Revision session ideas

 Revision tips  Comments Off on Revision session ideas
May 202015

revision session ideasRevision Session Ideas

One of the major complaints from parents is that their children are told to revise for homework but they don’t necessarily know what this means. Sometimes students try the ‘well you can’t really revise for this so I’ve finished my homework tonight and I can watch Game of Thrones!’ If a teacher has set revision for homework it is possible to revise for the test! I wrote an article on how to revise and today I’ve brought together suggestions and ideas from others on what to do in revision sessions.

Preparing to revise

James Downs of Dark Lane Creative says

Having looked at your site, I realise this tip is far from being a novelty, but I thought I would reinforce the value of revision timetables. When I was at school, we had a history teacher who provided the entire class with blank revision timetables which we could use to plan our revision over the weeks ahead. He was an extremely methodical man – there were jokes about him numbering individual paperclips in his desk tidy – but he was the only teacher in our school who provided these sheets, and I can testify to the difference it made. I had the sheets photocopied and planned my revision out for other subjects, with the result that when the exams arrived, I *felt* as if I was well-organised and prepared because I had been following a programme. Quite apart from ensuring the relevant ground is covered, the psychological benefits are also helpful.

Make sure you don’t spend too long making or finding the revision timetables.Every year I post revision timetables for GCSE science (B1, C1, P1), GCSE Additional Science (B2, C2, P2) and GCSE single Sciences on my site and you can contact me via drnicholls(at) for further help. Some people can use making revision timetables as an excuse to put off actually starting revising as teacher and examiner Phil Turner of Time Money Problem says

Stop procrastinating!Stop making revision timetables in beautiful colours. Stop planning and start work!

What to do in your revision sessions

1. Creating summary notes for quick review of the topic

Deborah Anderson of Social Web Cafe suggests you

Organize your information as you go, creating a cheat sheet study guide.  Even a Trello board can help to organize things with links to more information that you can study for the exam.

AnnaFox of Hire Bloggers also summarises notes in ‘cheatsheets’

I create lots of cheat sheets summarizing various data and formulae. The cheat sheets are intended not to bring to the exam, of course! Cheat sheets are great for organizing your knowledge. They work great for visual memory as well (Sometimes I remember what my cheat sheet looks like and I can instantly remember the topic). If you create a thorough cheat sheet of things you have trouble to memorize, you’ll keep things in your mind much easier and for a longer time period.

Tat from Mum in search uses these summaries to check the topic just before the exam

When I was at uni, I used to wake up very early on the morning of the exam and quickly go through all the material. My photographic memory seemed to work best at that time (quiet, fresh mind, no distractions) and I’d be able to recall the information I needed easily during the exam. I don’t recommend this method for long-term learning, at least not on its own. A few hours after the exam I wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about the subject. But it helps to pass the exam and it enhances your learning, if combined with other methods/activities.

2. Go to revision classes

Philip Turner from Time Money Problem advises looking at your revision from a different perspective

Revision classes are good, especially if it’s a different teacher from your normal one because you get a different explanation that will help with understanding
It’s about understanding, not memory. Try explaining it to someone else, a friend is best.

3. Practice past exam papers

Patricia Anthony of Patant Consultants Small Business Online advises reviewing and practicing past papers.

A good place to start in preparing for exams, is to review and practice questions from past papers. Generally exams follow a pattern over a period. There may be recurring topics, or specific aspects of a certain subject area which examiners repeated expect students to explore. Examiners tend to like everyday topics which students will have to deal with as professionals or recurring problem areas. It’s a good strategy to review past papers and try to spot trends. But it’s not enough to review papers. Practice makes perfect. Take time in advance of exams to practice and master past exam papers.

Thanks to all the contributors to this article- @James_AL Downs, @EP_pturner, @socialwebcafe, @manifestcon, @muminsearch and @patantconsult.

Do you have any additional tips for revision sessions? Do you disagree with any of these tips. Please leave a comment.

