5 top revision tasks that will strengthen students’ exam skills and confidence

By Steve Willshaw


Students are often reluctant to revise for English examinations or don’t really understand what to do. Here are five grade-boosting tasks that will help build their practical skills, consolidate their knowledge and develop their confidence.

1. Re-read the text. Students can’t do this too often! Encourage them to see re-reading as a way of deepening their understanding of the texts, enabling them to develop informed readings, a skill which will support them in the fresh thinking they will need to do well in the exam. They should expect to find new things or understand something differently with each reading.

2. Argue. Tasks which require students to develop, support and defend an argument are important if they are going to become the thoughtful readers who excel in literature exams. Short debates provide a brilliant opportunity for students to construct an argument. Students could debate which is the most important character or which poem most accurately portrays conflict, for example. Alternatively, make use of 6x6 grids for each text with 36 images or quotations.¹ Students roll dice to pick two random cells and have to find ways in which they link. This encourages fresh, flexible thinking.

3. Free recall. At the end of a lesson, give students 10 minutes, without notes, to write down everything they have learned in the lesson.² Then they can look at their notes to see what they have recalled and what they have forgotten. You can put the material they have forgotten at the heart of subsequent lessons! Encourage students to use the same approach to structure their own personal revision.

4. Quizzing. Create short quiz questions on set texts to test what they already know. Follow this with a short amount of time in which students reflect on the quiz and write down personal resolutions about the things they now need to learn more about. Return to these resolutions after a week and a month to see whether they have been achieved and to remind students about the key topics related to each text.

5. Plan answers. In order to feel well prepared for the exam, students need to spend time planning answers to past questions or teacher-devised questions that follow the same format. Planning answers builds good exam technique. Try giving students less and less time to produce their plans as the exam draws nearer. Planning also saves time, quickly identifying for students what they know and what they need to work on further. It also encourages independent thinking as students learn to marshal their ideas to meet the demands of different questions.


Steve Willshaw is a Senior Leader for English, author, and former Head of English.


¹ Griffith and Burns, Engaging Learners: Outstanding Teaching, 2012

² Brown, Roediger III and McDaniel, Make It Stick, 2014