How to revise for exams effectively (retain information for longer!)

How to retain information for a long time after studying? In this post we will go through the best study methods and techniques to revise for exams effectively.

It is hard to cope with the university workload, sometimes there are simply too many arguments to go over. Depending on your degree, these can also be quite different from each other, which makes it even harder.

Inevitably, revising for exams becomes a real challenge, particularly during the examination period when you might have multiple exams in a short time (a week, sometimes within the same day!).

It comes with no surprise that many students struggle with this specific aspect of their university journey. The main problem seems to be retaining information for a longer time.

Therefore, in this post we will also go through how to memorise your studies, which is key to perform well and get the grades you deserve for your hard work!

How to revise for exams effectively

In order to make a comprehensive guide on how revise for exams effectively, we will divide it in three main paragraphs as follows:

  1. The exam revision plan.
  2. Retain information for longer when studying/revising for exams.
  3. Memory consolidation.

Each of those parts will have sub-paragraphs and lots of details! Although what we are going to go through might sound a lot of work, in reality it will save you a lot of time due to the efficiency factor.

Study smarter and not harder! Let’s now go through how to revise for an exam effectively, starting from the very first step.

1. (How to) Make a good exam revision plan

The very first step is to make a good revision plan, that’s key to prepare for an exam efficiently. This is important for two main reasons: academic but also psychological!

In the first instance is quite clear why, getting into the habits of breaking things down and planning ahead is very beneficial for your studies.

This will allow you to develop skills such as time management and problem solving, which are also essentials for your graduate job hunt and life after university.

Psychologically, you might not even notice the benefits of having plan to revise for exams. This is because, subconsciously, you will feel more sure about it, about yourself!

Why is this important? A solid exam revision plan will help you deal with exam anxiety, which is one of the main causes of underperforming during exams.

But how do you make an efficient plan? There are two variables you are in control of: study material and time. It is on those factors that you can shape your exam revision plan.

Study material:

A big mistake students make when revising for exams is to start doing it without a clear idea of the relevant study material to cover.

So, they end up trying to cover and memorise the entire module, which is unproductive and unhealthy. Can your brain sustain that? Yes. Do you need to do that? Most likely no.

All you are doing is overloading your mind with lots of information (also unnecessary bits); and although it might give you an immediate sense of knowledge, you are essentially creating confusion and increasing the chances of going blank in your exams!

So, the very first step is to stop and think, what do I actually need to revise for this exam? Ideally, your lecturer/professor should outline what it’s subject to examination and what’s not.

Others prefer to be more “vague” and only give hints during lectures. Nevertheless, if you are not too sure about what’s relevant for the exam, ASK.

Whether you ask your lecturer, or your classmates, you need to make a list (important as we’ll see later) of topics to revise.


It is here that your plan starts to take a proper shape. Now that you have a list, you need to rearrange it in a way that suits your study style. This will make the your exam revision less daunting!

How to do that? Although this depends on your preferred study method, there are 3 main approaches you can try:

  1. Chronological: you reorder the exam revision list from the most recent topic explained in class (usually the freshest in your mind), to the oldest; or vice-versa.
  2. Knowledge: you rearrange the list according to what topic you know already the most, to what you know the least; or vice-versa.
  3. Difficulty: lastly, you rearrange the list according from the most difficult topic to the easiest; or vice-versa.

Now that you selected the study material to revise for your exam, and rearranged it a way that makes it easier for you, the next step is to assign each topic to a timeframe/date.

You can do it by specific day e.g., on this day (or at this time of that day) I will cover this topic(s); or by milestone e.g., by this date I will have these n. topics covered.


Whichever way from the above you prefer, there are some important things to mention here. Firstly, your topic-to-date allocation needs to be realistic.

Obviously, it is very likely that you will readjust your plan along the way, the purpose of making one in the first place is to have a benchmark to check progress against.

However, it needs to be doable e.g., avoid allocating too many topics at the same time or day, be realistic. After a certain threshold, you won’t be able to be productive anymore, study smarter not harder!

