the main points people raise, and the answers to any questions they ask. If there’s a discussion, with people pursuing different arguments, note down each of these too, and the evidence given in support of them, as this material may come in useful when you come to write an essay on this subject. An essay will call for you to present the various facets of the argument, so using some of the arguments raised in class is a good shortcut when you’re planning what to write.

5. Engage in the debate yourself

Image shows a painting of an argument breaking out during a card game.
Learning to exchange views without arguing is a valuable skill.

Speaking up to give your opinion in front of lots of other people can be scary, but it will do you a lot of good. It will be expected of you when you get to university, so you may as well get used to it now; and there will be many occasions throughout life in which you’re called upon to speak in front of lots of people, so it’s a fear worth conquering early if it’s one you’re harbouring. Rather than hiding behind the more vocal students in your class, make the effort to collect your thoughts and give your opinion. You may worry that you’ll sound stupid, but the chances are that you’re thinking along the same lines as others in the group who are too afraid to speak out. What’s more, if you often pipe up with your intelligent contribution to class discussion, your teacher will notice this and may well mention your readiness to contribute when they come to write your university references.

6. File handouts meticulously…

If you’ve been given handouts in class, don’t just pile them up haphazardly on your desk and think that you’ll be able to locate them again when you need them: you almost certainly won’t be able to find them as your desk becomes increasingly cluttered. Handouts should be filed away along with your typed up notes, so that everything on a particular topic can be found together in one place.

7. …But don’t just file them away and forget about them

Image shows a folder of notes.
Don’t forget about the resources you’ve compiled for yourself.

The temptation with handouts is simply to use them in class and then forget about them, but if you want to make the most of this useful resource that your teacher has provided for you, you need to synthesise them so that you digest them properly. Summarise the handout in your own words when you’re typing up your notes from the class, and add any details you remember from the lesson while it’s all still fresh in your mind. If there’s any suggested reading on the handout, make sure you follow it up, and make notes on that, too. And if you’ve scribbled any of your own notes onto your handouts, type them up along with your other notes.

8. If you don’t understand something, ask

There’s no shame in asking your teacher to clarify something you don’t understand, and it’s far better to ask while you’re in class, and the subject is fresh in your mind, than it is to have to battle through books on your own later on, trying to figure out the answer for yourself. If you don’t ask, you may fail to gain a strong enough understanding of what’s covered in the rest of the class, if the rest of the discussion hinges on your understanding of the point in question. So, if the teacher says something you don’t understand, or doesn’t explain something clearly enough, put your hand up and ask; otherwise you’ll forget until the time comes to revise, when you’ll wish you’d just asked at the time.

9. Questions

Image shows a student with their hand raised.
It’s fine to be self-conscious about asking questions in class, but make sure you get the clarifications and answers you need at some point.

If you don’t get the chance to ask for clarification in the classroom, or you’d really rather not ask in front of everyone, keep a note of questions to ask your teachers in each subject and see them afterwards or later in the day. Devote part of a notebook to questions to ask each teacher; if no questions and doubts on a topic are accumulating, this is a sure sign that you haven’t yet started to study in earnest. Thinking about the topic in sufficient depth now will pay off come the spring, when you’ll be revising; and if you haven’t been asking questions throughout the school year, you’ll realise it when you come to revise because you haven’t absorbed the information properly and need to learn it from scratch. There’s no need to worry that your teachers will be annoyed with you for asking too many questions; that’s what they’re there for, and they’ll probably be more glad than anything else, because you’re showing a clear interest in their subject and engaging fully with it.

10. Don’t waste time chatting with friends

Lessons are for learning, not for catching up with friends, so however tempting it is, save the chatting for later. It’s fine to chat about the task you’re working on in class, of course; indeed, talking to others about the topic you’re learning might well aid the learning process. But if there’s anything ‘off-topic’ that you want to discuss with your friends, save it up for lunchtime or after school.

11. Make a note of new words

If you hear your teacher (or even a fellow pupil) use a word you haven’t heard before, make a note of it – ideally including its spelling – and look it up in the dictionary later on. You could even start a notebook for new words and definitions you’ve learnt, as you can grow your vocabulary in this way and use your newly learned words to impress in essays.

12. Make a careful note of homework requirements

Image shows a filofax diary.
Keeping a good record of your homework will help you keep up to date with it.

When you’re given homework at the end of the class, make a careful note of the deadline and exactly what’s expected of you, asking for further clarification if necessary. If you don’t do this, you risk misremembering what you’re meant to be doing, particularly if you don’t start the homework for a while and other things have taken priority in your mind. You don’t want to waste time doing homework that doesn’t stick to the brief you’ve been given, as this will lose you marks. Have your diary in class with you so that you can mark the deadline clearly. Now’s also the time to ask if you have any questions about what’s being asked of you, or about what you need to do to prepare for the homework, such as what reading materials you may need (if you haven’t already been told this).

13. Ask for extra homework

You may think that it’s only insufferable teachers’ pets who ask the teacher for extra homework, but it’s a good thing for those with big academic ambitions to be doing. If you find that the work you’re being set in class isn’t stretching you enough, don’t just rest on your laurels. Ask your teacher for some additional reading, an extra piece of research, or even an extra essay, so that you can start expanding your learning beyond the curriculum in preparation for university. You don’t have to ask in front of everyone else if you’re afraid it will make you look sycophantic; just stay behind a moment to talk to the teacher when everyone else has gone, or find another time to approach them. It may seem a lot of work now, but you’ll be glad you made the extra effort later on, when you’re awarded with top grades and a place at your chosen university.


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Image credits: banner; clock; notebook; argument; file; question; homework diary.