How rest improves your revision!

revision breaksIt’s Easter and for many students this can be a high stress period, whilst gearing up and getting into revision.

Many of the students that I coach rarely feel that they have the time to stop and research best practice revision techniques. So I wanted to share one of the easiest techniques I advocate. It’s how to use rest breaks well during revision. I know that this will immediately appeal to many!

First we need to understand just how important rest breaks are:

Physically strange to say, we get tired just by not moving. We actually need to move around every 30 mins or so. Even better, we need to stretch.

– Cognitively we need rest breaks. Our brains consume an extraordinary amount of energy relative to it’s size. The figure usually quoted is 20% energy consumption compared to 2% mass (Clark & Sokoloff 1999). So – 10 times what we would expect based on weight. More to the point, there’s quite a bit of research now that suggests our brains continue to consume significant energy, whether working hard or not.

The point being – revision and studying is going to be tiring whether we are being highly effective or not. Don’t fool yourself by questioning why you are so tired if you feel you haven’t been effective or because you haven’t been physically active.  

You’ll be getting tired – it’s part of the process.

So we need rest breaks – lets use them to our advantage:

1. Take them regularly, keep them short 15-25 minutes.

2. Have two types:

The one where you go outside, breath the air, look at a different view and walk around, stretch, move.

The one where you stay in and watch your favourite programme whether it’s a TED talk, the Simpsons or Big Bang Theory. There all short, you know the timing, so you can relax and go back when it’s finished. Just allow your brain to shut off to some extent.

3. Use the time BEFORE your break:

– Just put your papers away and on a clean piece of paper or in your mind, go over what you can remember of what you have been learning. Don’t look at any information! Test yourself – go for it.  Give yourself a few minutes to try and recall whatever comes to your mind. Don’t rush checking up on facts you can’t remember. This is a key moment in your revision.


Make a quick note of where you are and what you plan to do when you come back. It’s the worst thing when every time you take a much needed break you feel like you’ve lost your stride and it takes time to find your way back in. Avoid this – make a quick note “Follow up on X and write a list of Y”. So you know what your next step is going to be.

4.When you return be AMAZINGLY clever:

– before you start on the next thing, see what you can still recall from what you have just been learning. This is called over learning. It’s the basis of how we learn. And as Wikipedia points out “The.. more overlearning led to more retention”.


So more repetition – more efforts of screwing up your face and really bringing that fact to mind – this is the learning. I remember learning this years ago. I read somewhere that what we remember is not only the facts that we are trying to learn, but also the efforts we made to learn them. And I remember once trying this – trying to remember what the fatty coating around the nerves was called. And I made myself not look it up –  I stuck with it and eventually it came – Myelin sheaths. This is what coats a nerve and gives it electrical activity. I’ve never forgotten it from that day – because it was such an experiment and I stuck with the effort. It’s nice to think that I would have be using myelin sheaths to actually dredge up that fact from deep in my brain.

I hope these strategies are helpful, please feel free to email me with any more ideas that you find helpful at