Moreover, make sure you leave some time for your final revision! e.g., you don’t want your last revision topic to be right before the exam.

Aim at finishing your topic(s)-to-date revision at least one to two days “cushion time” before the exam. You will need those for your final exam revision.

2. How to retain information for longer after revising an exam

Now that you have a solid exam revision plan in terms of study material and time management, we can go through the next step: an effective exam revision.

The main problem we want to tackle here, is how to retain information for longer after studying or revising for an exam (or multiple ones).

Rather than specific study methods, which can be quite subjective, here we want to create an efficient revision process.

There are two essential parts of this process: learning and memorising. We will now go through each part:

How to properly learn your exam revision material

Firstly, you need to make sure you properly understand what you are studying, otherwise you will never effectively learn it.

There is a variety of methods to revise a lecture or a reading. We recommend an “old school” one, highlighting (either manually or digitally) key concepts.

After doing that, you should then create your own script/summary of that lecture(s)/reading(s). Ideally, you would rewrite the main concepts in your own words!

Why is that important? Because when you are forced to paraphrase a concept, you are unconsciously forcing your brain to understand it in order to elaborate an alternative way of putting it into words.

Moreover, you are essential going through the same concept(s) twice, but with different explanations and standpoints.

This, as well as allowing you to properly understand the study material you are revising, will also help you memorise it for longer as you will be able to dig into your memory in two separate ways.

How to retain information for longer after revising for exams

Now we are in the second part of the exam revision process. The aim of this is to remember your studies for longer so that your mind won’t go blank during the exam.

Although learning your study material properly, as discussed above, will already help you remember things for longer, there is something else you could do afterwards: use visual learning techniques!

Whether you like visual learning or not, one thing is for sure: it enables visual memory, which is great to retain information for longer in your mind after studying!

Drawing a flowchart/mind map is one of the best visual learning techniques for exam revision. Again, you can do this manually or digitally, your preference.

The very first thing to acknowledge here, is that you will have done most of the exam revision in the previous step already (summary/script).

Therefore, the aim here is not to transfer your entire script into a flowchart! What you want to do instead is to create a visual snapshot of your exam revision.

What is really important is the structure and content. Let’s now go through some tips on creating yours.

How to create a flowchart/mind map to revise for exams, content and tips

Drawing one for every argument of your revision list is not needed; you will most likely have too many with little content on them.

So, firstly, group together those lectures/readings that treat the same or similar topics. Use your scripts/summaries for this!

Then, you want to give your flowchart or mind map the title of the lecture(s) or main topic(s) of those. How to choose between the two depends on the structure of your script.

If it flows like an essay, you can make a top to bottom flowchart. If it has a main topic and then different arguments around it, a mind map would suit best (title in the middle and content around it).

In any case, for your boxes you want to put a “keyword” that refers to argument contained in them (best to put it in capital letters); and only one or two sentences in the per box!

Remember that your main exam revision comes from your scripts, the flowchart/mind map has another purpose. It’s like taking a picture and storing in your mind, too many words will make it difficult to read!

Be super picky! You really want to keep them as concise as possible, remember you need them to have a visual impact, you already have your scripts/summaries.

How does visual learning help you retain information for longer after studying?

The concept is fairly simple. Let’s say you have studied hard for you exam but you are struggling to remember something.

By the way, this could happen regardless of exam anxiety or how well you have prepared for it. However, as well as your usual revision, you have also drawn a flowchart or mind map.

(It is important that you do it yourself from scratch, doesn’t matter if digitally using a software or on paper. As we said earlier, while you are doing this you are memorising it and storing an image in your mind.)

Anyway, if you are struggling to remember something in an exam, you can tap into your visual memory! The image of your flowchart/mind map is there somewhere.. what does it have?

It has a main title (the lecture you are looking for), and also a keyword for each box for specific arguments, followed by a couple of sentences.

Where do those sentences come from? Your scripts/summaries! They will lead you there, that’s the power of visual learning to retain information for longer after revising for an exam.

