Avoid these ineffective revision techniques and mistakes

There are plenty of smart and effective ways to revise for your exams, and this website shines a light on many of those.

There are also many ineffective ways to revise, and unfortunately these seem to be the “go to” default techniques for a lot of students.

This page highlights the most ineffective revision techniques that you should think about avoiding or using less frequently.

Now, before you read through the list, it’s important to view the information within the following context:

  • These revision techniques are not completely worthless, however they are significantly less effective than the other revision techniques outlined on this website
  • These techniques may have a place within a broader revision strategy, however you should not be solely relying on them
  • Any revision is better than none

Reading notes over and over

Re-reading your notes over and over again is a very ineffective revision strategy.

It is a very passive activity that doesn’t challenge your understanding or memory recall of a topic.

As we’ve learned from other pages within this website, we need to work smarter than this to create lasting long term memories.

So, you need to avoid just reading your notes if you intend to learn them.

Instead of simply re-reading, maybe use your notes to:

  • Create your own questions and answers
  • Help you answer past paper questions
  • Be a point of discussion for group revision
  • Prepare other revision techniques

Writing notes over and over

Just as constantly re-reading your notes adds little value to your revision, the same is true of re-writing your notes over and over again.

Writing something out, over and over again, requires no understanding of the topic.  It does not challenge your understanding, or test how well you can remember the information.

You may feel like you have achieved something, probably because of the tangible outcome, but in reality you probably haven’t achieved that much.

Your time could have been better spent on a more active type of revision (as outlined on other pages of this website).

Highlighting and underlining

Your notes may look cool and pretty after you have highlighted some key terms in your favourite colours.

But why exactly have you spent time doing that?  What happens next?

It’s fine to highlight key terms as the preparation work for a more effective revision technique (e.g. mind map, flash cards, memory journey, mnemonics).

But if not, you are probably wasting your time (procrastination).

Not checking for understanding

Part of your revision process must be spent checking if you can remember the information you are studying.  Not only that, you also need to check if you actually understand the information too.

You might be putting many hours into your revision each day, but how do you know if you are making progress if you aren’t testing yourself?

Not only that, but every time you are forced to recall a memory it becomes stronger and easier.

Yes this may seem really obvious, but you would be surprised by how many students fail to check their memory and understanding of a topic.

Last minute revision

There is a whole section on this website discussing why preparation is the key to good revision.

And there is good reason for this.

Due to how our memory works, revision is most effective when it is repeated and spaced out over time. Leaving revision to the last minute denies you this opportunity.

Not only that, but last minute revision may cause you unnecessary tiredness, stress and anxiety, none of which can be a good thing just before an exam.

Revising until exhaustion

We are less effective at learning and revising when we are tired and fed up.

This is the reason why a good revision timetable includes plenty of breaks and some reward time too.

Your revision process should be a marathon, not a sprint.

This means you need to pace yourself and revise at an intensity that you can maintain throughout the exam season.

Regular, shorter periods of effective revision will serve you much better than well intentioned long tiresome sessions.

No revision timetable

Having a revision timetable means having a plan of action.

Without a revision timetable you may encounter the following issues:

  • Overestimate how much time you have to revise before your various exams
  • Underestimate how much time your ongoing commitments take up each week
  • Failure to correctly prioritise which subjects to study, and in what order
  • Failure to prioritise and fully cover all topics within a subject
  • Find it difficult to track what you have already revised and need to revise next
  • Take too many breaks, or not enough
  • Struggle to stay motivated and track progress

Creating a revision timetable and sticking to it will help overcome these issues.

Read our post about creating a revision timetable.

Poor study environment

Creating and using the perfect study space is really important for effective revision.

Even the most well intentioned student will make less progress if their working environment is not right.

You are only fooling yourself if you believe that sitting in a busy park or café (with your mates blasting out tunes) can facilitate effective revision.  This is not a good use of your valuable time.

  • Make sure your phone is not near you, ideally in another room
  • Avoid distractions
  • Avoid disturbances
  • Get the noise level right
  • Be comfortable (clothes, lighting, temperature, food and drink etc)
  • Have all the equipment you need to hand

Read our post for tips about creating the perfect study space.


We’ve all done our fair share of procrastination.

Procrastination is when you waste time or put off doing something.

In our context, this is when you delay doing some proper revision.

Procrastination can fool us into thinking we are working hard, but remember being busy isn’t the same as being productive.

Making your work look pretty is in no way contributing to your revision or future success.

Procrastination will severely affect your performance and more widely plays a big part in stopping people achieving their goals.

You need to spot when you are procrastinating and immediately put a stop to it.

Here are some reasons you may be procrastinating:

  • A fear of failing
  • You haven’t created clear goals (a revision timetable helps with this)
  • You have no energy
  • You are working amongst distractions
  • You are not motivated
  • Revision is boring, right?

Find a way to stay motivated.  Set small achievable goals as you work towards your final goal of acing the exams.

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