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Building the backlog

There’s an old African proverb:

How do you eat the elephant? – One bite at a time.

Sometimes staring into a really big task – revising for your GCSEs, for example – can seem really overwhelming. Scary almost. It might seem to us to be unachievable. Especially if we can’t see past the enormity of it all.

But, there’s a simple trick to tackling any big project: look at it like a collection of smaller tasks.

What do we mean by backlog?

Everything that you need to revise to be exam-ready is your backlog. It’s the accumulation of all your subjects’ topics and subtopics.

By creating a list of all the things that you need to do you will find planning is much more straightforward. This larger pile of tasks also gives a better idea of how much time it’ll take to get through it all.

We refer to these smaller steps as units of work.

Why does it work?

I’m no psychologist, but I am a master procrastinator – and parent to an apprentice procrastinator. I can vouch for the fact that if task feels too big, and if success seems impossible, then it is really hard to get motivated.

There are a number of ways that our system helps:

  • Every daunting subject get broken-down into smaller units of work. So students don’t have to concern themselves with revising all of ‘Geography’, for example. Right now they simply have to cover ‘Migration of populations’. Much more manageable.
  • It’s procrastination busting. We don’t really cope with choice very well. Sitting down to tackle something broad, without a plan of what, will almost inevitably lead to wasted time going around in circles. These smaller units of work overcome that hurdle. They are things that should be capable of being completed in one sitting.
  • Rather than aiming for an end point way off into the future – like exams, or worse a career – we work to a weekly cycle. This way students get to see the immediate fruits of their labours. That is to say that units more from “to do” into “done”

How do you do it at home?

The idea is to break the subjects into bite-sized chunks. When we create our sets we base the units on the course specifications, direct from the exam boards. There are some alternatives you could do at home:

  • Use school notes (if neat and complete)
  • Your school may provide revision guides
  • Use the contents page of your text books

We advise that in any one hour you allow about 45-50 minutes study time. That gives a bit of time to get up, get a drink or check the phone. You’re targeting a level of detail that you might be able to cover in one sitting.

That won’t always be possible. And that’s fine too. For any units not completed in one go, they can be returned to the ‘to do’ pile to be completed next time. But you don’t want to have that happen all the time, or you won’t get that buzz from a growing ‘done’ pile.

If you would like to get started straight away, The Study Buddy has already created revision sets for all of the GCSE and iGCSE courses across all of the exam-boards for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can order the revision sets online, or you might like to consider our special GCSE Revision Bundle, which has everything you need to get up and running.


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Our GCSE and A Level bundles contain everything you need to manage revision, straight out of the box. All tailored to the exact courses you need.