Brain Friendly revision

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If you’ve known UFA for a while you may remember the first publication that UFA put out called “Brain Friendly Revision”?

It consists of a series of workshops to help young people prepare for revising and exams in that brain friendly way – one that is active, considers different preferences for taking in information, multiple ways of thinking about things, memory techniques and the like. You can still get it on Amazon as well!

Many young people, teachers, schools and colleges used the materials and local UFA hubs around the country developed their own resources inspired by the book and the workshops.

I was working for the Birmingham UFA at the time and with my colleague Louise Darby we collected and developed a huge range of revision strategies to inspire and motivate even the most apathetic of students. We shared these with hundreds of students who were able to select strategies that worked for them that were a bit different to just “reading through my notes”. We encouraged them to try a fairly safe technique alongside something a bit out of the ordinary.

So here are 20 tried and tested revision strategies….. not all of them will work for everyone, nor for every subject, but there will be something in there!

  1. Questions

Ask questions before you start to revise anything. Think about a topic to be studied and take some time to think about the questions you would like to have answered. Write them down and as you read through your notes jot down any answers you find. The brain likes looking for answers.

  1. Ask the expert

Share the topics out between a few people in your group and become an expert in a particular area. Be prepared to answer questions from the group at a later date.

  1. Aliens

Imagine at the end of revising a particular topic that you will have to explain to someone else – an alien (or it could be a younger brother/sister or someone in a lower group). Think how you would phrase your notes to help them and help you to explain. Write it out – try it out!

  1. Reduction

Set yourself a challenge of reducing the amount of notes you have by half – you need to decide. You can set the number and challenge yourself to beat personal scored. So you could reduce 3 pages of notes down to 1 or 200 words to 70 etc. You must be careful to keep the overall meaning of the topic.

  1. Walking


Make your notes into small notecards that fit in your pocket and go for a walk. If you enjoy being outside take them with you….

Go to your favourite place and enjoy the fresh air. You can read as you go along then put them away and try to recall them out loud, or picture them in your head or think through ideas.

  1. Colour coding

Use different coloured paper for revision notes on different topics. The colour will be associated with the topic and will be easier for some people to recall. You will need to decide on the colours you will use and try not to use similar colours for similar topics so you avoid any confusion.

  1. Favourite places

Put up any revision notes/post-its around the house especially in your favourite places like the fridge, top of the telly etc. Use these places and stop there to consider the notes.

  1. The best answer

When you are given revision/exam questions to practice try to write 3 alternative answers…..

  • The worst answer
  • Average answer
  • Best answer

You could imagine yourself to be the best person in the class or the teacher in order to write the best answer. Think about what makes it the worst answer and what makes it only average.

  1. Recording

Make a recording to revise from. It could be you reading out the notes as they appear in your exercise book. Alternatively you could read your notes, stop at various points and recall what you’ve just covered – key words, ideas, phrases, quotes etc.

  1. Visuals

Make good use of drawing and diagrams in your revision. Use different colours in the pictures. Replace key ideas etc. with pictures.

You could try mind mapping with pictures only to make your brain work harder!

  1. Notecards

Use small notecards to record your revision notes. There should be one topic only on a card. There could be key words/ideas/symbols/pictures on it – depends on you. The hard part will be reducing the noted from a number of pages onto a small card. The reverse of the card could have a worked example on it.


  1. Texting & Tweeting

Try to summarise a topic in only 160 spaces! Or tweet it in only 140 characters. This will make you prioritise and abbreviate and really make you think what important! How about texting or tweeting to your friends who are doing the same exams as you?

  1. Study Buddy


Pick someone you know/don’t know and arrange to work together to do some revision.  You could meet somewhere different and try a variety of different ways of revising from silent reading and then discussion to asking each other questions. Compare different techniques and support each other.

  1. Music

Listen to certain music as you revise. Chill out, baroque or even classical is best. Try to use something without words as your brain will tune into the lyrics rather than your revision! You could try listening to certain music when you revise a certain topic so that they become linked in your mind.

  1. Posters

Make a poster on each topic – you pick the size you want. (A4 to A1). After reading all your notes and information and drawing on what you already know try to condense it all into one poster. Use plenty of images and symbols and try to limit the amount of text you use.

  1. Timelines

Timelines can be helpful – especially for History. They are invaluable for making sense of a series of events, because you can trace improvements, factors etc. Pin them up in your room or on the loo wall!

For English Literature you could pick a key character and do a series of cards with evidence of their characters action or a useful quotation. Put these chronologically so you can trace development.

You could draw a timeline for each book or play that you’re studying and superimpose a tension graph where lines rise for more dramatic events.

  1. Mind Maps

Take a topic and mind map it onto one page. Make sure you follow the basic rules:

  • Plain paper
  • Landscape
  • Central image
  • Branches going out
  • Key words only
  • Write on the lines
  • Symbols & pictures
  1. Concept mapping

Go through a topic and pick out the key words/ideas/symbols/pictures and write them on different pieces of paper or post-its. Start to group words together that have a connection. Arrange them, on a large sheet of paper and stick them on with blu-tack so that you can move them around. Add arrows between words and add phrases along them to show how they connect.

  1. Past Exam Questions

Make sure you know what rules, definitions and equations you might be expected to know.

Have a look at what the examiners are after.

Do lots of past papers under timed conditions – this works particularly well for History, English Literature and other subjects where you have to write extended answers.

  1. Top Ten

What are the top 10 points of a particular topic? Go through a topic and decide on the 10 key people/ideas/events/pieces of information for the topic. You could also compare your list to other people.

In all the work I have done in schools helping young people prepare for exams I think the key messages for revision are:

  • Know what you need to revise in the first place
  • Concentrate on revising the things you are least confident in
  • Chunk your learning
  • Make a realistic plan
  • Finds ways that are motivating to you – make it personal – no-one needs to know how you do it!
  • Turn off all technology – message alerts are really distracting
  • Reward yourself for doing a good job – a short break, biscuit, one TV programme, 10 minutes on social media etc.
  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Get parents and siblings involved – either by testing you or providing you with refreshments and peace and quiet

And finally…. Here’s a mnemonic to help remember the best ways to revise.








Not too long


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