“But What About My Social Life?”

This was the response from a student when I pointed out that with their first exam eight days away, they should probably be staying in revising most nights between now and then. They seemed amazed that I should expect them to be putting their exam preparation first, even though some of them are close to grade boundaries or are hoping to use their grade to access sixth form or college courses. These are clearly kids who would have failed the marshmallow test when younger.

You’ve guessed it – this is another revision tips post. The title of the lesson I gave was ‘Revision vs Facebook’ and focussed on web resources that students could use to revise effectively. I’ve shown them the flash card programs before (see Revising Online) but wanted to give them some alternatives. The two concepts we looked at were producing summaries using frameworks and making mind or concept maps.


A blank piece of paper is intimidating. I’ve found that many students take time getting started with revision, not just because they have a tendancy to procrastinate but because they don’t know where to start. For a while now I’ve told them to finish one revision session by writing a heading on a new piece of paper for the concepts they need to do next. This sheet then goes into their revision guide, sticking out at the right page. When they start the next session all they need to do is find the book and they can start without thinking. This is based on the idea of making a ‘to do list’ while wearing a ‘boss hat’ so you can get things done when less focussed. (Not as stupid as it sounds – see this Lifehacker post for more info).

Producing a framework for revision can be done in seconds, but it may be worth putting a little more time into it. A list of topic headings give a framework, for example. These might be added to a Cornell layout, as I’ve posted about before (and some of my students tell me really helps). Copying and pasting a few past paper questions on the same topic can set a clear objective: students can list bullet points that summarise the main ideas behind their answers. With luck they’ll notice common themes in the questions or, if they are sufficiently self-critical, will pick up on common weaknesses in their answers.

In a recent lesson I divided a page into three and asked students to write five key ideas under each of three headings for enzymes. This took seconds so I’m not going to produce a printable version, but it looked like this:

 Over several lessons I refined this idea and produced different versions of a ‘leaflet’. I suspected my younger students would get a lot more out of the concept of making a proper leaflet, so produced one they could fold and add to their folders. This gave a more structured approach than simply three headings. If you print this double-sided (flip on short side!) it will fold nicely to give three different views.

printable: energy leaflet as pdf

For my GCSE class, I produced and had copied for them a double sided leaflet with headings, a total of six columns with prompts that will hopefully flag up the most important bits. (Which in a way makes me sad – does it seem to anyone else that being able to fit the key ideas for an exam that makes up a quarter of a GCSE on two sides of A4 is a little worrying?) I’ve made an electronic copy available on our school VLE so they can print extra copies, or make their own versions with extra copies of a single column (for those who use the tried and tested method of cover, write, check, repeat). And I’ve suggested that if they filled in one of the columns several times, using different resources online (Bitesize and Skoool were the two I pointed them at), they would probably get the facts straight in their heads. I even suggested they could fill it in while listening to the relevant podcasts from the Naked Scientists, also available on Bitesize.

printable: AQA B2 leaflet as pdf

Only one student noticed that, once more, I was strongly suggesting making something rather than simply reading. Or is it too optimistic to hope that they all believe and understand this now and take it for granted that reading isn’t revision?

Mind Maps

Am I the only person who sees the constant disagreement about how mind/concept maps ‘should’ be drawn as something similar to a religious war? There seem to be hundreds of sites, all with their instructions for the one, ‘true’ way. I’m a bit more relaxed and give my students just a few basic rules:

  • all lines show links between ideas
  • the lines mean links – consequnces, subgroups or similar – so don’t be afraid to draw them as arrows
  • pretty colours are pointless unless they signify something

This does mean that sometimes a concept map turns into something like a flowchart, or circles are drawn around all examples of something to make it vaguely venn diagram-esque. If that’s a word. Which it probably isn’t.

Sorry, it’s late. Anyway. There are tons of places, online and off, to look for information on mind mapping. This may need to be a whole separate post at some point [scribbles in a notebook] but for now there are two websites I was going to flag up. I’m sure both have advantages and disadvantages, and that there are may others that you may feel do the job better (comments section below, please feel free to correct me), but for now these are two I’d like to direct you towards.

I’d never heard of MindMeister but I like it. At least partly I like it because there’s content there already, which my students have already been directed to, for their coming exams. A guy who tutors science and stuff has put at least these two, and probably many more. AQA B2 and AQA P2 are nice summaries students could use to consider how well they currently understand the topic, and perhaps even extend it. Naturally making a mind map is always better than using one, but a starting point is still useful. If nothing else these show what can be done with the software. 

The other site is called bubbl.us and I’m still playing with it. I know I like it, but I haven’t quite figured out all the bits and pieces yet. I like that I can share what I’ve produced and I see this as a really nice way to work collaboratively. My students (although they don’t know it yet) will soon have a homework to contribute to such a mind map. One I’m fairly happy with is linked from the thumbnail below.

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