Exam Countdown

It may sound glaringly obvious but if you haven’t started revising … then there is NO TIME like the present! It is never too late.

S is for Success, S is also for…


It may sound glaringly obvious but if you haven’t started revising … then there is NO TIME like the present! It is never too late. If you don’t know where to start go back to basics. Start with the content of each examinable subject. Ask yourself: What is it I need to know? Your teachers may have already provided you with a form of syllabus. If not, obtain one for each subject. The syllabus will help you frame the content of each subject. What are the units, topics and sub-topics? What is the specific content within the sub-topics that I need to know?

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 10.39.12It may help to map this content. This will give you an overview of the subject and allow you to see where topics fit in and with each other. Syllabus snapshots are available as free downloads on our website: www. amazingbrains.co.uk/syllabus-snapshots

Your next step is to gather together all the class notes, textbooks and materials you need for each subject. If you’re missing something then speak to your teacher about accessing that material. Next, organise your notes into different coloured files. Divide up units and topics using file dividers.

Organising and structuring your notes in this way should help you feel a sense of control.

When preparing your study planner make sure you allow time to cover all content. Check your planner tasks against your syllabus and teacher revision lists.  Then, get cracking – choose your first subject, unit and topic and begin the process of condensing material into bite-sized, memorable notes.

S is for STRIVE

Commit to the process and challenge yourself to be your personal best over the next 8 weeks. A little bit of pressure can be good for performance but too much can spill over and cause stress. Be careful. Set yourself some realistic target grades. These don’t have to be school predicted grades – they can be your own personal targets!! Are you sitting on a ‘C’ for a subject but know that with extra work and focus you could get to a ‘B’? If so set yourself a B grade target for that subject. Be realistic. If you achieved a D grade in one of your mocks three weeks ago, and are just beginning to revise now, then it is unlikely that you will achieve a Grade A. However, you may be able to jump up a grade or maybe even two!

S is for SPACE

By space we mean both physical space – the place you study and psychological space – giving yourself permission to take some downtime.

Physical Space

The ‘place’ you revise is crucial to your ability to concentrate, be relaxed and engaged in the individual sense-making activity that is studying.

That space may involve a desk and chair, a study wall, a bean bag – only you will know what works best. The important thing is that it is a relatively quiet space (particularly if you are engaging in revision of complex concepts) and it has no distractions.

Layout 1

With the best will in the world, it is near impossible to ignore phone notifications that are ‘pinging’ in the background as you work. For a start you are likely to think “I’d better check, in case it is something important, or in case I am missing out on something!!’ If you want to maximise productivity, then remove the phone from the study space. This requires discipline – but it will be worth it!

A common question we are asked by students is – “should I be listening to music when studying?” There is much contradictory research on this topic. Our advice is this. If you tend to listen to music then test whether or not it is of actual benefit to you as an individual. Try studying with and without the music and, then at a later stage of your revision session, test yourself by recalling what you have learnt. Be honest about the results!

Last thing – if you enjoy studying in your bedroom (and you are being productive) then by all means continue to do so. However, think also about other options for a study space – another room in the house, the local library or school (many schools offer after school study). Your bedroom can then become your sanctuary – somewhere for headspace.

Psychological Space


Speaking of headspace – give yourself permission to breathe and relax. Your body and mind will reward you for it in the long term: provided of course that you aren’t spending 90% of your time relaxing and 10% studying!! Maintaining a balance of work, rest, sleep and exercise is crucial to exam success.


Stick to the evidence in terms of study strategies.

·      Space out your revision and work in small manageable chunks (30-45 mins at a time).

·      Test yourself as you go and revisit material on 4 or 5 occasions (time permitting).

·      Try to retrieve from memory (on a blank sheet) the material you have been revising.

·      Generate questions from your revision notes and ask a family member to question you.

·      Teach friends or peers what you are learning.

·      Interleave topics – mix them up for more effortful learning.

·      Dual code your revision notes by using words and graphics.

Remember re-reading is only effective if it is used in conjunction with retrieval practice. Re-reading can give us a false sense of security. We recognise the information and so think we know it. This is fine if you are sitting a series of multiple choice tests! However, the acid test of whether or not we really know something is being able to recall it from memory without the aid of notes or textbooks.

