Reflections of a postgraduate student

As part of our Reflections podcast series, Lauren has written a post for us about her revision techniques. Lauren is currently a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester, and so has a fair bit of experience when it comes to exams!

“All sorts of people from different personal and academic backgrounds come to university to further their education and the reality of the matter is that some of you had to work harder than others to get here. As this blog is entitled ‘Reflections’ I am going to do just that.

In secondary school I was one those students who did well without having to try too hard. I didn’t need to put in too much effort to be at the top of the class and walked away with excellent GCSE results with minimal additional effort outside of the classroom … then I went into further education!

Looking back, one of the things that I regret the most is not learning how to revise whilst I was at school. Because I found it easy I became arrogant and even though at the time I may not have needed to revise in order to learn the material, I realise now that learning how to learn is just as, if not more, important than what you learn. That is, I wish I’d learnt the skill of ‘revision’ sooner.

Regardless of what anyone tells you, revision is a skill in itself. Different things work for different people and sometimes it can take a bit of time to learn what works for you. It is better to go through this process early on when the stakes aren’t so high than trying to figure it all out at University when the pressure is really on.

So, as I’ve already mentioned, I didn’t do a lot of revision at secondary school. However, I soon realised at college that paying attention in class alone wasn’t enough. It only really hit me once I received my results after my first set of exams. I knew I hadn’t done as well as either I wanted, I knew I could do and, more importantly, as well as I needed in order to go on to the University of my choice.

Revision is key to doing well. So I’ve made a few notes on the things that I found useful in the hope that you won’t waste as much time as I did trying to find out.

My advice to anyone, regardless of revision style, is to do a revision timetable. Once you’ve done it all you have to do is stick to it. You don’t have the stress of worrying over what needs to be done; you can just get on and know you have it covered. In my opinion they are invaluable. Remember, the earlier you start your revision, the easier you will find your exams!

Revision Timetable Tips

  1. Put the dates of your exams in your timetable and work backwards from there.
  2. Always allocate more time than you think you need … because you will need it.
  3. Don’t be unrealistic. It’s better to plan to spend one hour working and actually work for one hour, than it is to plan to spend 3 – 4 hours working and get so tired and bored you only end up doing 20 minutes!
  4. And most importantly, if you only take on board one thing I’ve written then let this be it:

If you find one topic harder than another then spend more time on it. Revision is about making sure you are prepared. If you need more time on one subject than another that’s ok. Don’t feel obliged to give each subject equal time just for the sake of it. Work on what you need.

Parent, teachers and friends all mean well but in the end you are the only one who knows where you struggle. Spending your time wisely is far more valuable than spending it equally.


As far as how to revise goes I can only tell you what worked for me. I started off like most students do by re-writing out my notes. I’ll be honest; I haven’t found anyone who finds this the best method. Some people use mind maps, some make bullet points, it just depends how you remember things.

My Revision Technique

  1. Read through my notes and make a list of the things I didn’t know.

It seems obvious but it is surprising how many people waste time going over the things that they already know. It comes back to this feeling that we need to give everything ‘equal time’.

Read through the topics I needed to work on, highlighting and making notes on the things I either didn’t understand or struggled to remember. I studied maths, chemistry and physics so I spent a lot of time on practice questions and calculations. I often found that if I understood the process then I was able to derive the solution fairly easily. I made sure I understood the material instead of just learning formulas. It takes longer initially but saves you a lot of time later on.

  1. If there were some things that just didn’t click for whatever reason I would write them on brightly coloured cue cards (often colour coded by subject) and spent 15 – 30 minutes going over them each evening.
  2. Practice papers! I did every practice question I could get my hands on – either from the back of text books, revision guides or from teachers. Then once I’d completed the revision for each subject I did all of the practice papers that were available.

I used them as mock exams. Then once I’d finished I’d go over the papers and quickly revise those topics that I struggled with and made more cue cards if necessary.


I hope you’ve found this useful and I’ll leave you with one last tip …

Exams are easy if you know the answers! (so revise well)”