Active revision tips and techniques

 Revision tips  Comments Off on Active revision tips and techniques
May 202015

Revision tips and techniques MVDMActive revision tips and techniques

Our revision tips today come from Meryl of FundaFunda. Meryl is a mom and teacher in the U.S.A. who has both used memory techniques throughout her own life and who has taught them to the students she comes into contact with. She not only teaches middle and high schoolers, but is also a coach for a Science Olympiad team that has twice won the State Tournament and competed at Nationals.



merylvdm Meryl van der Merwe Meryl is the founder of a website called FundaFunda providing teaching resources for teachers and parents. FundaFunda is a Zulu word pronounced “foondafoonda” which literally means ‘study study’. However, most english speakers will pronounce it ‘fun-da fun-da’ with the emphasis on ‘fun’.

Questions we’ve been discussing:

Q. What revision hints, tips and techniques do you wish you had known/ followed when you were at school?

A. Meryl

I wish electronic flash cards had been around then as I would have used them. And I didn’t even use physical flash cards which would also have been helpful. Making flash cards, whether physical or digital ones, helps one to commit the work to memory – and then going through them helps keep the information fresh in your mind.

Q. What can parents and families do to help support students as they approach and take exams?

A. Meryl

Encourage students to stop and have regular breaks – go outside, take run, play a musical instrument – anything that gives the mind a break. They can offer to quiz the students on their work. I liked my mom doing that for me – but my daughter doesn’t like me doing that, so it is a matter of preference.

Make your children aware of different techniques to studying. Students have different learning styles and they should experiment with what works best for them. I see many students just reading and re-reading their text books or notes. This is not a good way to study. Instead students should study with pencil in hand – creating flash cards, drawing diagrams to illustrate what they are studying, creating mnemonics etc. They could even make up a song! The more actively they engage in studying, the easier it will be for them to remember the work and the more fun they will have.

Q. What did you find was the most difficult aspect of exams? With hindsight how do you think you could have overcome this?

A. Meryl

I found the boredom of spending hours and hours studying the most challenging aspect of exams. I think I should have taken more active breaks. Instead, I  used to read for my breaks – and then I would just get lost in the book and forget to return to studying.  Getting out of my room and going outside to play with the dog, go for a walk or something like that would have been better.

Thanks very much to Meryl for sharing her insights on active revisiontips and techniques.

Overcoming resistance to revision with Howard Cramptom Jr

 Revision tips  Comments Off on Overcoming resistance to revision with Howard Cramptom Jr
May 182015

Overcome resistance to revision

Overcoming Resistance to Revision

An interview with Howard Crampton Jr. (succeeding through non-resistance)

Howard has a BSc in Psychology, is certified in NLP (Neuro- Linguistic Programming) gained a certification in Strategic Interventions through the Robbins-Madanes Training program and is applying to further his studies in counseling. He has worked with a variety of people to identify resistance and to move past it. This work is based on the behavioral psychology principle that one’s state of mind can powerfully lead one in an empowered direction or disempowered direction. In order to move to a positive emotional state you can use what Tony Robbins calls the “Triad” – Posture, Focus and Language.


If you frown and slump your body this will make you feel more down but straighten up and smile and you will feel more confident (remember the power poses in the last blog article?).


You tend to move towards the things you focus on (physically, mentally and emotionally). In a physical sense when you’re driving a car and it goes out of control near a tree if you focus on the tree you’ll drive into it!


There are lots of different ways of viewing an event. If you text a friend a couple of times and they don’t reply you could tell yourself that they’re upset with you or you could tell yourself that their battery may have gone flat or they are busy. The language you use in your mind can directly affect your mood.

Having introduced the principles behind his work here is the interview with Howard.


Howard Crampton Jr

Howard Crampton Jr

Lamhfada_L Howard Crampton Jr

Howard Crampton Jr

I facilitate on spiritual growth, emotional well-being and relationships. I use a “letting go/surrender” technique that releases resistance which leads to harmonious states of mental/emotional flow in thinking and feeling.

Questions we’ve been discussing:

Q. What revision hints, tips and techniques do you wish you had known/ followed when you were at school?

A. Howard Crampton Jr

Identify what I was resisting, understand why I was resisting, then consciously chose to let it go of the emotional block and proceed with giving it my best shot.

It would have been nice to have my parents encouragement and patience to work with me to have patience to go ahead confidently in completing my homework/test studies.

Q. What can parents and families do to help support students as they approach and take exams?

A. Howard Crampton Jr

 Discipline is a key element that should be practiced as soon as possible and consistently. Helping kids to have a schedule and stick with it is important. Parents must be the example for their kids to follow, such as helping them to understand why discipline and sticking to studying in certain environments at specific times is necessary and reinforcing them with positive feedback along the way.

