Revision at Christmas? Take the long view for success.

Looking ahead to the whole of your academic course is sometimes vital to planning.

Looking ahead to the whole of your academic course is sometimes vital to planning.

How to get the balance right for students who work hard but have no holiday at all.

Yes, it’s Christmas, but you still have to revise! For many students this is their Christmas dilemma, year after year. How much to work and how much time to take off? If you are the type of student who gets down to a lot of revision but has no holiday or rest time, we are here to help.

(If however, you struggle to get down to any work and feel guilty all holiday, check out the next blog – it’s designed for you!)

Taking the Long View:

Don’t forget that getting your pacing right over the whole of the academic year is the long-term goal for every student. Good grades are the result of getting this pacing right. They are the result of a clever overall strategy. It’s easy to forget this in the day to day demands of your work-load. But  you also need to pace yourself over time, so that when you really need to nail it, you are in your best condition and ready to deliver.

Christmas Revision Tips:

Your main driver will probably be fear of failure, guilt at not trying hard all the time and an unrealistic sense of how much work you actually need to do. Try asking yourself what you expect of yourself and for how long. Draw a quick 30 second pie chart. Put in it the proportions of work/rest and play. Do it quickly. It is your pie chart of what you expect from yourself, not what you actually feel you are currently achieving. (If that feels very different draw that pie chart out and compare them – perhaps your expectations of yourself are negatively affecting what you actually end up doing?)

Your expectations of yourself: 

Have a look at the pie chart which shows your expectations of yourself. See what the balance in your life will be. Is it all work? Is rest classified by you as sleep only? Do you have any other activities that are restful and therefore restorative? (Examples might be watching a film, having a bath, listening to music). Is there any play in your life? What is play for you? Is it fun filled or has it become a derivative of work, for example, highly competitive sports. Or is play a sedentary activity like gaming, which means there’s no actual physical activity.

Now ask yourself – how long do you plan to maintain this for? Is it all through Christmas? Is it in to the New Year? To the end of the exams? To the end of your summer exams?

“What will this approach do for my overall performance?”

And then ask yourself – “What will this approach do for my overall performance?” You may never have stopped and taken a helicopter view of the way you are working and living your life.

This is an important moment. Striving for balance within an academic career is something that we all grapple with. Now is your moment to ask yourself what the implications on you as a human being are with the way that you are currently planning on working. There can be no doubting that on a day to day basis, working every hour will make you feel good. You will be free of guilt while you work diligently all the hours of the day. But in terms of pacing, recovery, energy and maintaining a growing motivation curve – perhaps it does not deliver on all these fronts. And over the long term – you need to be thinking about your overall performance – not simply about achieving a guilt-free Christmas.

How I would like the balance of my life to be:

Try drawing your pie chart again. Draw it the way you would like it to be. Place it in a context. Think about how it might need to be this early in the academic year. Include ‘work’ time for revision, but think about how you’re going to rest, have some fun and get back to work in January with some new energy behind you. If this feels useful, start planning your study time with boundaries around it and see if you can stick to it. Promise yourself time off for fun without guilt because you now know you have a plan which includes your needs for the whole year. By setting boundaries around your work and sticking to them, you will probably find that you work in a much more focused way. Challenge yourself and see – how much and how focused can you be in a short space of time.


Before trying to learn anything on any topic, get out a blank piece of paper and scribble down, at speed, anything and everything you know about that topic. Find out what you know already! YOU WILL BE AMAZED! Most of us know far more than we think we do. Fast track routes to remembering involve practicing recall. Doing this is recall. And fast track ways to remember things over time include creating a context for where you place additional information in your memory. By already being clear about what you do know – you can add new information into your already existing information.

So ….. begin with what you know and ADD TO IT!

A final word on burn out: 

The last thing you want to do is burn out this early on! Burn out doesn’t just mean getting tired and ill now, before your exams. It can also mean that even though you keep working right up to your exams, your stress levels are so high that you can’t function in the exams.

Often students who have burnt out in this way are hampered in the exams by fear – they feel that the exam results are a life or death situation (good results = good career + good life  OR  bad results = bad career + bad life). At this stage they have lost perspective and feel that their only option is to keep pushing themselves harder having invested so much time and effort already. This level of stress can create low performance within the exams. This is a type of burn-out that is little recognised or talked about. This type of burn out shows up in the last stages of the academic year. It’s one too be avoided!

So, this Christmas is your chance to work on your overall performance. Here is your chance to allow yourself a longer-term perspective and think about it’s implications for your overall success. Take the long view this holiday, whilst also focusing on what needs to be done for the upcoming exam season. This is your chance to work on your attitude to study and learn how to give yourself a little of what you need: some time off without guilt – whilst also delivering some clever and effective study time. It doesn’t sound easy, we know – but there are some strategies that you can use.