Unhelpful revision thinking (and how to overcome it)


Unhelpful revision thinking (and how to overcome it)

Revision is a personal process. A student will often know what techniques work well for them. However, it is easy to get stuck in some unhelpful thinking habits that negatively impact revision. Students may become comfortable in their ways, and without realising, begin to favour habits that are doing more harm than good.

Once you identify unhelpful thinking patterns, you will realise that they often occur just before and during stressful situations. But only after noticing this can you begin to distance yourself from those thoughts and see the situation from a different viewpoint – challenging yourself to make the most out of your revision is the main goal.

We have done the research and found the most common thinking styles that can very quickly hinder revision. If you see some that are familiar, don’t worry, there is always time to turn your revision techniques around and boost your academic success.

6 unhelpful types of revision thinking and how to overcome them

Catastrophising

What is it?

Catastrophising is believing that the worst possible thing will happen. Blowing things out of proportion will lead to a negative mindset, hampering revision. It often involves picturing how something in the present could negatively affect your future.

An example

This exam tomorrow is going to be such a disaster

Saying this when you have revised and are as prepared as you can be is an example of catastrophising. Overthinking how family or friends may react to this bad grade, or how it will influence university applications/job prospects is also a common aspect of catastrophising.

How to overcome it

It may seem overwhelming at the time; however, you must remind yourself to think of the most probable scenario. What is most likely to happen? If you have gone over your revision notes for a maths exam and done some practice questions, then you have done your best to prepare.

Black and White Thinking

What is it?

This type of thinking involves viewing the world in an either/or way, i.e. failing to see an in-between and believing that something can only turn out very good or very bad.

An example

I will either get 100% or fail

Getting full marks on a test is ideal, but not always possible. Black and white thinking will lead to disappointment if you don’t end up with the best option or outcome.

How to overcome it

Identify where your situation is on a spectrum from good to bad. If you begin to do this with situations outside of just academics, if will become easier and your thinking will transform from black and white to include the grey.  

Perfectionism

What is it?

Believing everything has to be perfect can lead to viewing any mistake as a failure. Being a perfectionist can be a good thing at times – it can lead to working to your upmost potential. However, when this trait intensifies and causes more stress than anything, it can become harmful.

An example

I made a mistake – I never get it right

The word never is a hard one to use as it is often untrue when used in this context. A mistake made on an exam question is not a reflection of your overall skills and ability to succeed.

How to overcome it

There is no such thing as perfect. Especially when it comes to academics. When writing an essay, there is such a broad criterion that two completely different essays can receive the same mark. Whilst it is important to try your hardest, it is detrimental to think that a low mark is a poor reflection of yourself. Don’t hold on to an essay you didn’t do so well on at the beginning of term – take that feedback and use it to improve in the future.

Mountains and Molehills

What is it?

“Making a mountain out of a molehill” is a popular saying that refers to exaggerating the negatives in a situation when they are not as serious as they may seem. This includes minimising the positives and dismissing the most likely outcome of an event or situation.

An example

I’m going to drop out if I fail this test

Building up a somewhat small event in your mind to mean so much more puts too much pressure on you. For example, believing that one test will have an impact so great on your school career is unreasonable. There will always be opportunities for you to boost your grades or resit tests.

How to overcome it

When you feel like a situation is becoming too overwhelming, try to look at the bigger picture. Failing one test or doing bad on an essay is not the end of the world, although it may seem like it at the time. Try and take a step back and ask yourself how someone else would see or feel in this situation.

Critical Self-Talk

What is it?

Being overly critical of self by putting yourself down and blaming things that may not be totally your responsibility. Talking to yourself negatively is highly unnecessary as it feeds an “I can’t do this” mindset. Thinking less of yourself is unhealthy and will ultimately stop you from trying new things or putting enough effort into a task.

An example

I’m so stupid, I’ll never succeed

Using words like stupid to describe yourself will perpetuate a negative view of self. Claiming that you will never succeed will lead you to lose interest in many things as you won’t believe in yourself and your abilities.

How to overcome it

If you recognise yourself taking part in critical self-talk, take a step back and ask yourself “would I say this to a friend?” – if the answer is no, then you shouldn’t be saying it to yourself. Being able to identify when you’re using negative language is the first step to changing your outlook. Ask a friend or family member for some reassurance, and soon, you will be independent in your journey to positive self-talk.

Emotional Reasoning

What is it?

A cognitive process whereby an individual concludes that their emotional reaction proves something is true, regardless of what has actually happened. You feel the reality of something, even when it has no basis in fact.

An example

I feel anxious, so I must be in trouble

Dealing with feelings of anxiety before a test is very common. Many students, no matter how well prepared, will feel nerves and stress just before sitting to write an exam.

How to overcome it

Feelings are a tricky thing to control. No one wants to feel anxious, but we often have no say in the matter. In situations like this, it is important to remember the facts: you’ve studied as much as you could have and are prepared for the test questions. You are probably thinking about every possibility and building up hypothetical situations in your head that are negatively contributing to your emotions. Remember; feelings are just a reaction to thoughts. Control your thoughts and you will be able to manage your feelings.

Final Thoughts

There is no shortage of revision techniques available for use when studying for anything from a pop quiz to a final exam. Whilst discovering what works best for you, you may experience some ups and downs. Black and white thinking may seem rational however sometimes emotional reasoning can be useful to give yourself some leeway. Perhaps the best solution is to use a combination of a few different techniques when needed. If something isn’t working out well for you, try and switch it up to make the most of your revision.

Come watch Bradley Busch talk about the science of memory and learning at the Teaching & Learning Summit

Sign up to our blogs and free education infographic posters

our brochure


Free ebook about the best ways to revise