Q. What did you find was the most difficult aspect of exams? With hindsight how do you think you could have overcome this?

A. Howard Crampton Jr (Succeeding through Non-Resistance)

Memory development seems to be more important than the actual test itself. Having to remember all the material for the test is difficult particularly for those who are kinesthetic type learners. In such a case, visual learners need visual cues to improve their memories; auditory learners needs auditory cues; and kinesthetic learners need to move around more while they’re studying, such as being questioned while playing a sport.

Encouragement from parents and frequent review would have helped.


Thanks to Howard for answering my questions. I will be digging a lot deeper into the topic of overcoming resistance and barriers to learning in future as this has been a key feature of my mentoring and tutoring work.


May 152015

Psychology for revision successPsych up your revision using ideas from psychology to improve your chances of success


Effective deadlines

Deborah Anderson from Social Web Cafe has a Masters in psychology and was kind enough to share with me her trick for successful revision.

I am in my doctorate now and have been going to school, almost to a point of a career!
As far as exams, what works before for me is when I “fake myself out” and think that it is earlier than it is.  I realize that this may not work for everyone, but it would work for those who 1) procrastinate and 2) love the adrenaline rush.  Which, as you notice, describes me.
Personally, I love to prepare way ahead of time (like months ahead) or wait until the last-minute.  That last-minute thing is what hits me with exams.  So, if I “fake myself out” and thing that the exam is three days earlier and prepare for it as if that is the date, then about the time that the exam would occur, that three days earlier, I realize that “Wow, I’m getting this!” and more importantly, “Hey, there is a bit more information that I want to check and study.”  That little extra nudge that I feel at the last-minute is what makes the real difference.
I hear myself giving this advice and say, “That advice is just downright crazy!”  But, I graduated with summa cum laude with my BSIT and now with Dean’s honors with Masters in Psychology, so something must be working.

Internal deadlines are usually not as effective as external ones so tell your family this plan and when your fake deadline is. Ask them to give you a mock exam on the day of the fake deadline. Do this in proper exam conditions to time and then mark it using a mark scheme. This will then allow you to spend the last few days addressing any weak areas, learning from the mock and doing more practice papers.
Having a big deadline combined with being given study leave can cause procrastination. We can seem paralysed by the size of the task and feel like we’re not in the frame of mind to start yet but we have plenty of time so we’ll get to it when we’re in the mood. To overcome this you can set small deadlines between now and the exam. Make these real by having an accountability buddy get a study partner, family member or study forum member to check you’re keeping to the intermediate deadlines. Since the deadlines are smaller and more frequent you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
Take action: Prepare for the exam as if it is three days earlier than it is and have evenly spaced smaller deadlines in the meantime.

Find your mojo

The other big reason we can procrastinate when faced with revising is that we think it is boring! It is really difficult to do a task if you aren’t motivated so you need to find your motivation. The two main motivators are pleasure and pain we want to do things that are pleasurable and we want to avoid pain.
If you are struggling to get motivated spend some time completing my motivation worksheet.

Get motivated to reviseGet motivated to revise worksheet pdf download

Take action: print and complete the worksheet and stick it on the wall by your study area.

How do you respond to expectations?

In her new book on building habits Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin outlines the four types of people based on how they respond to expectations.
1. Upholders find it easy to respond to their own expectations and those of others, happily ticking items off their to do lists. If you are an upholder you will always follow through on commitments in your calendar but if you are trying to start a new routine and it isn’t in your calendar you’re unlikely to do it.To find out more about upholders watch this video.

2. Questioners need to think through and question any new habit and they will only follow through if it makes sense to them and they can see evidence to continue. They are motivated by logical reasoning. Watch the video about questioners.

3. Obligers. If you are an obliger then you will meet commitments imposed on you by others but find it hard to start the new habit if you are setting expectations yourself. If you find it easy to do something when you arrange it with a friend but you can’t do the same thing alone you are probably an obliger. Gretchen Rubin discusses obligers in this video.

4. Rebels. Finally if you are a rebel you resist all expectations no matter who sets them. Rebels just want to do what they want to do in the moment and they find it difficult to follow rules, even those set by themselves. You can watch a video about rebels.

