Revision Tips

As we step into the Autumn Assessment period at Northampton High, I would like to share some guidance on effective study and revision techniques, particularly geared towards our students in Year 10 through 13.  

To begin, let’s address a common misconception: cramming. It is a study method that, despite its allure, does not yield the desired results. Research demonstrates that people who cram forget most of what they have tried to learn within a matter of hours. For genuine retention and secure understanding, a well-planned revision programme that enables regularly revisiting and reviewing of the material, with each return strengthening your memory, is the key.  

The learner needs to actively engage with the material they want to learn. Reading and then re-reading a textbook or a set of notes is not an effective way to revise and won’t suffice. When you reread something, it seems familiar, but this familiarity is an illusion, not an indication that you have learnt the material in question and can be misleading. 

What you need to do is check to see if the knowledge and information you have read is firmly lodged in your brain. There are several effective strategies to verify your understanding. For example, verbally repeat what you have learned, using prompts only when necessary (when you are stuck); create mind maps or diagrams to visualise and condense the material; work through practice questions or past papers; make flashcards with a key word on the front and crucial information on the back, for self-testing. All these techniques enable the learner to interpret and elaborate on what they are trying to learn. 

In equal measure, diversifying your revision techniques can stave off boredom and maintain motivation. Additionally, here’s a surprising one: revising in different locations has proven benefits. Educational research by Robert and Elizabeth Bjork highlights that studying in at least two different places enhances your ability to recall information during exams. This prevents your brain from overly associating the material with a single location, making it harder to recall in a third place (the examination hall). I would strongly encourage our Year 11 and 13 students to come into school during their study leave for their January 2024 mock examinations. Not only do we provide a different venue in which to study but also easy access to teachers who are ready to assist with queries, mark practice questions, and provide any other additional support required.

Revision timetables are indispensable, but they must be realistic. Plan for scheduled breaks, including full days off. Reserve time for a sporting activity or a walk or indulge in another hobby. Never eat and work at the same time. Meals should be times when you relax. Crucially, avoid dedicating entire days to a single subject. The reasons for this are similar to the reasons why you should not cram. If you work continually on the same thing, you will acquire a sense of familiarity with it which you might mistake for learning, but which is not learning in the true sense of the word. Switching between subjects during a working day compels your memory recall and promotes effective long-term retention. If you study one subject, then another, then a third, then return to the first thing, you have to recall that first thing back to mind again, which helps transfer the information to your long-term memory.

Perhaps the best news from the research is that there is nothing wrong with incentives, as long as they are judiciously used. In fact, one substantial reward at the end often outperforms a series of small, incremental rewards. It can, however, be a good idea for someone else to be doling out the treat, because people in charge of their own rewards are prone to succumb to temptation prematurely. 

Finally, getting enough sleep is crucial; the more tired you are, the more likely you are to give into distractions, such as checking your phone or watching something on Netflix. A second reason to prioritise a good night’s sleep is that sleep helps to consolidate our memories. There is even research suggesting that an hour of sleep shortly before an examination is more efficacious than an hour of last-minute revision.

In closing, your daughter will have access to a wealth of subject-specific revision resources provided by her teachers, including practice questions, past examination papers and mark schemes. She should make the most of these, not least for mastering challenging topics. The overall message here for those in the throes of revision is to set manageable goals, maintain a varied study routine and prioritise your health and well-being. And remember, please ask for help if you need it.

More information about study skills is available here in firefly

Dr Lee