Over the Easter holidays I decided to read the document above to get some clarity on how best to revise, a question I do not think all students, never mind Year 11’s know the answer to. In the paper, Dunlosky et al identify the most effective techniques to support learning that could be used for revision.
Before this though, they also identify some common revision techniques that have been shown to have very little effect on learning.
Three commonly used revision techniques that appear to have very little impact on learning were:
- Highlighting texts
- Summarising text
The reason these are so ineffective, is that they require very little cognitive work…and its cognitive work i.e. thinking about things, that makes us remember things. It’s easy to see why are they are popular with students though. They are very low demand, make the students feel as if they are ‘doing revision’ and for highlighting and summarising, there is a product for their efforts. They can come bounding downstairs from their bedroom and show mum/dad highlighted sheets of text of revision that they have ‘done’. Gratifying? Yes. Effective? No.
So having established what doesn’t work, I have come up with 5 techniques / strategies that appear to work well and make a difference to learning (with thanks to inspiration from Chris Hildrew and Shaun Allison’s excellent blogs):
1. Practice Testing:
This technique is pretty straightforward – keep testing yourselves (or each other) on what you have got to learn. This technique has been shown to have the highest impact in terms of supporting your learning. Some ways in which you can do this easily:
- Create some flashcards, with questions on one side and answers on the other – and keep testing yourself.
- Work through past exam papers – many can be acquired through exam board websites.
- Simply quiz each other (or yourself) on key bits of information.
- Create ‘fill the gap’ exercises for you and a friend to complete.
- Create multiple choice quizzes for friends to complete.
2. Distributed Practice – time to forget!
Rather than cramming all of your revision for each subject into one block, it’s better to space it out – from now, through to the exams. Why is this better? Bizarrely, because it gives you some forgetting time. This means that when you come back to it a few weeks later, you will have to think harder, which actually helps you to remember it. Furthermore, the more frequently you come back to a topic, the better you remember it.
The graph above demonstrates this, by returning to a topic and reviewing it, you remember it for longer.
3. Interrogation – asking “WHY?”
One of the best things that you can do (either to yourself or with a friend) to support your revision is to ask why an idea or concept is true – and then answer that why question. For example:
- In science, increasing the temperature can increase the rate of a chemical reaction….why?
- In geography, the tourism industry in British seaside towns like Blackpool has deteriorated in the last 4 decades….why?
- In history, in 1929 the American stock exchange collapsed. This supported Hitler’s rise to power….why?
So, rather than just trying to learn facts or ideas by reading them over and over, you should get into the habit of asking yourself WHY these things are true.
Rather than looking at different topics from a subject in isolation, you should try to think about how this new information is related to what you know already. This is where mind- maps might come in useful – but the process of producing the mind map, is probably more useful than the finished product. So, you should think about a key central idea (the middle of the mind map) and then how new material, builds on the existing knowledge in the middle. For example the rock cycle links to geography and science revision….
Alongside this, when you are solving a problem e.g. in maths, you should explain to someone the steps you took to solve the problem.
5. Interleaved Practice:
When you are revising a subject, the temptation is to do it in ‘blocks’ of topics. Like below:
The problem with this is, is that it doesn’t support the importance of repetition – which is so important to learning. So rather than revising in ‘topic blocks’ it’s better to chunk these topics up in your revision programme and interleave them:
The power point below summarises the 5 key ideas and gives you some specific strategies to try NOW!
Here is some really good advice about how to do revision right. Follow this to give yourself the best chance possible to really SAIL in the summer exams: