Revision strategies and tips for maintaining your motivation, organisation and concentration ahead of your assessments.
At UCL you will experience a high volume of assessment, as coursework, in-class tests, and exams. Your coursework deadlines and exam dates may be close together, so good planning is essential.
Where to study
It’s best to separate your working space from your relaxing space if you can. If you only have one room, create a tidy workspace on a desk or table and clear away clutter and distractions.
Try a change of scenery. If you're on campus:
- Try going to the library. There are many study spaces across UCL's 18 libraries and other managed learning sites, including the Student Centre. Check online for real-time availability of study seats.
- You can find 20 different computer workrooms around campus, alongside large open-access computer areas. Use the handy UCL Go! app to find a free PC on campus. You can borrow a laptop free of charge if you need one.
Plan ahead and make sure you are clear on the assessment timetable and the length of each of your papers.
Take some time to read through the assessment regulations and guidance available on the 'Exams and assessments' pages of this website before you sit your first assessment.
Two assessments on one day
Producing the assessments timetable is a very complex task, coordinating over 2,700 different papers for 87,000 assessment sittings for individual students, so we do recommend that you plan for assessments in a short period – perhaps even two on one day.
If you have two assessments scheduled on the same day, it’s really important to plan it into your study schedule.
Remember, for Take-home papers, you will not be expected to work for 24 hours or 7 days continuously; the work effort and time expectation should be similar to that in an ordinary exam. The longer period is there to ensure that you have more time in which to plan your work. See more information on preparing for open book exams.
Assessments outside the Central Assessment Period
Most UCL assessments are centrally organised and take place during the Central Assessment Period but you may also have some during the Late Summer Assessment Period or assessments that are arranged by departments, which could take place at any time during the academic year.
Late Summer Assessment (LSA) takes place in late August and early September. We advise you to wait for your results from the Central Assessment Period before you book late summer travel, in case you need to be available for LSAs.
Useful tools for organising your revision
The following iOS or Google Play apps could help you to organise your revision (these are recommendations only – we do not endorse any particular app):
- iStudiez Pro - a comprehensive schedule planner for desktop and mobile
- Timetable - a simple and intuitive app for managing university life (Android only)
- MyStudyLife - organise classes, tasks, revision and exams with this free desktop and mobile app
- Passion Planner - a planner (with many free downloadable PDFs) that has personal and professional to-do lists, with different priority settings and goal periods
- Remember The Milk - a to-do app that lets you organise your tasks with priorities, due dates and tags, that integrates with a range of popular apps and that can even be used to delegate sub-tasks of a project to other people
- GoalsOnTrack - an app that allows you to record the goal, its purpose, start and end dates, metrics, sub-goals, habits and action plans.
Revising for success
A review conducted of over 1,000 studies in effective revision techniques by Professor John Dunlosky of Kent State University found that there are two key indicators of successful revision, as follows:
Indicator 1 - Planning ahead
Dunlosky found that cramming is not effective. Instead, spread out your revision and do a bit at a time.
This is called distributive practice and it was found to work for everyone who took part.
Some suggestions on how to make this work in practice include the following:
- Create a schedule of coursework deadlines and in class assessments, formative and summative, so you can plan your workload. You will be able to get this information from Module/Programme Handbooks and your department.
- Check your Central Assessment Timetable as soon as you receive your email notifying you that it is available.
- Add your assessment dates to your study schedule. This will help you identify opportunities to complete some of your coursework early, for example, so that you have time to study for your assessments. Build in some contingency time for unexpected events.
- Look through your assessment timetable, and prioritise each one based on when it is and how much revision it needs.
- Timetable your revision to spread it out across the time you have.
- Set realistic, specific and measurable goals for each revision session.
- Study in short, concentrated bursts of 30 minutes or an hour, with short breaks in between to keep you motivated.
Indicator 2 - Testing yourself
Dunlosky also found that testing yourself was a predictor of exam success. Testing requires us to retrieve the information from our memory, which leads to better learning in the long term. He said, "testing yourself when you get the correct answers appears to produce a more elaborative memory trace connected with your prior knowledge, so you're building on what you know."
You could try testing yourself in the following ways:
- Speak to your lecturer to get hold of some example questions or past papers for practice. Going through past paper questions and then marking them is key to preparing for what you’ll need to do on the day.
- Quiz yourself frequently, but with breaks in between, which gives your brain time to store and reinforce the material. Although it helps to test yourself in the format of your assessment, you can also test your knowledge of the material simply by teaching it to someone else or talking about it.
