An important aim of the Academic Curriculum is that we ‘know more things’. A key test is how effectively we remember these things over time so that they are useful to us.
Revision is a common activity, helping us to consolidate what we have learnt recently and going back over things we learnt a while ago. As students move up through the school, they will have more information to revise and commit to their long-term memory.
We believe it is important to follow the science when it comes to revision:
How to revise
We know a lot about how our brains work, and in particular how memory works. We recommend that you look at these Learning Strategies which are the most effective.
There are a few key ideas to understand about your memory and how to develop it:
- We take in information from our environment – from the things we see and hear
- We take in more information when we make sure we ‘attend’ to it – we concentrate on it and actively ‘think about it’
- The information passes from our ‘short-term memory’ very quickly (in about 15 to 30 seconds)
- This information moves into our ‘long-term memory’ – this can store vast amounts of information, but it isn’t automatically stored in a logical, sequenced way
- We can build up the sense of order in our long-term memory by revisiting and actively remembering the information
- We need to ‘think’ and ‘remember’ things over and over again to make them stick
- The more often we think and remember things in connection with each other, the more the memories stick
- Working on embedding memories is hard – and it often feels as though you aren’t making progress. You need to keep going!
Beware of the dangers!
Often when students talk about ‘revising’ they tell us about things they do that look and feel busy but aren’t the most effective. Check your habits and avoid:
- ‘Reading’ through your textbook/ exercise book/ revision guide
- Highlighting your notes or texts
- ‘Summarising’ your notes
- Completing whole past exam papers
- Searching for more information on the internet
Using the Learning Strategies over time
Instead of falling into the traps shown above, you can manage your revision using the Learning Strategies in this order:
While you are learning new material in lessons
Your revision focus starts by using clear approaches to be really clear about the information you have learned. Use Concrete Examples to give you a solid understanding of information: an example of a simile in a poem; a highly-reactive element in the periodic table, or a principle of training in PE.
You can reinforce these examples by recording them as a word and an image. This is Dual Coding doubles the memory attached to each piece of information.
Using these approaches throughout your learning will help build the detail in your long-term memory. These two strategies will help you build a great deck of flashcards
When you are preparing for internal exams
When you have a solid range of information stored as concrete examples, supported by dual coding you will be ready to prepare for internal exams. These exams are planned to help you build up the learning over time.
An important stage is to explore Elaboration where you challenge yourself to go into as much detail as you can from the starting point of one thing. Your aim is to give more detail or make more connections across your learning. If you have made flashcards for your revision earlier you can use these in a range of ways to make different elaboration connections.
Exams test your ability to pull lots of information back from your long-term memory. This needs dedicated Retrieval Practice when you ‘drill’ the memory into recalling information. It is important to be honest with yourself when you review what you miss – don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘oh yes, but I know that really’….if you didn’t get it down you probably didn’t remember it.
By combing the first four strategies above you will have a strong body of information stored and organised in your long-term memory.
When you are preparing for public exams at the end of Year 11 or Year 13
Final exams can feel overwhelming but following the strategies so far will have put you in a great position. In the last phase of revision you will have several subjects and topics to revise, all of which you want to have ‘to hand’ in your long-term memory. Planning and organising your final revision strategy using the last two approaches will reap benefits.
Spaced Practice makes sense from the start: you have a number of subjects to revise and need to plan to cover all of them during the months before exams. Your brain keeps working in between study sessions and spacing them out will give time to catch-up.
Interleaving goes a step further, mixing up the topics in a subject as well. Be warned – this can feel very frustrating as you will feel things are unfinished. If you can stick with it, you will reap real benefits!