There is an industrious, purposeful feeling about school at the moment. At least 4 out of our 7 year groups are preparing for and starting to sit exams.
It is never an easy process; we often use a sporting analogy, likening it to preparing for a tournament with the need for preparation, training and duration of performance. Equally it is not always straightforward supporting a revising teenager but there are some key points to remember that are worth sharing at this time.
Some are logistical:
In addition some are about the techniques of revising. This summary provides some of the key points and some useful links. Do take comfort in the fact that this term will fly by, and following some of these tips should make it slightly easier. Remember too: as important as it is to study and do as well as possible, it’s also essential you take frequent breaks and enjoy yourself. Having a good mindset and being relaxed will work wonders.
Sleep: Having a consistent sleeping pattern is one of the most essential things for getting through the term. Under- and over-sleeping are as bad as each other, so aim for between eight and 10 hours. Working through the night and sacrificing sleep can be counterproductive.
Diet: Food is also incredibly important, and maintaining a balanced diet will make you feel better and give you the right nutrients to work a little bit harder. Coldwater fish, such as tuna and salmon, are a rich source of amino acids, which improve brain chemical levels and your ability to revise efficiently.
Organisation: Keeping your study area tidy, making lists and storing your documents in an orderly fashion will all help when revising for exams. There are countless articles about specific ways of doing this online (for example, here and here), so experiment until you find what works for you.
Exercise is also great for managing the anxiety that can accompany exam sessions, however regular periods of quiet calm or mindfulness can also help us focus on managing the here and now, reducing the capacity for anxiety and worry to escalate to the point where it prohibits performance. Good places to find support for this include www.mindful.org/at-home/tips-for-teaching-mindfulness-to-kids, www.headspace.com or www.mindfulnessforstudents.co.uk/students,
Revision and Retention techniques
As we said in a blog on this topic 2 years ago “Success comes through relentless and deliberate practice and hard work… and it’s worth it!” There are techniques that make the hard work more effective, check these to ensure you are using your time and effort in the best ways possible:
1. Spaced Out. Spacing out revision to encompass different topics and subjects with different approaches makes the learning more memorable. Therefore when you construct the revision timetable aiming for this kind of variability is useful. (www.getrevising.com does this for you). ‘Spacing‘ can also mean revising the same information two or three times across a few days improving the likelihood of retaining information in the long-term memory.
2. Mastery through deliberate practice. Repetition in revision is our friend. Making a checklist of the required knowledge focuses the energies on what is important. Make sure they are clear on the basic terms and key words, what they mean and how to sue them. When focusing on exam technique, drafting the perfect exam answer singularly is better than sitting full papers endlessly. Going over any body of knowledge takes grit, discipline and perseverance but it is through the deliberate practice with clear feedback that students become skilled.
3. Regular testing: Drilling answers to tests, under test conditions, can improve both short term and long term memory to boost revision. Quick and accurate feedback is key to making testing highly effective and building confidence.
4. Information retrieval over re-reading: It may prove more challenging in the short term, but getting students to try to remember the content of a given topic is more effective. It’s not effective to read your notes over and over, copy out notes or highlight bits of handouts. Flash cards can be effective and Mind Mapping is an ideal tool for this. At the end of each week for example, they can attempt to retrieve the information, without their notes or books. They can then create connections that they can attempt to organise conceptually. Active Engagement with the material is vital; some will prefer a hi-tech approach to this (making podcasts for example) for others a simple Look/Cover/Write approach is just as effective.
5. Collaborative Revision: Typically we associate revision activities as requiring individual focus. There is some evidence that group work can inhibit some learning, but there is also evidence that working in groups can have a positive effect. Put simply, they help one another remember and retrieve aspects they would not have remembered individually. Also, the social nature of working together can create memory cues that help individuals recall well over time.
6. Using ‘worked examples’: This is the common method of using past exemplars. It gives students a template for their revision. Students will have access to model answers from our VLE or revision notes staff have provided. This can be particularly effective when linked to point 2. The use of past paper questions is essential in revision, not just in terms of familiarity and use of mark schemes to test security of knowledge revised but often it is most effective to start with a test to ascertain what is known and what isn’t before then more accurately revising what is needed and retesting to confirm what they have gained.
7. Last minute cramming! Can be many students preferred way of working. This has prompted a recommended ‘exam a day’ approach, which forces students to distribute their revision more evenly, rather than just cramming. It may seem excessive, but getting students to do challenging retrieval that informs of what they know and don’t know regularly, like quizzes could do the job.
8. Memory Retention and Retrieval
“Palace of Memory” is a technique that is thousands of years old. See this article for an example of the method in action.
Mnemonics are vital tools in most subjects, sharing them and posting them up (in the bathroom, near the kettle!) or frequent verbal testing of them can be helpful.
Sounds and images to go with revision information can form mental images to go with the ideas that aid retention and create triggers for retrieval. Colours that correlate to specific assessment objectives are a good way of testing coverage of written answers to the requirements of a mark scheme. Highlighters and post its are therefore a valuable part of the revision toolkit. Talking about topics is a good way to remember what has been learnt and so getting them to discuss or describe what they have been revising is effective (see PQRST in the attached handout), equally a voice recording on their phone means they could be listening and revising and no one would ever know!
Finally, children need us to believe in them to help them stick with it. Students who possess the grit and resilience to persist with the humdrum nature of revision tasks will have a greater chance at success. Sharing a common language of a growth mind-set will be very powerful in this as we all encourage them to believe that they can achieve their goals, believe they can always improve on where they are now, believe they can overcome any obstacle that lies ahead …