What else can I do?
If you're more of a passive reader, then try searching for the SQ3R technique, where you Skim, Question, Read, Recite and Review your material for better comprehension.
Try connecting your learning with other familiar topics, to make the key associations necessary for better recall. You can get quite creative if you want, by making up songs, drawing doodles and creating stories.
Try working with peers from your course. You might also decide to put together revision booklets, give each other short talks on different topics or swap mnemonics, essay plans and questions.
Everyone struggles with procrastination and a lack of motivation every now and again. Read our articles on motivation and procrastination such as '10 ways to generate study motivation' on the UCLcares online wellbeing platform for full details.
Here are three key steps you should follow if motivation is running low:
Step 1 - Acknowledge the resistance
When you’re not feeling motivated, it's important to acknowledge your resistance to the task at hand and any difficult feelings you might have. Remember that studying is meant to take you out of your comfort zone, and avoiding work does not improve the situation.
Know that the initial unpleasant feeling will quickly fade once you get going. You might find it helpful to quickly write down your thoughts and any feelings of resistance to get them off your chest, and then leave them to one side so you can get down to studying.
Step 2 - Challenge the resistance
If you're having negative thoughts about failing, it's vital that you create a positive narrative to think about the assessment. You can do this by visualising a positive exam experience. For example, imagine calmly walking into the exam room and turning over the paper, preparing and beginning to write. Similarly, visualise yourself starting to study, and this should help you to get going.
You can also challenge your resistance by rephrasing any limiting beliefs into positive goals in action. For example, you may believe that you'll do badly in your assessmnets, but instead try rephrasing that belief into "I am working towards doing well in my assessments". A positive goal in action like this can help you overcome your resistance to studying.
Step 3 - Overcome the resistance
Learning how to overcome procrastination and improve motivation is a long-term journey that will benefit you long after your assessments and graduation.
Try talking to others about your plans and the difficulties you've been having; they may help you identify where you've been going wrong. You could also try putting some reward structures in place to encourage studying, and to give you something to look forward to.
You might find it unhelpful to get too caught up with targets, so focus on the benefits of the process itself as well. Remember that revision and sitting assessments are hard tasks that require considerable focus, an important skill for the rest of life.
Most importantly, don't blame yourself for procrastinating, but work on identifying what triggers it. Once you've worked out the root cause or contributing factors, you can figure out how best to combat them and get back to studying.
People vary significantly in how long they can concentrate, so you should be aware of your own limitations and take them into account when you plan your study. However, there are several things you can do to make sure you focus and stick to your study plan.
5 steps to better concentration
- Break up your revision schedule into manageable chunks. You might even want to use an online app to help you with this, such as Focus Booster.
- Make a promise to yourself that you will spend the next 25 minutes on a task without interrupting yourself. This is called the 'pomodoro technique'.
- Make your revision interactive. Use the SQ3R technique for reading, make flashcards or other visuals, speak out loud, and keep your goals in mind.
- Alternate easy and difficult topics, and interesting and dull topics.
- Take control of technology by using apps and plug-ins, such as Forest, Leechblock, Offtime and SelfControl to prevent you from getting distracted.
Getting things done
Join author and world-renowned productivity and time management expert David Allen as he walks you through his five-step process for getting things done. A free video course available to all UCL students on LinkedIn Learning. 1 hour 32 minutes, UCL login required.
Learning speed reading
Paul Nowak, the founder of Iris Reading, first asks you to measure your current reading rate, and explores the reading habits that slow people down. Then he introduces simple techniques for boosting your reading speed and practice drills to reinforce your new skill. A free video course available to all UCL students on LinkedIn Learning. 58 minutes, UCL login required.
Improving your memory
Memory is not a finite resource, and with techniques like repetition, association, and visualisation, you can improve your memory before it starts to fade. This fascinating course shows viewers of all ages how to improve their recall. A free video course available to all UCL students on LinkedIn Learning. 1 hour 29 minutes, UCL login required.
Author and Kelley School of Business lecturer Brenda Bailey-Hughes shows you how to separate procrastination from other behaviours, identify your stalls, and address your procrastination head on with strategies that will help you get more done. A free video course available to all UCL students on LinkedIn Learning. 19 minutes, UCL login required.
If you have a disability or other ongoing medical or mental health condition, make sure UCL knows about it, so we can make reasonable adjustments to support your assessment.
Things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes, things happen that might affect your performance in assessments (exams or assignments). If you need to request a deferral or other mitigation, make sure you know how to use UCL’s Extenuating Circumstances process.