If you need more help deciding which type you are you can do this quiz. You may fall in the overlap, the important thing is to workout what types of expectations you meet and which you resist.

Gretchen Rubin 4 tendencies

Set up the relevant expectations to help you study.

If you are an upholder

  • Set up a revision timetable.
  • Set up some accountability to give yourself external expectations (see tips for obligers).

If you are a questioner

  • Start by thinking through questions. Why do you want to do well in these exams? Why is effective revision the way to do this?
  •  Track your progress.

If you are an obliger

  • Make yourself accountable to others.
  • Find a hard-working friend who is an obliger or questioner and work with them as a study buddy. You could physically get together for revision sessions or set up daily review sessions at the same time using Skype where you quickly tell each other the things you have learnt that day.
  • Set up a reward/fine system monetary or other.

If you are a rebel

  • Rebels need to focus on the present enjoyment of the process not the goal.
  • Find the positives and enjoyment in the action so that you will happily choose to spend time doing it.
  • Try and make revision fun- make it a game to remember as much as you can, enjoy the satisfaction of getting to the point where a topic ‘clicks’.

Take action: Decide whether you are an upholder, questioner, obliger or rebel and use the tips to help set relevant internal and or external expectations to motivate you.

Strike a pose

Adopting a confident pose can impact your success- in tests, interviews and maybe even getting a date! In this TED talk Amy Cuddy discusses her research on using what she calls power poses (research papers 1 and 2).

Holding a power pose such as this one, with head lifted, chest held high, shoulders back and arms raised to sides or on your hips, for two minutes impacts your hormones and therefore your feelings and performance.

Take action: Try standing in a power pose for a couple of minutes before you study, in breaks and before tests. While you are studying try to sit in an open relaxed posture and not slouching!

Dress well test well

Arnaud from Kip Kitchen explained to me how students should dress well to test well.

I’m reading The Magic of Thinking Big and there’s a tip in there for students taking exams. The author advises students to use clothing/appearance as a tool to lift their spirits and build confidence.
The author’s psychology professor used to advise students on last-minute exam preparations to dress up for the exam by getting new ties, pressing their suits and shining their shoes. “Look sharp cos it will help you think sharp.”

Research by Adams and Galinsky in 2012 looked at the effect of wearing a lab coat on test performance. They asked 58 students to take a critical thinking test with half of them being asked to wear a doctor’s lab coat and the other half their usual clothes. Those students wearing lab coats made about half the errors on more difficult questions. In another experiment they asked half the students to wear a doctors lab coat and asked the other half to wear identical white coats but told they were painters coats. The people who believed they were wearing a doctors coat got better test scores.They concluded that wearing a lab coat associated with doctors increased selective attention suggesting that wearing clothes with symbolic meaning can change the effectiveness of our thinking.
Professor Karen Pine delved deeper into this idea in her research outlined in her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. When she asked students to wear a superman t-shirt they then believed they were stronger and more likeable. In mental ability tests they scored 8 per cent higher. In her book Professor Pine outlines clothes likely to induce a positive mood including

  • Colours found in nature
  • Playful patterns
  • Natural materials
  • Any clothes you love!

Take action: Your physical exterior reflects your mental interior. How you look on the outside affects how you think and feel on the inside.

Pay attention

When you are studying make sure you are really paying attention. It is easy to slip into reading through notes and then realising you haven’t taken any of it in. Find somewhere to study where you can focus without interruptions. Remove distractions such as TV, music and technology. If you are getting distracted while you study be kind to yourself up. Wasting time and energy berating yourself will not help! Notice when you are distracted and then calmly get back on task. The more you do this the easier it will become. Many of us are struggling to concentrate for extended period and practicing mindfulness and/or meditation are good ways to increase your concentration span.
Take action: Read through my posts on mindfulness to find out why it helps students and try 31 days of mindfulness to get you started with this habit.

Have you tried any of these? Would you try any of these? Do you have any other revision tips? Leave a comment by clicking the pencil icon at the top right.

May 112015

Revision tips Phil Turner

Today our revision tips come from chemistry teacher, examiner and author of Exam Grade Booster …Phil Turner. Phil is also a parent so I was able to interview him from this perspective as well.

