Queen Anne’s School have produced a revision guide based on their Brain Can Do neuroscience programme

After five years of research alongside leading universities, Queen Anne’s School in Caversham have produced a revision guide based on neuroscientific evidence relating to how teenage brains work best. 


Night-owls don’t take well to revision, according to the school’s report. The best time to revise is during the day due to synchrony effects – in other words, pupils should revise during the time of day when they will sit their exams. 


As with the advice on when to revise, it’s recommended to do so in the same place as where you’ll sit the exam. This won’t always be possible, but certainly means that staying up late at night to revise in the confines of a duvet won’t do you any favours. Students should at the very least visit the room in which they’ll be doing the exam to get a feel for it so that it’s not a distraction on the day.

“Our working memory overloads easily. Revising little and often is most effective”


 1. Spaced Practice

Our brains aren’t able to store and recall masses of information in a short period of time; evidence suggests that the best way to revise is little and often. In fact, it’s best to allow yourself time to forget it and then come back to it. For best results, leave progressively longer intervals between revisiting information to make it stick. 

 2. Retrieval Practice

Regularly test yourself. Make learning a challenge for yourself by testing what you think you know by using flash cards, an app or completing past papers.

 3. Be Inquisitive

Rather than accepting answers at face value, students should be critical of the information they receive by trying to understand the steps that result in a particular answer.

 4. Interleaving

It can be tempting to spend an entire day revising one topic, but the report suggests this isn’t the best way to work. It says that by interleaving revision subjects, that is mixing them up, students are more likely to remember them. So it’s best to spend less time on a variety of subjects every day, rathwe than an entire section at a time.

 5. Cognitive Load Theory

Our ‘working memory’ is the limited part of memory which holds what we’re thinking about right now. Learning has occurred when that information is transferred from working memory into long-term memory. Our working memory can easily be overloaded, this is yet more evidence pointing toward the effectiveness of little and often. Regular breaks are always a good idea, as is ‘scaffolding’, whereby students start with the information they know the best, in order to build the less sturdy knowledge around it. 

 6. Avoid multi-tasking

Our working memory can only do one thing at once. Students shouldn’t dilute its ability by having a mobile phone nearby or music with lyrics. 


Heightened nerves are very common during exam season. The Queen Anne’s report suggests various ways for students to remain calm and in control throughout: 

 1. Conditioning

One of the most basic principles in psychology is that of conditioning. That is, students should find a way to associate an object or sensation with a positive mood. First select a trigger, like the smell of a lemon or the sensation of squeezing your ear. Then, spend five minutes a day thinking about or doing things which make you feel great, all the while triggering the physical sensation. On the day of the exam, use the physical trigger to invoke a positive feeling. If that means bringing in a wedge of lemon, so be it. 

 2. Sleep

It is critical for students to get enough sleep during exam periods. It’s when we sleep that our brain is very active, sorting and storing the day’s information, so it follows that this is especially important during revision. 

 3. Understand stress

Nerves surrounding exams are completely natural. All sorts of unpleasant physical sensations occur – butterflies, feeling sick, needing to go to the toilet more than normal – they’re all ways the body reacts to the fight or flight response. Instead of despairing, students should remind themselves that these responses occur because they care about what they’re doing, it matters to them. Holding your head high can help make us feel more calm and confident.

 4. Fake it ‘til you make it

Because our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are all interlinked, saying positive things to yourself can actually make you feel more positive. Students should avoid negative people before an exam, instead seeking those who encourage positivity. Although it feels natural to say “I feel stressed” when stressed, if instead a student says “I feel confident”, it can directly alter the emotional feeling. 

 5. Healthy body: healthy mind

Exercise is an excellent way to relax, there are strong links between being active and maintaining a positive psychological well-being. Rather than fret over potential mistakes in an exam just sat, students should get moving to release endorphins.    

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For a copy of The Brain Can Do Revision Guide, contact [email protected]

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