New episode: Resolving conflicts at home in a way that can deepen your connection with your teen.
May 4, 2023

Revision - getting to why.

Revision - getting to why.

The why:

I still think of the time I finally found my 'why'.

It was the second year of my A' levels and I had been feeling lost and purposeless, which showed in my grades. 

At a weekend residential camp studying Hamlet I met a boy who was like nobody I had ever known. He was kind, incredibly wise, and the reader of an impressive range of literature. We held hands, kissed in the moonlight, and talked endlessly. Over the course of that weekend I realised I had found someone like me, or at least the person I wanted to be.

Call it want you want; role model or crush, the label is unimportant. He sent me home with a spring in my step and a list of great books to read, which acted for me like a yellow brick road out of my difficult life.

As a parent, one of the best things we can do is to help our teens search for their why; rather than to impose it. It can be anything from getting a dream job, going to university, impressing someone, beating someone, discovering yourself... there's no real limit to what can motivate them, but this bit's crucial.

Once they know their why you can use it to keep nudging them when they find it tough, but always make it clear that there's a plan B if they don't meet their hoped-for grades and that your love for them is not based on their academic success. 

Revision vs learning: I've found it really important to make a distinction between learning and revision. To do this I've told my kids not to leave a class without understanding what they've been taught, because at some point they'll need to know it and trying to learn when they're supposed to be revising will be MUCH harder. It sounds really simple, but I'm pretty sure it didn't occur to me when I was at school and, if it had, I would have been a far better student. 

Beat the cheat: In her book Jade Bowler points out that if we really cared about self-improvement we would compare our kids with their previous best, not with each other. One of my daughters told me that lots of the kids in her school had been trying to cheat in practise tests. She then told me how incredibly grateful she is to me for not putting pressure on her over her grades because it means tests are a true reflection of what she doesn't know YET (growth mindset). The point is that the drive to cheat comes from the need to please someone else. If self-improvement is the goal then cheating becomes pointless. 

Start with the hard stuff: I watched one brilliant science teacher talking on YouTube about effective revision. He said most people start at the beginning of the syllabus and try to work from there, but he insists we should start with the bits we find hardest because tackling them first stops us kicking the can down the road and actually creates confidence. 

Viewpoint: My daughter was sitting next to me sighing over some revision she was trying to do for a test. I asked her the problem and she said it was incredibly boring. I peered at her screen and, to be honest, it did look boring. It was lots of facts about the Vietnam War. Instead, I got her to think of it as a chess game between two sides; one had lots of cash/troops, and air power. The other had none of these so they had to get smart. They used the jungle to hide and set traps, gave all villagers weapons so the military didn't know who the enemy was, and used what they knew about dislike in the US for the war to their advantage. Once she saw it that way it instantly became interesting.

  • Sometimes they just need to see their subject from a different angle, but sometimes they just need to get sick of their own crap and feel the fear of not reaching their goal. 

The key things that make a difference SAAD

  • SPACING It’s proven that spacing repetition can maximise remembering.
  • ACTIVE Retrieving what you actually know then comparing it with what you should know is much more effective than simply reading over the information.
  • ASSOCIATIONS Connect difficult facts with things you already know.
  • DESIRABLY DIFFICULT Revision is most effective when it's not too easy to bore you or so difficult that you can't concentrate.

Here's an example of effective spacing: Quizlet actually offers this in its flashcards

  • 1st repetition: 1 day after the initial learning session.
  • 2nd repetition: 7 days after the initial learning session.
  • 3rd repetition: 16 days after the initial learning session.

Help them understand, and plan, for their study style:

  • Some are better with short breaks at regular intervals, others need longer breaks after longer periods.
  • Plan stress-buster activities.
  • Make sure those activities aren’t overstimulating because it can make it hard to go back to work.
  • When using gadgets during breaks make sure they don’t go over their break time.


  • Cup of something warm
  • Music
  • Fruit salad
  • Dance to favourite song.
  • Stretch muscles for five/ten minutes
  • Step outside (nature doesn’t care about your exams)
  • Breathe
  • Laugh out loud.


  • Game like basketball, tennis, football.
  • Practice their favourite activity
  • Take them to get an ice-cream or coffee.
  • Fun read like a comic.
  • Power nap.
  • Fresh air, dog walk.
  • Plant seeds.
  • Bake a cake.
  • Board game/cards.

Well, that's my penny's worth on this subject. It's less of a blog than a blurt of ideas about revision and study. Hopefully it will help you to focus on the essentials, and what really matters but I'd love any tips you've found really helpful so that I can add them here. 


The Only Study Guide You'll Ever Need by Jade Bowler