Phil Turner

Phil Turner

EP_pturner Philip Turner Phil Turner Phil taught Chemistry to A-level and GCSE as well as science in a St Helen’s school for 27 years. He was a senior examiner for coordinated science, and an examiner for modular science for 20 years.He has written an e-book on exam technique called Exam Grade Booster.

Questions we’ve been discussing:

Q. What revision hints, tips and techniques do you wish you had known/ followed when you were at school?

A. Phil Turner

Pay attention in class, REALLY concentrate. Concentrate so hard that it hurts – You can only “revise” what you learnt in the first place.

Ask questions in class. NOBODY understands everything. Even the teachers only really understood things once they had to explain them to students.

Do past papers until the cows come home, especially in your weaker subjects.

Q. What can parents and families do to help support students as they approach and take exams?

A. Phil Turner

Understanding is key. Students feel as though they are under unbearable pressure. Parents can make it worse by nagging or failing to understand.

Providing somewhere conducive to study, somewhere silent is essential. Internet use needs to be limited and monitored. Block all social media sites on the student’s computer or at the router.

Q. What did you find was the most difficult aspect of exams? With hindsight how do you think you could have overcome this?

A. Phil Turner

I found memorising things I did not understand almost impossible. I need to understand rather than to remember. I think many students are the same.

When I was at school understanding was not stressed as much as it is nowadays. I could have overcome it by paying more attention in class.

Thanks very much to Phil for answering all my questions. If you want to read more of his tips on how to boost your exam grade check out his e-book Exam Grade Booster.

Hit the Gym after Studying to Boost Recall from Scientific American

 A level biology, GCSE Sciences, Study and revision tips  Comments Off on Hit the Gym after Studying to Boost Recall from Scientific American
May 092015
Benefits of exercise after study

Benefits of exercise after study

Exercise may help cement new facts in your mind. Regular exercise boosts brain health, and a fit brain is generally able to learn, think and remember better. Recent studies suggest that to maximise retention of information you have just learned you need to time workouts for just after your study session. The exercise doesn’t even have to be too intense. In a variety of experiments, people who cycled, did leg presses or even simply squeezed a handgrip shortly after or before learning did better on tests of recall in the hours, days or weeks that followed.

May 052015

Stay calm healthy focused in exam season

Revision tips to help you stay calm, focused and healthy in exam season.

When we have approaching exams we tend to suffer from more stress and this makes us more susceptible to illness. The last thing we want is to fight illness in the run up to, or during, exams. Today I have three interviews focusing on ways to stay fit and healthy in exam season. I will also let you know what you need to do if the worse happens if illness or other difficulties strike at this time.

My first interview is with Kari, a blogger at As well as her experience in the self development field, Kari has been to college three times (another serial student!) so she has done lots of studying. So here are her tips for making it through exam season.

Strict Schedule

As far as keeping calm, focused, and healthy during exam season, I think implementing a strict schedule along with a few healthy habits is important.
For instance, setting specific times for focused studying is important. Schedule study time for when you are at your most alert. And I think studying outside of your normal study area helps. It helps remove the desire to do habitual things in that area, such as watch TV, check out social media, or anything else that is not beneficial to studying. This doesn’t mean you have to leave the house, but finding an area outside of your comfort zone can help you remember what you are supposed to be doing.
In addition, sleep is very important. Avoid the extra-curricular activities that cause you to expend too much energy or lose sleep until exams are over. You need as much energy as possible during exam season!

sleep and relaxation

Importance of sleep and relaxation

Helen from also shares serial student tendencies and has a Master’s degree. She also highlights how sleep is important in the face of exams.

To be mentally sharp, it helps to be well-rested so that you have the energy to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.  Self-awareness is important.  Be aware if you are skimping on sleep. If it is taking you two or three times as long to get work done, then you might be better off getting some more sleep so that you can be more productive in the time you have.  If you find that you have a hard time relaxing or falling asleep, try a quick meditation to relax and clear your mind…you don’t even need any experience learning how to meditate…. simply check out the app called: Buddhify.

In my opinion using guided meditations before you sleep every night is one of the most important things you can do as a student. The benefits far outweigh the time spent.

If you want to know more and listen to some guided meditations you can read about the mindfulness challenge I am running on this blog to help students on this post (you can also sign up to receive daily emails for 31 days to help you).

