It constantly amazes me that students seem completely clueless when it comes to revision. Even bright, able young people seem not to realize that learning things for a test – whether facts, processes or key vocabulary – takes effort. I am so tired to repeating that “Reading is not revision.” For anyone who’s interested, here’s a few ideas about making revision rather more effective than simply flicking through a text book or folder.
To make revision work properly, it needs to be active. Ignoring all the neuroscience behind this – after all, this isn’t a Brain Gym Pseudoscience seminar – it simply means that the more ways we think about or process something, the more likely we are to remember it. With my students I use the idea of following the MORSE code to make sure revision is active and, hopefully, effective.
Mnemonics are mental shortcuts that help recall a fact, sequence or method. Examples might include “How I Wish I Could Calculate Pi” (How=3, I=1, Wish+4 etc) or “Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain.”
Organising the facts we need to know in a specific way, whether chronological, lists, groups of five or whatever can be very effective. Drawing concept maps or dividing facts into advantages and disadvantages are both ways to organise knowledge and create links we find easier to recall later.
Repetition is a method many students use. It is most effective when we vary the method we use to learn repeated facts, perhaps transferring information from one format to another (paragraph to bullet points, concept map to list of questions etc)
Simplifying what is needed can really help, especially to start with. Instead of sentences, choose key words. Summarise the facts so there is less to learn, and so that ‘trigger’ words remind you of greater levels of detail.
Extending what you understand works best by trying to apply what you know to new situations. When a teacher asks students to use an equation to work out a series of problems, this gives practice (repetition) and encourages better understanding of the uses or limitations of a method. There are many ways to extend yourself, such as writing questions for someone else, picking the ten most important words and so on.
Of course many of these ideas overlap with each other. What I constantly find surprising is the sheer number of students who don’t use any of them, so limiting themselves to reading the same words, in the same order, time and again. And as we know – reading isn’t revision.