With exam season around the corner it's time to get your students thinking seriously about revision. Here are our top tips to help improve recall, manage time and energy levels and much more.
Students often fall into the trap of being good at recognising information, yet being bad at actually retrieving it when it counts.
1. Improving recall
Students take notes all the time - but what do they actually do with them later? Rather than putting them away to gather dust on the shelf, get your students into the habit of revisiting their notes and writing them up into a meaningful reflection of what they learned.
Flashcards can be a very helpful way to test recall information under pressure. By pairing up with others, students can effectively test each other on how easily they can remember what they need. They can contain quick-fire questions, images (e.g. geographical features), equations, periodic table elements - the list is endless. Students simply need to define what they are being tested on and how. If they do badly in the activity, they know they need to study more.
Mnemonics help students remember complex information by encoding in an easy-to-remember phrase or acronym.
Another ancient technique - visualisation - is very popular among people who compete in memory competitions like the World Memory Championships.
Visualisation and Association
Psychological studies have shown that the way we feel when we learn something will be the state in which we best recall the information later.
State-dependent memory and mindfulness
As teachers well know, students’ energy levels and attention spans fluctuate (a lot) during the day. Students, however, might not be so aware of their own energy cycles. Tell students to pay close attention to how they feel during the day and when they are most receptive to studying. They should use the times when they have the most mental energy to study the subjects they find the most challenging (hint: it’s probably not right after lunch). Also, tell students that well-rested brains are far more efficient and sleep is important - so no more midnight study sessions!
2. Managing time and energy levels
Although students might be tempted to plan out marathon revisions sessions, you should advise them to break them down into manageable chunks. The Pomodoro Technique, which was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s (and named after Italian tomato-shaped kitchen timers), breaks work down into 25-minute segments and rewards hard work with short breaks.
Cramming is not an effective way to revise - it overloads students and stresses them out. It’s far more effective to space revision time out over weeks, rather than single day sessions or pulling all-nighters.
For students (and adults) it’s all too easy to waste time on social media or playing video games during “revision” time. Frankly, it’s just more fun. Many students will recognise that they give in to these temptations too easily - and a way around this is to introduce the idea of peer accountability.
3. Accountability and working together
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