The Art of Revising for Art Exams


the art of Revising for Art Exams revision  

Learn how to ace your next art exam!

I remember a time when it felt like I was constantly revising for one exam or another. Not that I was ever a great student, I got distracted way too easily. If anyone asked me a question I didn't understand, I would be certain to give them an answer they didn't understand. 

I would usually end up cramming any revision in at the last minute even if I hadn't got a clue what the question was let alone the answer. I had a teenage strategy though.

That strategy was to ignore parents, teachers, the class geniuses, and everyone who would tell me something I didn't want to hear. The strategy worked really well until I sat the exams.

I somehow managed to scrape through and to this day when I look back I have absolutely no idea how I managed to pass anything. When I say scraped through, there's a really fine line between passing and failing and somehow I managed to just about edge over on to the pass side. It was close, I mean really close. 

To this day I had no idea quite how I managed it. Since leaving school I have attended so much more education and training and have had to learn how to revise, and being a parent has meant that I have had to develop ways to help and support my daughter’s revision too. I even managed to somehow gain a qualification or two in becoming a teacher within further and higher education, and although I never became a teacher, I often give keynotes to audiences including students. 


I know that a lot of my younger readers and not so young readers will be going through the next year revising and learning for their exams. I know that any arts related exam nowadays is much harder than the arts exams I took either during my school days and when I went to further educate myself in the arts at college.

Exams all over the world are becoming tougher for students to get through. Courses in U.K. Schools now have longer and more complicated exams. There will be more rigor applied and an extra emphasis on S. P. A. G. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

There will be less course work but there will be a need to revise more thoroughly than ever before. This means that students will need to plan ahead, follow the plan, and do a little, a little more often.

There's a whole bunch of research around the art of revision but essentially it all seems to point towards the best revision being when a student doesn't just read through notes. Something they call active revision.


I visit one university on a regular basis with my day job and I know that their busiest student time in the library is around 3am! That seems a little hardcore to me and is probably the reason why so many students burn out.

But often schools and colleges put aside special revision time for their students. Some schools open up on a Saturday and when I learnt this all I could think of was the film, The Breakfast Club! But Saturday mornings it seems are a popular choice for students and leaves the rest of the weekend to binge watch Netflix or do something equally useful like go outside.

Some schools offer revision clubs in the holidays and after school. I know, I hear you, you deserve six weeks off during the summer. But here's the thing, when you leave school unless you become a teacher (and don't assume that teachers get six weeks off just because you are off), there are about two jobs I can immediately think of where you will get a guaranteed six weeks off during the summer. Crab fishing in the Bering Sea, and a stand-in Santa at the department store.

Suck it up kid, because as soon as those exams are done with, life will either get easier, or it will get a whole lot harder. The harder you work now the easier life will be in the future. This is probably something you hear your parents say, but trust me, I am a hip and trendy artist and blogger. (OK, not so hip, not so trendy, but I am an artist and a blogger, and I have been where you are right now and so have your parents).

You might be running around today, but wait until you have the responsibility of buying a mattress and after a year you realise it was the wrong choice. When your backs aching you're going to long for those days in school. Trust me, every adult has on at least one occasion made an ill-informed purchase and got the wrong type of mattress. These are going to be the days when your bones ache and you still have to put in a day’s work. When I say ache, you have no idea yet just what age will do to you! (I'm all for pep talks too!)

Revising now and getting the job you love will mean that you will never have to work a day in your life when you are doing something that you love.

I digress, if a school or college runs revision activity in the school holidays, take it. The school is often less formal than it is in term time, often you can wear what you want, and at my daughters school they even allow students to order Pizza and get it delivered, something their healthy options dining during the normal week wouldn't allow them to do. It is a treat, a little reward and something they can only occasionally do, but it makes the whole environment more grown up and fun.

Schools are great places these days. When I was in school, almost a thousand children had access to a single Commodore PET computer (Google it), and there was NO INTERNET!

Now schools have plenty of IT provision in the Western world at least. Some of it might be old and tired in some schools, but at least it's getting better than it was when I was young. Schools really should invest more in IT, and whilst funding is critically low in many places, it's going to cost society a lot more in the long run if children today don't become IT literate in the future.

Many schools have their own internal intranets, learning environments, and access to the internet. But even if you only have access to the internet at home or at the public library, there are now so many great websites out there which support learning and offer great advice.


I remember flash cards when I was in pre-school. They were printed pieces of white card with words like 'ball' on them, next to a picture of a ball. I have no idea if they're still used in early year’s schools, but I remember that they seemed to work.

Nowadays you can get packets of plain revision cards. They're inexpensive and sometimes schools will hand them out.

These are ideal for writing notes on. Make notes of key topics and write questions on the front and answers on the back. Pop a hole in the corner and attach the ring from a key ring to hold them all together.

You can hang these on a cork board or have them on a shelf. Colour code them, make them look nice, and whenever you have a couple of minutes just pick up a random set and go through them.

Make them visual but try to keep a consistent visual style. Using different shades of blue to write different sections of information for example. Add in small doodles which will remind you of an answer. When you start associating questions with doodles it makes it so much easier to remember the facts.

You might be getting all sorts of advice around how to revise for exams. Teachers will tell you one thing, parents tell you something else, and I can only speak from my own experiences. But I do know that some revision techniques are good, some not so good, and there are a few which are completely useless.

When it comes to revising it's going to come down to what works for you. I'm only offering some advice on what worked for me, and from the techniques I've seen others use. To know exactly what works before you start out would mean you would need to have a complex understanding of how the mind works at a very granular level.

Your particular learning style might be different from someone else's. Essentially there are seven styles of learning, although I think there are more. In fact I have a feeling that it depends on the subject you are learning as to which learning style you have, and I think it can quite easily be a combination of learning styles.

do not disturb brilliant mind at work 



VisualYou prefer learning using pictures, diagrams, photographs and other images.

