This blog post answers the question: “What exactly should I do during a study session?” Thanks to Sarah for requesting a post on this topic.

I won’t beat around the bush. There are four crucial things you need to do to squeeze the most value out of every study session:

  1. Revision of old content
  2. Learning new material
  3. Active practice
  4. Take a break

In this post, we’ll just cover Part 1.



Revise or perish.

Nobody likes to do revision, but it must be done. There’s no way around it, especially in the IB. I live by one mantra, and one mantra only: Revise or perish.

In a regular one- to two-hour study session, I focus on one subject.



I start by looking at recent notes from earlier that day, or notes from earlier that week, or any area in the subject which I feel is getting dangerously blurry in my mind. I attack that stuff first to make sure I don’t lose it. (Losing knowledge sucks and wastes a lot of time.)


Flash cards

Flash cards are also fantastic. I am an evangelical flash cardist. They are amazing.

  • They summarise everything that’s important and quickly reboot your memory.
  • Flash cards industrialise your revision process–Pick up a card, look at it, digest it, move on.

Flash cards don’t need to be fancy. My flash cards for Engineering and Maths look like this.

Maths flash cards. Mmm. Matrices.


Engineering flash cards.

For when you just don’t want to read…

Sometimes, you’re not in the mood to read notes or flash cards. On these days (which seems to be most days), you can revise by doing actual problems. What’s essential to mastering a subject in IB is balancing between understanding and memorising theory (e.g. notes & flash cards) and actively applying the theory to practical exam questions (e.g. solving questions & QuestionBank).


Balance theory and real ‘doing’–just like these majestic rocks.


How do I know what I should revise, and when?

I alternate between being very organised and very ad-hoc about my revision. During the academic term, you can usually get by if you revise different chapters every study session in an informal, unorganised manner. Just spread out your revision time across all topics.

Before exams, I recommend you to get super OCD and organised. When I did Maths HL, I went super OCD because I *had* to (or so I thought) master every topic in the syllabus. The same happened with IB Psychology to an extreme extent–there was so much content I thought it was just leaking out like sand. The result was a piece of paper that had something like this on it:

           Topic                           How many times I’ve revised it

Neurotransmitters                        x

Brain imaging                                x x x

Social identity theory                   x x x

… and so on…


First list the topics you need to revise on a piece of paper. Then stick the page on the wall so you will see it every day; don’t hide it in a calendar. Then it’s just a game of “Let’s try to even out the X’s so my revision is balanced.” Balanced revision 101.

In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll tackle “Learning new stuff.”