Study Skills in Mathematics – Revision

Revision is about putting the icing on the cake, not baking the cake itself! It is the final act in a consistent process of learning.

Revision is an important part of your learning process. Start it early. “Cramming” for exams is no substitute for methodical and sustained study throughout your course. Regular revision improves your memory and gives you a better understanding of the subject. You should aim to do such general revision in week 5 and week 8 of each semester. Don’t panic! This is easier said than done … so get help from a tutor on how to plan your revision if need be. Plan your time, take regular breaks and maintain your regular sleep patterns.

Make sure you have at least a week’s proper holiday a month or so before exams – otherwise you might burn out during the exam period. Try to return to university relaxed, fit and ready to give it your best shot over the revision and exam periods.

maths revision

Organise yourself

At least 3 weeks before the exams start, draw up an exam timetable and revision plan and stick to it! As for your general work practices, spread your time evenly between your modules. It’s very hard to get a mark of more than 90% in any module, but if you get 10% in another, that’s only an average of 50% (which is far easier to get for each module). Spreading your time and hence passing all your exams means that you’ll satisfy all your course requirements for module passes and avoid resit exams!

  • Mark in all exams and assignments in RED,
  • block out any time you need for sport, leisure, family commitments etc. in BLACK (try to take a complete day off per week and use it to go somewhere new – don’t hang about the campus!),
  • put any ongoing job commitments in using GREEN,
  • and then divide the rest of the time EQUALLY between your modules and write them in hourly blocks in BLUE.

Now decide what topics to revise as follows:

  • Have a good look at the syllabus for each module. Do not revise material which has not been covered – you will not be examined on it! Which are the key areas? They will almost certainly be asked. Try to think up questions which might be asked, and answer them in outline form.
  • Try to cover all the main areas within each topic in the first two weeks. This may seem overwhelming at first, like a huge mountain to be climbed. If you feel it is, then break the module down into separate topics giving each a traffic light colour: green = ok, amber = could do with a bit more attention, red = danger! Now work on mastering them, starting with the red and amber ones, without worrying about the whole picture; move on to the next topic the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have 6-10 topics under your belt and will be able to pass the exam. You’ll be half way up the mountain now and it will not seem far to the top … go for it!
  • Use the last week for “cherry-picking” to polish up your favourite green topics so that if they come up, you’ll be able to do one or two excellent answers.

Here are two example revision guides.

Remember that revision involves attempting questions, writing out definitions, proofs, drawing diagrams etc. and not just reading your notes over and over again. Think of revision in terms of tasks to be done not time to be served. Set yourself time limits, say 20 minutes per topic. If you have it by then, well and good. If not, write it down and get some help. Overall, do not spend more than two or three hours per day, but give it your full attention then.

Organise your material logically so that you can draw a rough diagram (or spray chart) of what depends on what for each module. Re-organise and summarise your notes so that you end with an outline of each topic laid out on one side of A4 paper – it can be done! Do not use extensive prose but rather use a suitable combination of diagrams, ordered lists with key words, key results, etc. If your notes do not make sense, ask your lecturer. Do not attempt to read new material from books at this stage.

Draw up a KEY FACTS summary of important facts, meanings, terms, definitions, theorems, formulae, techniques and algorithms. Memorise all these unless provided on the formula sheet, perhaps by saying them out loud or writing them down. Nmemonics can be useful e.g. BODMAS, and the universal gas law PV=RT can be remembered by the word “pervert”. You must be able to quote definitions and some formulae (ask your lecturer which). Bear in mind, however, that the exam is to test your understanding far more than your memory, so you may be required to prove results by knowing key steps in a proof and be able to derive the rest in the exam.

students doing revision

What equipment is allowed?

Ask your lecturer what material will be provided in the exam and familiarise yourself with any such formula sheets and tables. Note that you are not normally allowed to take in your own copy – it will be provided. You are not allowed a dictionary, even if English is not your first language, but exceptionally written permission might be given by your Course Director. Take any such letter with you to each exam and show it to the invigilator.

Note that your university’s Degree Regulations may not allow graphical or programmable calculators, and if you take one into an exam, it will be removed from you unless explicitly allowed by the examiner. If in doubt, check with your lecturer well beforehand. You should have a calculator which will do powers, trig and hyperbolic functions (and inverses), have some memory and stats functions and be familiar with it.

If the module is new ask for a mock exam and solutions: otherwise, get hold of some past papers and ask your lecturer if they are still current; beware, the syllabus may have changed and you should not panic if some questions are totally unfamiliar to you. Simply ignore them and concentrate on the questions on material your lecturer has covered. Be clear that you understand the point of each question – what is actually being tested? This means abstracting the essence of the question and understanding why it was set and which skills/techniques it is designed to test. It is a good idea to discuss your ideas and solutions with friends, perhaps during semi-formal study group meetings (which will need a timed agenda to avoid it degenerating into a social event only). Attempt last year’s paper in your room by yourself under timed exam conditions. Finally ask your lecturer for model solutions and study them thoroughly.

If you are entitled to extra time you should take it; it is your RIGHT, and will help your staff from a more accurate assessment of your academic abilities. Local rules for organising this will apply (ask your personal tutor or Course Director). If in doubt obtain a letter from your Course Director, take it to each exam and show it to the invigilator.

About the Study Skills for Mathematics pages

These pages were originally created by Martin Greenhow.

Creative Commons Licence
Study Skills in Mathematics by Martin Greenhow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Study Skills in Mathematics – Introduction

Study Skills in Mathematics – Time Management

Study Skills in Mathematics – Lectures

Study Skills in Mathematics – Reading

Study Skills in Mathematics – Projects and Essays

Study Skills in Mathematics – Using Charts and Graphs

Study Skills in Mathematics – Problem Sheets

Study Skills in Mathematics – Experiments

Study Skills in Mathematics -Presentations

Study Skills in Mathematics – Revision

Study Skills in Mathematics – Exams

Study Skills in Mathematics – Help

Study Skills in Mathematics – Postgraduate Research

Image Credits
20175_students_studying_finals_126 (CC BY-ND 2.0) by University of Minnesota Duluth
study. (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Bill Selak