There is also lots more information in this blog including myths about mindfulness and benefits of mindfulness which you can get access to here.

The other apps that I would recommend to students are Stop, breathe, think and My smiling mind.


Avoiding eye strain

James from Dark Lane Creative highlighted the important issue of eye strain in his interview. Strained or tired eyes are a particular problem with students during revision due to the amount of time spent doing close up work. It can cause headaches, tired eyes and blurred vision. James talked about using a variety of revision methods to avoid this.

I would suggest using different ways of revising, to make sure that you do not increase the risk of stress and eye-strain. Techniques would include: getting family or friends to ask you questions, going for a long walk and rehearsing possible answers out loud, or using pencil and paper to sketch out essay structures without any other material to hand. I think using a range of methods is generally a valuable practice anyway, as it encourages confidence in approaching exam questions from different angles.


Medical advice suggests you stop revising periodically and quickly shut your eyes and then focus on something a long distance away such as the view out of your window. Remember checking phones, tablets and watching TV are all likely to compound the problem and don’t really count as breaks as far as your eyes are concerned!

What do you do if you get ill

This section isn’t medical advice as you should visit your Doctor. However, if you suffer any illness or problems such as a bereavement in the run up to or during exams this might affect your performance. It is very important that if you think an illness or circumstance is stopping you perform as you should that you take prompt action.

  • If it is at all possible you should take all your exams or as many papers as you can.
  • As soon as the illness/ circumstance occurs your parents should contact the school and talk to the exams officer as soon as possible. They can then tell the exam board.
  • You should also make sure that your doctor is aware that you are taking exams and that they may have torequired by the exam board to produce a letter.

A note of caution. Please do everything you can to stay healthy at this time.  In cases of genuine illness and difficulty your school and exam board should be supportive and do everything they can to minimise the stress for you. However, any decisions they make will be based on evidence from exams you have taken, mocks, tests etc which is one reason why everyone should work hard throughout their course!

Do you have any ideas on how to stay calm, focused and healthy in exam season? Why not add your comment or email me drnicholls(at)

Apr 302015

MOM 2015

I was recently interviewed for about the mindfulness quest I ran on this blog. When I was doing the interview and thinking about how valuable doing a month of mindfulness was I decided to set up another 31 day mindfulness challenge.

In May I am running another month of mindfulness challenge where, starting at some point in May, you focus on being more mindful for 31 days (#MOM31). The idea is to concentrate on living more mindfully for a month (at least :-)). I run this in May as for students and their families it is a perfect time to practice mindfulness as the exams approach. However, mindfulness has benefits for everyone and anyone is welcome to join in. Don’t worry if you can’t start this month because you can start a month of mindfulness at any time. Just read this post, prepare and sign up to receive the emails every day for 31 days.

Why do a month of mindfulness.

There are many benefits of mindfulness which I wrote about in this article and added to it here. The reason I recommend it to students, particularly in the run up to exams, is because  it helps you to stay calm, stay focused and sustain your concentration (among other benefits).

What is mindfulness practice?

Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening in the moment without judging it. Generally we spend much of our time mulling over things that have happened or that will happen and pay little attention to what is happening.

Try a month of mindfulness

When we mindfully focus our minds on the present moment, we are aware and accepting of our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Although it’s called practice it is not something you are aiming to get better at or to perfect. If anything you may find that the more you practise mindfulness the more you notice the mind wandering. This is because you are aiming to notice that your mind is wandering so that you can bring it back to the moment.


You can probably remember a time when you were going to school or work and you suddenly realised with a start that you can’t remember a large chunk of the journey because you went into autopilot. This is an example of your mind wandering and being brought back to the present. The wandering, distracted mind is sometimes called monkey mind as your thoughts are like a monkey roaming around your brain.
Developing mindful awareness is a bit like developing physical fitness. Physical fitness is strength, stamina and flexibility. To develop these things we can use practices such as walking, cycling or swimming. Mindfulness is being aware of your present experience and accepting it and this is also developed by practices.

If you want to get fit but are really busy or don’t have many resources you might start by incorporating simple adjustments to your everyday routine such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to the station instead of getting the bus.

To improve further you would need to dedicate more time to regular activities such as walking, going to the gym or going to fitness classes.