3. Consolidate your exam revision through gamification

Now we are for the last step of our guide on how to revise for exams efficiently. The biggest job was done in part 1 and 2 already; you have your scripts to study from, and visual stuff to look at as well.

Now remember the “cushion time” mentioned earlier between your actual exam and the end of your revision? This is the moment to test your exam knowledge and see if you are actually ready for it.

How do you do that effectively? Gamification methods are great for that! Again, there are two main methods we recommend to revise for exams effectively and consolidate your knowledge.

The examiner, make your own mock exam!

Examiner: this is great if you have access to past exam papers. More than the exact questions (which is unlikely they’ll be the same), here you want to look for two things really.

  • Firstly, the arguments themselves, even if they are going to change for the exam, from which parts of your study material do these topics come from? Is there something else important in those part that can be subject to examination and wasn’t used previously?
  • Secondly, you want to look for the actual structure of those questions. What are they asking? Usually, the verb used can tell you a lot (e.g., analyse, reflect, discuss etc.).

What you are doing here is essentially making your own mock exam. Are you able to complete it? Think about it, if so, you know what was asked for past exams and what potentially might come up in the next one.

This is a great method you can use to revise for exams when you have access to past papers, make a smart use of them!

Role play, interrogate yourself!

The other method is a bit of a lecturer role play, you got to think like one. What would you like to hear from your students?

Ask yourself a variety of questions form your revision material, easy and difficult ones! However, don’t only do this only right after studying or revising, but also randomly!

It is in random situations that you can recreate an exam environment. Why? Because you might be caught off guard!

For example, are you cooking your dinner or taking a shower? Interrogate yourself with few questions from your scripts, or simply try to remember what’s written in them.

Can you do that? Good, but if you are unable to answer your questions, or you don’t remember some content of your revision, as soon as you can go back to your scripts!

Repeat your exam revision out loud to improve study memory!

Another tip to revise for exams efficiently, (although it might make you sound a bit insane) is to repeat your revision out loud.

You actually need to imagine the whole conversation, not just questions. Make it flow, think like you are preparing a presentation or a lecture to teach other students!

The simpler you are able to explain things the better. This is a great way to really understand what you studied; and once you understand it, you won’t forget it that easily!

Moreover, it will also improve your study memory, which, along with the visual learning techniques discussed above, will help you remember things for much longer!

Getting those extra marks on your exam..

When doing your exam revision, try to use technical words in your answers/discussions; getting used to them will come handy during assignments and exams.

Be critical, if you answer quickly it might not mean you know the argument enough! A follow up question to always ask yourself is: how can I expand on this?

Try to find something that relates and add it to your answer; e.g. any concepts from other lectures, themes you spot, additional readings, own research etc.

Remember that lecturers love when you link different arguments together. Right or wrong it doesn’t matter as long as you can back it up with evidence and show the logic behind it!

That’s key to show your critical thinking and analytical skills in your exams, and getting those extra higher marks!

Conclusions, how to revise for an exam effectively

In this post we went through the main aspects to revise for exams efficiently. Sometimes studying hard is not enough, and it can be, paradoxically, counterproductive.

It is not uncommon, even for students who thought they had prepared well, to underperform in their exams. This might also lead to unpleasant feelings such as depression and poor mental health.

Summing everything up, our advice is to:

  1. Make a detail and realistic exam revision plan, and try to stick to it. This will help you also deal with exam anxiety.
  2. Try some visual learning methods and techniques to revise for exams. Those will allow you to retain information for longer and tap into your visual memory when needed!
  3. Consolidate your exam revision through gamification study methods. Memory consolidation is a great way to better understand study material and get ready for exams!

If you are looking for some guides to improve your academic writing as well, you might find this list useful: best books to improve academic writing.

Thank you very much for reading and supporting this independent blog, best of luck on your exams!

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#tags; best exam revision tips; how to memorise your studies; how to improve study memory; how to perform well in exams.