Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Designing an effective revision timetable is a piece of cake with these top tips from our Founding Director, Joe Hytner.
Have you remembered that the clocks go forward tonight? At 1:00 am Daylight Saving Time 2019 will officially commence. The tradition of clocks going forward and back started in 1916, but 2019 may in fact be the last time we move from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST) in the UK, as the European Parliament has recently backed a proposal to end the time switch. It is thought that this will reduce the number of road accidents — scientific research suggests that the disruption caused by clock changes to the human biorhythm is severe.
As we begrudgingly lament the hour of sleep we will be losing this evening, we are forced at this time of year to consider the immense impact caused by time and the way humans choose to measure it. Does time really 'exist'? It seems like such an arbitrary, intangible thing — something that on the one hand is a man-made construct, but whose passing seems entirely natural and feels as real as anything. As far back as Roman times, Virgil said:
tempus fugit (et numquam revertitur)
In English, this means "time flies, and never returns". Another famous Roman poet, Horace, expressed a similar view:
carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero
Such issues will be particularly pertinent for those of you who are embarking on important public exams this summer such as GCSEs or A Levels and are wondering how to make the most of the time remaining. You don't need Virgil or Horace to tell you how shockingly quickly the time can slip away, and for those of you about to embark on revision I would therefore strongly recommend designing a concrete revision timetable before you begin rather than plunging straight in. Enthusiasm to get started is great, but you want to retain an objective view of exactly how your time is being spent.
Here are some tips for how to go about drawing up a strategic timetable:
1. Get started on your weakest subjects and the least enjoyable topics as early as possible
There is, of course, a great temptation to begin with the subjects and topics which you enjoy most or are strongest at. This will lull you into a false sense of security that revision is fun and breezy, but you're running two major risks here.
Firstly, that guilt at the back of your mind about the subjects you're avoiding will niggle away at you more and more as the time ticks by, and you will become less and less enthused to make a start on them. The longer you leave it, the more of a mountain it will become in your mind. Just as exposure therapy is popularly considered to be an effective way to tackle a phobia, you need to face your fear of those tricky subjects or topics — just rip off the band aid and dive in! What you'll probably find is that they're not actually quite as bad as you thought they would be — not only that, they'll become easier and more enjoyable with every hour you spend on them, which will do wonders for your confidence. And won't it be such a nice thought to know you have your favourite subjects to look forward to as a reward for having tackled these boring ones? This will get you in a positive upward spiral of motivation rather than a downward spiral of guilt and procrastination.
The second big risk of starting with your stronger subjects and more enjoyable topics is the inevitability of your enthusiasm leading to spending disproportionate amounts of time on them and running out of time to focus on the subjects that most need your attention. Remember, these are the subjects that you're likely to do well in anyway, so shouldn't these be the ones that take a time hit in the event that you mismanage your time?
If you're worried that starting with your weaker subjects may 'put you off' your revision and affect your motivation, then definitely sprinkle in some time with your favourite subjects early on. Motivation is definitely an important factor — just make sure you don't fall into the trap of putting off all the dreaded stuff and conning yourself that you're doing it in your own interests.
2. Allocate extra time in your revision schedule for your weaker subjects
You may take a view that it would be better to spend slightly less time overall on your stronger subjects than your weaker ones. If you're doing 10 GCSEs, for example, and you're amazing at 8 subjects but weak in 2 subjects, does it really make sense to spend 80% of your time on the 8 strong subjects and 20% on your 2 weak subjects? It may be wiser to spend 70% on the strong ones and 30% on the weak ones.
When you make your revision timetable, start by calculating the total number of weeks you have between now and your exams, and how many hours you can realistically manage per week. Divide that by your number of subjects to get the average time you need to spend per subject, and then adjust that slightly so that you give slightly more than that to your weaker subjects, and slightly less to your stronger ones. It does take bravery and self-discipline to do this, but common sense dictates that this is the most sensible approach.
3. Incorporate breaks into your revision timetable
It is not a waste of time or a sign of weakness to take breaks. It is extremely important — so much so that you should consider taking a break even when you’re on a roll and think you can push through. Roald Dahl famously took breaks when he was having his most productive writing moments: he knew that if he kept working until he had writer’s block, he would dread returning to his work, but if he stopped when he was on a roll, he would really look forward to starting again. If you’ve been working a long time and still feel super productive, you could still take a short break, such as 15 minutes. And for goodness’ sake, if you feel your concentration waning, take a break, even if that does mean a slight deviation from your timetable: it’s more efficient to work 100% productively for a shorter time than to work 50% productively for a prolonged period of time. With that in mind, you should actively incorporate a certain number of breaks into your revision schedule, in addition to allowing yourself the spontaneous breaks mentioned above.
4. Be prepared to change your revision timetable
A little bit of advance planning goes a long way, but once you've created your revision timetable it's important to accept that you don't necessarily need to stick religiously to it. Your initial timetable is nothing more than a guesstimate: you should constantly assess how things are going and whether you are allocating time in the right way. It's quite likely that you won't have a fully accurate steer on how long things take until you actually start your revision — the process itself is your best indicator. If you find that topics you thought would take a long time are in fact quite quick, or vice versa, be sure to learn from that new data and use it to edit your timetable accordingly!
By the same virtue, you should include some 'flexi time' in your programme — these are chunks of time that deliberately don't have any subject or topics associated with them. You will thank yourself for it later, because things will definitely come up that you hadn't anticipated, and although it's OK to adapt your revision timetable from time to time, you don't want to be constantly doing it as that might be a distraction. The flexi time model allows you to adapt to small/occasional surprises without needing to go back to the drawing board.
Blog Post Crafted by Joe
Subjects Taught: Latin, Ancient Greek
Background: Joe Hytner owns and runs Titanium Tutors, managing our assessors and staff. Joe graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 2009 with a degree in Classics and then trained as a teacher at Queens’ College, Cambridge, graduating in 2010. Whilst setting up Titanium Tutors he taught Latin on a part-time basis in three schools — Parkside Federation, Impington Village College and South Lee School (where he started up the Latin department from scratch). Joe has also taught Latin and Ancient Greek to numerous Cambridge University undergraduates.
Fun Fact: Joe has read Harry Potter in Latin from cover to cover.