How to deal with revision fatigue 

by Anita Naik

As GCSE, A-level and finals season approaches, revision fatigue can set in. If you feel discouraged, fed up, and have issues remembering information, don't worry; it's normal. There are many reasons for this kind of tiredness, such as pushing yourself too hard, not taking enough breaks, and the difficulties of working independently. So if you need a helping hand, here's what will help.

Understand what's happening to your brain

When you learn something new, neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain works to store new patterns and information. It goes into overload when you are revising. So much so that when given the right signal (an exam question, for instance), it will retrieve what you have learnt,

However, during revision periods, the hippocampus can become overworked and then information retrieval becomes difficult, and you start to feel frustrated. This is why it's important not to spend 16-hours a day revising. When you find yourself unable to remember the material, you need to stop going over it and give your brain a break. The hippocampus takes time to retain information, so the more time you give it before revisiting it, the better your recall.

Unravel what you are feeling and why

Both physically and mentally, feeling emotionally drained also plays a big part in why revision fatigue occurs. Feeling fed up is normal but feeling scared and anxious to the point that you can't focus or tearful isn't. Start by looking at what you are feeling. Are you feeling under pressure by yourself or others? Is the constant revision making you feel stressed or anxious, or is the way you are feeling about something else entirely?

Identifying what lies beneath your revision fatigue is key in helping you get back into the revision game and find the right coping mechanisms. What helps here is to talk about how you feel with friends, teachers or parents and unravel what's going on for you. Locating the reasons behind your feelings will help you cope better and improve your revision and exam performance.

Learn to take proper breaks

Breaks are something all revision guides emphasise because they are important if you want your revision methods to work. However, as above, when your hippocampus is forced to store too much new (and often similar) information in a short space of time, it can get information jumbled up.

Plan your revision properly to take regular breaks both to enable you to retain information and help you feel more able to cope. More than three hours of revision equals an hour break, but in between, the best way to decide when you need a break is to take one when you feel you need it. Rather than taking boredom as a sign, losing focus and feeling exhausted and fed up are signs you need anything from 10 to 30 minutes away from your books.

As for time between subjects, always leave a few days before revisiting work. Put it aside for a while to allow your brain to remember what you have learnt and then come back to it.

Change your revision methods

You may be using a range of revision methods from past papers to mind-maps, flashcards and more, but sometimes you need to change things to get over a revision hump. Try working with a peer or a tutor, or see how group revision works for you.

Working with someone else helps you revise differently and is especially good for test retrieval. Use quizzes, tests and explaining theories to see if you can pull studied material out of your memory. This will let you know what you know and what gaps need to be filled.

And the good news

The good news is you are almost done! With exams imminent, so much of the hard work of learning, preparation and revision are likely to be done. This means the end of the road is nearer than you think. So, don't get discouraged and call it a day on revision.

For more on revision, look at our posts on Productivity Hacks, Coping with exam stress, How to create a revision timetable and The best memorisation techniques for revision.