Please don’t hate me for broaching the subject, but it is officially time to be thinking about exam revision (if you haven’t already!) I know that the providers vary their individual timetables, and some exams may already have passed, but the majority of those remaining will creep up at a surprising rate, and it’s therefore important to get an idea of how you will be spending your time over the next few months.
There will be an article specific to the two bigger exams a little bit later on (Criminal Lit and Civil Lit), but this piece is designed as an overall introduction to revision for the BPTC and some key hints and tips. Obviously, as usual, all of this is based on personal experience, so don’t take it as gospel, but here are the things that I personally wish I had known this time last year.
1. Get organised – plan ahead
The starting point for me was to get a visual image in my head of the months to come. I purchased a big wall-planner style calendar, and used different coloured dots for exams, mock exams, mooting commitments and treats/social plans. This way, nothing could sneak up on me – it is so easy to get tied up in preparing for one exam, only to realise you have only left yourself two days before the next one. But the wall-planner, albeit it mildly terrifying at first, really did help me focus on what needed doing at which times.
Some people find it helpful to specifically plan their revision out, hour-by-hour or day-by-day. I have to admit, I’m not particularly that type of person. However, I did loosely mark out how many weeks I could spend on each exam, to give me an idea of how many topics I should be working on each day (whilst also allowing spare days for doing mock exam papers and reviewing notes in the immediate run up to the exam).
2. Don’t panic
It is so easy to lose focus when you realise how little time you have to prepare. Let’s face it, you could revise from day one of the BPTC and still feel like you don’t have enough time. But whenever you feel like this, just stop and take a deep breath. A great quote my sister told me once:
Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.
So rather than panicking about not having enough time, just make the most of the time you do have.
3. Familiarity with textbooks
If you’re allowed to take one in to your exam, make sure you do, and make sure you are familiar with it! In the BPTC this tends to be less common, although if I recall correctly we were allowed to take The White Book into an exam or two. Even if think you won’t refer to it, in moments of panic, being able to refer to some solid text can help to reground you, calm you down and remind you of key words or tests that need to be applied. If you’re allowed to highlight and flag them, do so, but make sure you don’t simply highlight everything! Flagging commonly used provisions can save valuable minutes during the exam if you want to check specific wording, for example.
4. Exam-specific plans
While you can’t exactly predict the questions that are going to appear, there are some definite known factors. For example, you should know how many questions there will be on each paper and what format these will take – is it one long drafting exercise, an advocacy exercise, a mix of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and Short Answer Questions (SAQs)? There may be some kind of theme to the topic areas which are addressed – is there something that comes up absolutely every year? If so, you can get easy marks if you prepare those topics particularly well. Whilst I wouldn’t ever advise skipping out topic areas altogether (you just never know 100% what will come up), you can certainly spend extra time on areas that are fairly likely to come up.
5. Take breaks
Some people find it useful to choose a particular part of the day to take as a break every day. For me, it tended to be either lunch or dinner, for some people it would be exercising, or attending a language class – anything away from revision really. I tended to give myself some time off, get a nice meal, and eat away from my revision. Understandably, this tends to reduce as you get closer to the exams, but it is invaluable for calming yourself down and giving your brain a break!
Also, even if not a routine thing, breaks really do help focus your mind. There’s no point sitting there and panicking for two hours, and only getting 20 minutes of real work done. In these situations it is better to take a break, whether it be ten minutes, an hour, or however long you want. Then either try again once you have re-focussed, or simply move on and come back to it.
6. Treat yourself
Similarly to taking breaks, it is important to treat yourself every now and then. It’s a great motivator, and a good reward too. Whether it be a friend’s birthday, a night out, the theatre, or going for a nice meal. Anything that you have cut down on for revision, do make some time for it, and you will enjoy it even more. You will also feel much more refreshed when you return to revision again.
I was surprised to learn that this isn’t vital for everyone, so perhaps this point doesn’t address all readers. However, I found throughout my academic career that getting a good night’s sleep was absolutely vital for me. I used to think I needed eight hours sleep each night, but since joining the working world I have discovered I can do okay on about four or five. Either way, I have always found that I focus less when I have had less sleep. I never found much value in cramming all night, I never remembered the information anyway, and then couldn’t focus in the exam at all. If you are similar, then do make sure you get good rest – this goes for throughout revision as well as the night immediately before an exam. If you are one of those people who can cram all night and still do great – I am very jealous of you!
8. Condense your learning
Whilst your initial reaction might be to make copious amounts of notes, you need to be steadily reducing these down into the key factors. Test yourself by seeing what you can remove from the list and still remember. All of this is helpful to lead up to the next tip…
Now I know that these are not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly if you are not a visual learner, but for me they were one of the most helpful things that I used. You can get proper mindmapping software online (people have recommended Mind Node for Mac, thinkbuzan.com, mindapp.com, but even without using such software I found them helpful.
Grab a pack of coloured pens, scribble your topic in the middle of the page, and address each little sub-topic in a bubble off the centre. Or be more scientific, or creative – whatever helps you. I ended up with a small folder for each of the big exams which contained a pile of mindmaps, one or two for each topic area. If that area came up in the exam, I was able to remember what colour the mindmap was in, picture which corner of the page had addressed that point, and then think about how many pieces of information were listed. Then you can just cherry pick what you need from what you recall.
It is worth bearing in mind that this is probably most helpful towards the middle or end of your revision, when you have started condensing your notes into key facts, rather than the beginning when you are still tempted to transcribe the whole of The White Book!
10. Mock exam papers
These were one of the best things I used for revision, and were most useful towards the end of your revision time (although not immediately before the exam!) Learning the information was one thing, but applying it through the mock exams and seeing it used in particular situations was another thing altogether. I used to sit several mock papers (often in a coffee shop with a small bucket of coffee to keep me going) and then make really useful notes from the marking schemes. These notes, showing how the information was applied in the questions, was genuinely one of my most helpful revision aids. Sitting the papers also helps you to get to grips with the presentation of the varying styles of questions – particularly MCQs and SAQs in the centrally set exams.
11. Talk and teach
A few people in my BPTC cohort found it particularly helpful to sit down and talk through topic areas on the day of, or on the day before, the exam. Some people didn’t agree, and some actively hated us doing so, but we found it incredibly helpful, so each to their own!
We would use our notes and mindmaps, ask each other questions, and generally test each other on the key aspects of each topic area. We found it helpful to reinforce the key points in our minds, but also particularly helpful to highlight areas that one of us might have missed. In that situation the other person would ‘teach’ them about it – therefore embedding it further in their own brain and reminding the other of something they had probably simply forgotten over the year. I genuinely think I owe a lot of my success to this technique, and am thoroughly grateful to those who sat down and did this with me.
Although the usefulness of these tips will probably vary from person to person, I really wish I had known all of these things (or had been reminded of them) during my BPTC year, when it is so easy to lose track of where you are heading. Wishing you all the best of luck, and remember – don’t panic!