If you wanted to take things even further you might dedicate more time to an intensive training regimen such as training for a marathon or doing a hiking holiday.

The three type of mindfulness practice are like developing fitness.

  • Informal practice is about making small changes to your everyday routines.
  • Formal practice is about setting aside small regular times to practice
  • A retreat is about spending an intensive period focusing on mindfulness.

Going on a retreat is outside of the scope of my Month of Mindfulness and you are unlikely to consider it until after exams!

How to do formal practice

Formal practice is taking a specific amount of time out of your day for a mindfulness meditation.

Although it is called meditation it does not have to be religious nor do you have to sit in lotus position (see my article on myths about mindfulness).

Most research on the benefits of mindfulness have examined people who practice formally. To get the most out of your month of mindfulness it would be ideal to have a formal practice of 20 minutes a day but if this is a new thing for you just 5 or 10 minutes would be fine.

I wrote an article about the best way to establish a habit such as mindfulness here.

Ideally you want to find a comfortable, quiet place with no distractions to do this. Most people try to sit in an upright position but you can stand or lie down (although you might fall asleep!).

When they start most people find it easiest to close their eyes and to use a guided meditation to listen to. There are many available for free on the internet and as apps. I have a post on some of the resources here but there are many more. The apps I recommend to students are buddhify, smiling mind and stop breathe and think.

Mindfulness of breath is the usual starting place as all you do is focus on the sensations associated with breathing or count breaths. Try a mindfulness of breath meditation of the length you want and if you are happy with it you can keep using it every day for the month. Here are some that you can try

5 minute breathing meditation

10 minute mindfulness of breathing

15 minute awareness of breath meditation

20 minute breath meditation

For some people focusing on the breath can make them feel anxious or uncomfortable. If this is the case for you then try a body scan meditation, a mindfulness of sound meditation or a walking meditation (daily exercise is a great idea as exams approach).

How to do informal practice

Informal practice is any time you bring your awareness to the present moment. There are lots of ways to do this and if you sign up for the Month of Mindfulness email I will send an email every day for 31 days with an idea for informal practice for that day.

You do not need to follow them rigidly unless you want to. Sometimes people find one practice particularly helpful and use it for several days or weeks. Remember any time you want you can reread the emails or sign up again and receive them again.

If you want to join in a Month of Mindfulness
1. Decide how long you will practice for every day. If you want you can download and fill out this chart to keep track.

Month of mindfulness checklist colour

Month of mindfulness checklist bw
2. If you are going to listen to a guided meditation as your formal practice then decide which you will use.
3. When you are ready sign up below to get emails suggesting ideas for informal practice every day for 31 days.

Sign up for the

Month of Mindfulness.

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If you want support with the 31 day month of mindfulness challenge please do leave a comment or give me a shout on email or twitter(#MOM31). If you want to find out more about mindfulness then there is a summary of my posts here.

It is great to have other bloggers joining the challenge and writing about it. Jennifer over at has written an excellent post about it here.

Thanks to @EP_pturner for sharing and feedback, @patweber for spotting a broken link on a related post and @emartin1974 for her support. Thanks to @TheSavingsOpp for her wonderful article and to @muminsearch who has given me some great ideas to incorporate into my Month of Mindfulness challenge next year.

Apr 292015

Revision tips Using questioning

As a teacher and study skills tutor you would think I know everything about revision tips. However, I find that there is always something new to learn from other people because they often approach the same problems in different way. This post is the first in a series of interviews with experts, parents and students on revision tips and ideas to help with getting through exams. My interview today is with parent and writer David Leonhardt.

David Leonhardt

David Leonhardt


David Leonhardt

David provides study help and support as a parent. As a writer he often has to learn new topics for new clients, so he is a “lifelong” learner of sorts. He doesn’t call it studying, but there are times when he is absorbing a lengthy report and trying to memorize the terms and the statistics.David is President of THGM Writers.

Questions we’ve been discussing:

Q. What revision tips and techniques do you wish you had known/ followed when you were at school?

A. David Leonhardt 

Back in high school, I learned that I often studied best with a partner, with each of us asking the other questions. But what I really learned is quite counterintuitive. I learned more from asking the questions than from being asked. I cannot confirm the reason, but I believe it has to do with the self-talk that was happening.