S is for SUPPORT

Exam time can be stressful for some students so it’s really important to try to keep a sense of perspective. You can only do your best and no one expects more than that. You may feel lonely at times but remember you are never alone. There are teachers, friends and family members there to support you. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns.

Parent with Male Student

Whatever happens on results day – it’s not the end of the world, it is just one moment in time, one part of your education journey! GOOD LUCK!


Roisin McFeely is Founder and Director of Amazing Brains, a Social Enterprise that works with 50,000 young people every year to help them develop the mindset and study skills to succeed in exams. She holds an M.Ed with Distinction from QUB and her research on Examining Students’ Views Of Intelligence And The Link To Motivation To Learn was shortlisted for a British Educational Research Association award. She is also a former international athlete.








Study Strategy: Deliberate Practice

Practice doesn’t always make perfect despite the popularity of this saying. However, deliberate practice (a term coined by Anders Ericsson) does lead to improvement and, ultimately, success.  According to Ericsson that means practicing activities that lead to maximizing improvement through development towards expert performance. This sounds complex and a little highbrow. Put more simply, it means the identification of strategies that work and practicing these in an efficient and effective way.

If you have read our first two blogs on mindset and neuroplasticity then you will appreciate the importance of understanding the amazing capacity of the human brain. More importantly, you will know that any innate talents (perceived or otherwise) are simply the starting point – not only can we learn new things, but we can become smarter. In fact, with the right guidance, support and coaching (or teaching), we can achieve more than is often thought possible.

Application to School

Does your child work really hard, put the effort in and yet doesn’t seem to ‘get anywhere’? Is s/he re-reading notes, highlighting information, spending hours studying and not making progress? If this is your child, s/he should be congratulated firstly, for having the motivation and determination to study. But, secondly, it is worth exploring with them why the hard work isn’t paying off. With study in particular there isn’t always a correlation between the quantity (number of hours) devoted to it and the quality of the end result. Deliberate practice plays a central role in a quality outcome.

Applied to schooling, deliberate practice involves the act of studying in a very strategic way, using evidence of what works. It is well-defined, specific, goal-directed and consists of repeated stretch and challenge. On this journey, progress is the goal. Deliberate practice therefore involves critical learning opportunities, especially in times of ‘failure’ or under-performance. In our culture, failure is typically associated with negative feelings, including shame and embarrassment. Elsewhere, in East Asia for instance, failure is embraced as a positive opportunity to learn.

What might deliberate practice actually look like for your child’s study patterns?

  1. It will involve a maximum 45-minute study session at any one time, followed by a 10-minute break and 5-minute review.
  2. It will involve interleaving, that is, changing the order in which topics are studied to guarantee more effortful learning. Homework practices would also benefit from this mixed ordering.
  3. It will involve the organization of study sessions that guide your child to recall knowledge and demonstrate his/her understanding, without the aid of study/text/notes.
  4. It will involve a spaced revision schedule, that is, the revision of new material on up to four occasions in order to create and strengthen new neural pathways, and then commit this to longer-term memory.

As a parent, you can be directly involved in these deliberate practices. Quiz your child about what they are learning. Quizzes can be fun! Challenge them to answer a past paper question. Encourage them to take a blank sheet of paper and to retrieve from memory, without the aid of study notes, something they have learned in class or have revised that day.

Studying should always involve specific goals rather than working towards a broad and general outcome. Not only will smaller more manageable chunks help with setting goals but this also helps your child to move from basic to more sophisticated goals.

Tune in to future blogs to hear more about our Ultimate Study System (built on evidence of what works, including deliberate practice), about the differences between recognition and recall, and how to design study sessions to maximize your child’s learning. Until next time …

Roisin McFeely is Founder and Director of Amazing Brains, a Social Enterprise that works with 50,000 young people every year to help them develop the mindset and study skills to succeed in exams. She holds an M.Ed with Distinction from QUB and her research on Examining Students’ Views Of Intelligence And The Link To Motivation To Learn was shortlisted for a British Educational Research Association award. She is also a former international athlete.