27 MAY 2015
Let’s start with YOU. To revise well, you need to be feeling alert and have a little equipment to hand: a mechanical or electronic way of making notes and highlighting, some refreshments and a really comfortable place to sit and write. Most of the time you need to be on your own, so you should try to restrict any communications with friends such as texts, calls and emails. Make a special ‘catching up’ time with them later so you can share your thoughts and feelings, and stick to it. When I was revising I used to get up really early in the morning, drink lots of coffee and I used to write revision notes on little cards using a pencil. You may be at your best at night when everyone else has gone to bed, drinking lots of sparkling water, and you may want to use the note making apps on your tablet. You are the person who knows yourself best, so you must exploit this when you are working out when you’re at your peak time for revising. Make a revision timetable. Try not to miss a day of your schedule thinking you can do twice as much the next day - little and often is best. Some research has shown that it’s useful to look briefly over the previous day’s revision before you start the new section. You will remember it better.
Literature exams are all about the set texts you’ve studied. You know you need to know them well. Here are some ideas for testing your knowledge as you revise.
-Don’t always start reading at the beginning every time you pick up the book for revision.
-Read a chapter or a scene then test yourself by seeing if you can write on your note card or app a synopsis of the scene in question.
-Pick a chapter or scene at random and say what comes before and what comes after.
If you can’t do these easily, you need to re-read that section.
-Read a poem several times, highlight useful brief quotations which illustrate aspects of the language (such as figures of speech or tone), then turn the book over and try writing 4 or 5 of these from memory. Keep your note cards or apps and try again at a later date.
-Make diagrams of connections between characters at different points of the narrative or drama. See if you can add a useful quotation at points in your diagram.
-For each character, have a small stock of quotations to illustrate character traits and learn them. Get a friend to test you. I always used to write down the names of the main characters on my rough paper when I got into the exam, not because I was going to write a character-based essay, but because their names would remind me of significant themes, language and action. This could work for you.
-Using your class notes and essays, make a list of the main themes of your texts. Test yourself, seeing how many you can remember. Write a useful quotation which illustrates each one and learn it.
-Look at past questions and give yourself 5 minutes to jot down a complete essay plan for the title, with introduction, 5 main points for the main body and a conclusion. As you get nearer the exam, include a few apt quotations for each main body paragraph.
-Learn your checklists for language analysis: if you are doing a passage question, have you discussed narrative position, situation, language features such as figures of speech, symbolism, tone, atmosphere, versification if it’s a poem; characterisation if it’s a novel or play? Some of these will be highlighted in the question, but you need to know them off by heart so you don’t miss anything helpful. When you get into the exam, write them down on your rough paper.
-Read through your course essays and note where you gained the best marks. Keep in mind that you won’t get exactly this question again, but you could have something like it. If your teacher has commented on your essay that you need more quotations, then you know this is an area of weakness: you’ve got to work on learning these. If your teacher has said you haven’t got a clear plan, put your efforts into the essay plans.
Some people think revision is just staring at the text, but this can become boring; all these written activities make it more interesting for you as well as helping you to remember the issues. You mustn’t find it boring and switch off, or you won’t stick to your plan.
On the day, look carefully at what the question asks for and do your best. You will be well prepared.
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