When I was asked the question, I was trying to think what the answer would be, and it would not always come to me at first.

When I was the one asking the question, I was repeating the answer subconsciously in my head while the other person was trying to figure it out.

Q. What can parents and families do to help support students as they approach and take exams?

A. David Leonhardt 

Offer to ask them questions or for them to ask you questions. This morning I was helping my daughter study her French conjugations. I alternated between showing her the answers and asking her the answers, which I hope kept her thinking, but thinking about the correct answers and not accidentally memorizing false information.

Q. What did you find was the most difficult aspect of exams? With hindsight how do you think you could have overcome this?

A. David Leonhardt 

I loved exams because they forced me to push myself. But in university I found the atmosphere of stress around me made me feel very stressful, too. In hindsight, maybe getting off-campus and studying at the public library or even in a park would have been less stressful.


Many thanks to David for his thoughts on revision and using questioning strategies to aid revision. Why don’t you share your hints and tips for revision in the comments section. If you found this article useful please share it on social media.


Nov 122014
Biology Chemistry Physics Revision timetable poster

This post has a link to a revision timetable for AQA separate science (biology, chemistry and physics) year 11 pupils to download. Before downloading you should read this article so you understand the stages I’ve built into your timetable. I have a post containing the revision timetable for GCSE Science here and GCSE Additional science here.

I think of  being successful in exams as being like building a house.


You need to start by digging strong foundations. To make decent foundations it takes the effort to dig a big hole and the more work you’ve put in the easier it is to then build a strong house. The strongest foundations you can build for your GCSE are by focusing in class and making sure you understand all the new ideas. Homework helps you to combine your knowledge (binding new ideas together) and revising fully for tests will help to move new ideas from your short to long-term memory.

As you start revising for the mocks and main exams you’re starting to pour your foundations. This is the basic work and doesn’t need much skill. You need to revise keywords and definitions for all the topics (if you want some free keyword cards for Biology add your email at the end of this post).


The next stage is to build your walls and roof. You need to make revision notes in an active way. There are many types of notes you can make and I will discuss them in other posts. At GCSE I recommend using my Q notes. A lot of people stop here. The problem with this is that making the notes doesn’t mean you can remember the information. A lot of the time because our brain recognises the information as we write notes this  fools us into thinking we remember it. To remember it you really need to go on to the next stage. This had become even more important with the move to linear exams. If you are studying separate sciences it is likely you have to learn the information taught over 2 or 3 years at school to sit 9 exams at the end of the course (B1, B2, B3, C1, C2, C3, P1, P2, P3). I devised my Q note system to revise effectively for this type of exam. Students using the system have gained excellent GCSE results.


Now you get to put up some wallpaper. To remember information you need to revise it. Keep testing yourself. Can you remember the definitions for the keywords? Can you remember all the information in your notes? You also need to work on your exam technique. Do lots of exam questions and look carefully at the mark schemes. Make sure you have your timing sorted. As you start a question look at how many marks it is worth, check your watch and make sure you answer it in the same number of minutes as there are marks. Many of the people who don’t get at least a C in Biology exams didn’t finish the paper. Make sure you find the command word in the question as lots of people who drop grades failed to answer the question fully e.g. a question asked them to describe and explain and they only described. Concentrate on improving your skills in the questions about experiments.

Finishing touches

Now it’s time for the finishing touches. All the things that make a house a home. In exam terms the things that push you from an A to an A*. Make sure you know all the detail in your notes. Keep revising. Keep doing exam papers. Keep calm. Aiming high is great but you need to take care of yourself so that you give your best performance in the exams. I have made two versions of each revision timetable- a colourful poster

Biology Chemistry Physics Revision timetable poster

and a more basic version

Separate science revision timetable (biology, chemistry, physics) by Dr Nicholls timetable basicRevision Timetable downloads

Ideally you want to start revising as early as you can and distributing it evenly across the year. The later you start the tougher it is and intensive revision over holidays only could lead yo you getting very tired by the exams so you don’t do your best. In the end you need to decide which strategy works best for you!

When revision starts

November 2014

December 2014

December 2014

January 2015

Easter 2015

 Type of revision

Distributed little & often across year

Distributed little & often across year

Intensive over winter and spring break

Distributed little & often across year