There’s nothing worse than looking at the first question in an exam and realising you have no clue what the answer could be after spending months revising.
When faced with a daunting mountain of material to learn by heart, it can be hard to remember the right facts and put them in the right order – GCSEs and A-levels aren’t simple memory tests after all.

The trick, even during a timed essay, is to be able to recall the relevant facts, rather than simply splurging everything you know, with little or no prompting. That calls for a broader understanding than endless individual, rote-learnt facts.

But how do you get to the stage where you’re able to sift through the endless pile of facts and pull out the gems? We sat down with “memory champion” Ed Cooke to find out the secrets to supercharging your revision sessions.


1. Start early, but learn in short bursts

Forget leaving revision to the last minute – wherever possible, test yourself on a subject over several weeks and leave lengthy intervals between each session. The last thing you should do is start cramming.


2. Relate what you’re learning to things you already know

Memories are about connections with other things in your mind – you can’t just put a memory into nowhere. It has to connect with your other memories, and that’s a very personal thing. This is why it’s much easier to remember a funny anecdote about a friend than the sequence of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even so, it is always possible to come up with a rhyme, pun or acronym to remember even the most foreign piece of information.


3. Write down everything you know about your subject

That way, rather than testing yourself on individual pieces of information, you’ll test yourself on the whole, and it forms in your mind as a narrative. When you compare what you have with your notes, you’ll also notice the gaps.


4. Do practice essays and exams

Even though it’s boring, doing test essays and exams – or even essay plans – can help build stable narratives as they help you build facts and recall the relevant ones. When you go through facts in your mind only, it’s possible to delude yourself substantially.