AuralYou prefer listening to sounds and music.

Verbalor sometimes known as linguistic learning means that you prefer verbal instruction, words, speech and writing.

Physicalotherwise known as kinaesthetic learning meaning that you prefer a hands-on approach using your body, hands, and sense of touch.


LogicalOften referred to as mathematical learning means that you prefer to apply some logic and reasoning, and you like having methodical systems and processes in place.

SocialSometimes this style of learning is called interpersonal skills meaning that you prefer to work in groups and teams.

SolitaryIntra-personal learning which means that you prefer to learn alone or to self-study.

Finding out your learning style can make a huge difference. I am more of a visual learner, although for some subjects I prefer a more logical approach. There’s no harm in finding out which style suits you best in which subjects and you can mix and match.

There has been a lot of research carried out over the years into what works best when it comes to revising for exams. A recent study in the USA found that highlighters didn’t work as well as other visual techniques, but forget the research for now. Whatever helps you to revise is the right way to do it.



So here are my top tips for revising for exams and tests:

Exam revision what works  

  1. Do it your own way. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out which learning style suits you best and try different ways and methods before you decide on the best way for you. Just have some fun exploring.

  2. 2. Make the revision active. Don’t just read notes actually do something with them. Create mind maps or flash cards, plaster your bedroom walls with Post-It notes.

    3. Make it personal. Turn your notes into something that means something to you. I remember creating doodles on my notes and to this day I recall that A Big Secret Concealing Her Past meant that,  Aragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard, and Parr, were the six wives of Henry VIII and each one in turn was divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!

    4. Don’t always rely on technology! What happens when you lose the USB stick (my daughter goes through at least three each year), or one day the screen goes blank, or the disc drive with your entire life on fails? OK, a little dramatic but remember the good old paper and pen too.

    5. Make a plan and work out how much work you need to cover and how much time you have before the exams and then work back from the exams.

    6. Try not to cram more than one or maybe at the most two subjects into a day. That way you will feel like you have achieved something at the end of each day.

    7. If you need to switch between revision subjects because you are bored, take a break. If you still feel the need to revise a different subject, make sure you focus on that one and come straight back to the one you left when you feel the need to swap again.

    8. Concentrate on understanding something rather than just memorising something. It becomes so much easier when you understand something. If your notes aren’t helping look for other ways you can find out more information.


    9. Revise with friends because it is much easier to work something out together, but you need to be careful that revising with friends doesn’t turn in to a slumber party!


    10. Focus! Make sure that you find a suitable area to revise. Somewhere you feel relaxed and not distracted.

    11. Take breaks frequently but not for hours and hours! It’s important to have fun in between so make sure that you take frequent breaks. Go watch a film, play some music, go outside, or meet up with friends. Revision is a balance between learning, understanding, and taking time out when you need it. Take a break every forty-five minutes or so. 

    12. On the night before the exam don’t be tempted to cram any more revision in. Take the time to relax and prepare yourself for the big day ahead, but try not to get too stressed out! Cramming makes things feel familiar but it doesn't help you to understand. If you meet twenty people in a couple of minutes, chances are you'll remember their faces a few hours later, but you won't recall their names in the right order. 

    13. Stress stops you performing. You might have trouble sleeping, or you might have sweaty palms, but if you let stress take control it will wear you down and you won’t perform at your best.

    14. If you are feeling stressed, make sure you talk to someone about it. Many people avoid talking about stress and it starts to consume them. If you need help just ask someone for help but remember that you don’t have to manage stress on your own, in fact you should never manage stress on your own.


    15. Exams are not a competition. You take exams for yourself and they are not for competing with your friends and other peers.

    16. I never studied for exams in my bedroom. I always thought that study and relaxation should be kept separate so if there is somewhere else you can revise, go there instead.

    17. Don’t worry about failing! That’s easy to say when a university place is at stake, but if it all goes wrong there are other options too.

    18. Overcome brain fog! If you are an auditory learner try recording voice notes on your phone. When you listen later you will get a better understanding that you would if you had just written the notes down.

    19. If it’s still not working set yourself short challenges and turn your revision into a game.

    20. Don’t leave your revision until the evening! Start at a set time each day, have breakfast, and maybe go out for a walk to clear away any early morning fog.

    21. Plan, plan, and plan again! Make sure that your friends and family know that you are revising. A great way to make sure that you stick to your own deadlines is by telling family and friends that you need to have something done by a certain time or date. If you have planned it properly you will also have planned in some free time too.

Hopefully these tips will have given you a few more tools to use in your revision toolbox. If you get stuck, ask your teacher, friends, or parents. The most important thing is that you should never forget yourself during exam time.

Creating a revision plan was one of the best things I ever did, it meant that I knew exactly when I would be able to get some time for myself and it has helped me tremendously since leaving school, college, and university. I create a plan for pretty much everything. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be written down, just so long as you make a plan and stick to it.

If you can practice using previous exam papers it will make a difference. Even though exams change, the more recent test papers which your school, college, or university should already have, will at least prepare you for the kinds of questions you are likely to get, and they are written in a structured exam format.

There are lots of free tools online and if you are not sure if they are relevant, ask your teacher to take a look at them first and let you know if they are worth using. In the meantime, good luck and I wish you every success in whatever you do! 

If you have any strategies you feel work for you please do leave a comment. Over the next twelve-months I will be creating a number of posts that will hopefully guide you to success in your exams. 


Mark A. Taylor is a UK based artist who sells his work all over the world. You can buy it online here, or from more than 150 retail locations such as The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck The Walls, which can be found across the USA and Canada.

You can follow Mark on Facebook here, and on twitter @beechhouseart


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