History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

Teaching Issues

Ten Top Tips for History Exam Revision


At certain points of,every year teachers and students gear themselves up for revision. Before mocks, before summer exams…

Everyone is under increasing pressure to succeed: students, teachers, schools.

But what are the keys to success with revision?

Firstly we would stress the fact that revision is something that should happen across two years of the course (or three if school leaders think that a three year KS4 is a good idea).  Not just in the final few weeks.

Can we panic now?Teachers should build in tasks to remind students of the work they have covered and may have forgotten.  Testing of substantive knowledge is hugely important.

But we would be foolish/smug / sat in an ivory tower if we said that in the period leading up to the exams we didn’t spend time re-visiting information and helping our students get ready to succeed.

So what makes for good revision?

Essentially we break this learning down into three mains areas:

  1. Getting the information into your brain in the first place by taking a highly engaging enquiry based approach to learning.
  2. Remembering and recalling the information through repeated testing in different contexts.
  3. Applying the information to different contexts  (ultimately exam questions).

Step 1 is simple. Teach ’em the stuff well. Use an enquiry based approach.

This is what we do day in day out in the classroom. I personally view the classwork book as a learning book. Not as something that is created for revision notes that students take home. This is different. Learning is messy and students will make mistakes. If you think that the classwork book will become a revision tool, think again as just re-reading notes or summarising them doesn’t work according to some research.

We provide our students with revision notes after they have learned the ‘stuff’. They can then use this to test themselves.

I am not saying that I think presentation in class books should be poor. Just that the classwork book is a learning book where students will write essays, create charts, complete links diagrams and so on.

Step 2: Remembering and recalling information.

We must remember that information needs to be re-visited. This process should be repeated. We do not advocate the rote learning of possible answers to exam questions. This just creates a problem for your kids if the question they have practiced doesn’t appear on the exam.

Students need to be able to recall the information they need, and then decide exactly what they should be doing with that information when asked.

RevisionOne problem with revision in schools and the growth of extra revision classes is students think learning and revision is something that their teacher does to them.

This often happens when a school hasn’t created a positive learning environment. Schools should work hard to create the right attitude for learning across their institutions.

The more you can get your students to complete these revision tasks independently of the teacher, the better.  Recent research suggests that the most effective form of revision is repeated testing.

This is why we set up www.historyhomework.com It’s an independent testing site where your students log in and complete the test that you have set them on any particular area of the specification. They spend 15 minutes completing the tasks and you get gap analysis data about how much they know. You can then re-set them to test at any point across the course to build their knowledge.

HistoryHomework.com – marks your homework and revision tasks for you!

Find Out More

I am not saying that the teacher shouldn’t be involved in setting up the activities. But all revision lessons shouldn’t just involve the teacher asking the students about what they remember, then filling in the gaps when they don’t know.

Revision is quite simple – that is why ‘look, cover, write, check’ works.

We can use a number of different approaches to help students remember the information after we have taught them. The key is to get them the to retrieve information independently and don’t just re-read notes and highlight stuff.

Below are fifteen ideas and three free downloads.

  1. Using odd one out – this is simple. As a start to a lesson give out the odd-one-out grid on the topic that you have studied before and get them to justify their choice. Then talk about it. Here is an example.
  2. Picture sorts – we love to use images in our lessons. By reusing the images on their own you get your students to remember the key events of a time period. For example, give em a bunch of pictures and get them to work out what each one is and get them into chronological order.
  3. Word Association – start the lesson by writing keywords on the board. The students have to copy them and write what they associate with the word. If you wanted them to remember key information about the USA in the 1920s you might write: tenant farmers, Al Capone etc This shows you how much they have learned.
  4. Regular tests – but call them quizzes! Use preset tests to take the pain out of creating and marking them.
  5. Learning grids – these are great and have been widely used by Osiris trainers such as Carmel Bones. 6 by 6 grids of key events of a topic. You can use them how you like but rolling dice to get coordinates and identify each square then linking them together for more points is our favourite. You can download the USA in the ’20s one here.
  6. Tarsias – enough said.
  7. Jenga in the classroom
  8. Connect 4 in the classroom
  9. Acronyms – making them up. For example ‘Eileen Rightly Enjoyed Nightly Passions’  to remember Hitler’s consolidation of power: Elections, Reichstag Fire, Enabling Act, Night of the Long Knives, President Hindenburg’s death. But remember they are only useful to recall specifics.
  10. The making of mind maps to remember key information.
  11. The making and use of flashcards.
  12. Stepping Stones

If you have decent access to the computers you could get your students to sit down and complete the tests you have set via www.historyhomework.com make their own tarsias and learning grids and use them with their peers. You could get them to use software to create online gap fills and crosswords that are marked online.

There are loads of other activities and techniques that we have missed but these make a good starting point.

The key is to make revision in class as varied and as fun as possible. Make regular low stakes tests a part of your entire course.

Step 3: Applying the information to different contexts

Once your students are armed with the knowledge you can test their ability to answer different question types.

  1. You can look closely at what exam questions are asking by content, time period, skill and marks.
  2. You can have badly written answers where the author of the answer has written too much nonsense or too little or been too waffly. Students can spot the problems (using the knowledge they have armed themselves in step 2) and improve the answer.
  3. You could start the lesson by having a really difficult exam question written on the board and get the students to answer it immediately (after they have got over the groans). Then after the time is up, unpick the answer with them and show them what they should have done.


One of the most important aspects of revision is showing your students exactly what they need to revise in bite-size chunks and get them to re-visit the key information regularly. For years we have given our students charts of information telling them exactly what they need to learn for each topic. We explain to them that repetition is the key here. They should aim to make their revision notes on the topic, then re-visit at least 3 times if not more. They should keep a tally of this to make them feel like they are succeeding.

By doing this, when they enter the exam hall they have the confidence of knowing that they have covered all of the course in their revision and should be able to pull any particular knowledge needed to answer a question from their brain.

If you want to read how to plan a successful revision evening and what to put in revision packs read this article.

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

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