It’s getting ever closer to that time of year again when the revision and cramming commences for GCSE and A Level Maths exams. It’s usually around April time that people start running around like headless chickens because they’ve suddenly realised just how much they need to do to prepare for their GCSE or A Level maths exams….in a month.

But why exactly is revision so stressful? Well, I think first of all it’s because what many people are doing is not revision; I’ve just looked up the word revise in the dictionary, just to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken on it’s meaning, and as a transitive verb, revise means to examine and correct; to make anew, improved version of; to study anew; to look at again. So, revision is, I guess, looking over something that has already been learned at some point to make sure that it is still well understood or to see if there are any corrections or additions to be made. However – when it comes to ‘revision’ for exams, I’ve found that many people are, essentially, learning for the first time. So instead of taking a whole year to learn something gradually, little by little, and then revise that knowledge in the last few weeks before the exam a lot of people fall in to the trap of not bothering to do the learning little by little over a period of time but leave everything until the last few weeks and cramming as much as they can into their heads in a short period of time. This is not revision – this is learning something for the first time. Revision and cramming are not the same and it is the latter that causes the stress.

Revision, if done properly, doesn’t need to be excessively stressful. There will always be a certain amount of stress around exam periods but this stress can be minimised by using your time earlier in the year more wisely. Once you’ve learned something then your revision of what you have learned needs to begin straight away, even if that something that you learn is in September and your exam isn’t until June the next year. During my A Level studies I didn’t cram for a single one of my exams whether maths or otherwise; on the other hand I revised constantly throughout the year. This meant that when it was getting close to exam time my revision was relatively straightforward and stress-free compared to the rough time that some of my less organised peers were having; by starting my revision early in the academic year all of the topics had had time to be absorbed and understood – something that cramming can never achieve. This also meant that I was able to go into exams knowing that I would do well; a very nice feeling to have. The end result was that I did do very well in my A Level exams not because I had any extraordinary talents or was intellectually gifted but because I was disciplined about my learning and revision. (In a way it could be said that I was cramming all year, particularly for my maths exams, because I was keen to learn as much as I could about the subject that I was reading off-syllabus about all sorts of things. I encourage you to do the same…it really helps.)

So revision and cramming are not synonymous. Know the difference between the two. Cramming piles on the pressure and doesn’t give you enough chance to take in all of the knowledge or to look at things from several different angles and see the many different ways in which things might be applied. Revision is much more easy going once you get into a routine – but you have to be disciplined and start your revision early in the year. I’m writing this in early January 2017 which means that most GCSE and A Level maths exams will be in four or five months – if you haven’t started your revision yet then I strongly suggest that you start NOW!


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