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Effective revision strategies

It is that time of year again when revision becomes the focus in and out of the classroom. This can be difficult for both students and teachers. As a teacher, I am often concerned that I don’t teach “revision” as well as I could and students often say they don’t know how to revise. Actually, they usually mean they don’t know what revision is, and are usually revising in lessons with us already.

After many years of teaching in exam season and much reading around the best techniques, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to teach revision is in fact just to guide students through activities in my own lessons, then tell them afterwards that these are good revision strategies –it delays the panic about revising, they can’t procrastinate by claiming they can’t revise, and they already have the skill set before they are told to start revising.

It is vital that revision begins early – as a last minute person myself, I know I should begin tasks earlier than I inevitably do, but I still don’t begin them when I know I should. This is common! Nag students to revise early, check on them , set it as homework and ask for proof they have actually done it – resources produced, screens shots of online revision etc. Early, spaced out revision produces the best results in terms of memory.

Another common problem is only surface learning, or committing information to short term memory. Any one that has ever taught 6th form knows that this leads to conversations such as “but you covered photosynthesis in your GCSE work” met with “I can’t remember learning that”. Learning can be deepened by revisiting it regularly. Activities should be short but often- attention spans last for no longer than 20 minutes (just think back to your last whole staff meeting and try to recall how long you lasted before day dreaming....) Instead of practising whole exam papers, student s should tackle them a question at a time, go for a walk, tidy their room, move around the classroom etc before starting another task. Breaks don’t have to be long, otherwise revision isn’t completed, but changing focus for a few minutes rests the eyes and the brain ready for more revision.

Stress is a factor to consider for every student, whether they are predicted A* or G’s. Exam conditions surrounded by everyone with strangers (invigilators) watching can make anyone nervous. Techniques for remaining calm can help students focus and perhaps even calmly answers questions rather than scribbling, avoiding the problem of examiners deciphering poor handwriting. Simple ideas are 5 breaths in and 5 breaths out, taking short breaths in then out. Students concentrate on the breathing rather than the situation. Deep breathing also controls heart rate and calms students down, but give them a purpose to concentrate on such as inflating an imaginary balloon in their chest. Give the balloon a shape and colour and visualise it inflate and deflate with breathing.

Preparing the correct technique for each subject is also important. If it is an essay style question, practice essays not summaries. If it is a six mark question, which cause so much dread, then these need to be practiced too. Model answers can be helpful, but essentially answering, marking, correcting and rewriting answers is more effective.

Things to defiantly avoid doing are rereading or summaries; both are as useful as each other but only have a low result in terms of memory. Mind maps also don’t lead to high results, however they can be useful, as long they are combined with questions e.g 5 minutes to produce a mind map on bonding types using textbooks, class notes and peers, then only allowed to answer exam questions using that mind map.

Using these techniques regularly in the classroom is all we can do in terms of revision- the rest is up to the student!

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