If you have exams coming up you will know that there is plenty of advice out there on what you should do to achieve the best exam results. But psychologists now warn that some techniques simply do not work. So what should you know when revising?
These can range from highlighter pens, sticky notes being put around the house, and even mnemonics. In the US psychologists have studied revision techniques to see which ones are the most effective. One technique that has come into question is highlighting key points from your notes.
Whilst it is accepted that a highlighter pen can help you focus on a key fact the study concluded that the disadvantage of it is that it can mean that you miss out on connective pieces of information and can mean you don’t see the larger picture. In other words it can over simplify a subject.
Mnemonics can however be very useful when you need to learn a key word, for example the one that is often given is Richard of York gave battle in vain, which people often use to help them remember the colours of the rainbow. However, it isn’t really much use to you when you need to understand and recall a more complex theory or set of facts.
There are two techniques that come out of the study with the most effectiveness. These are testing yourself and spreading out your revision. Let’s look at each of these separately.
The evidence seems to suggest that if you test yourself on the material you are in effect teaching your brain to retrieve material which in the long run will help you in an exam. The advice is that you should start by reading your text book or jotter, make flash cards of the really critical concepts then either get someone to test you or test yourself. Repeated testing seems to work because when you get correct answers an elaborate memory trace is produced which will help you in the exam.
This is the approach that says you should start revision early, give yourself plenty of time and not do all your revision in a block. Certainly the evidence would be that cramming isn’t the best idea. So when you are planning your revision don’t over focus on one subject but spread it out.
So giving yourself time, spreading out subjects and testing yourself are all seen as the most effective revision techniques, but what else should we bear in mind when revising?
Look at what you need to revise and by when. Create a timetable for each day so that you can be sure to get through all subjects in time. One good tip is to start by focussing on those subjects that you are less good at as they may need more time. When you are planning in subjects remember to follow the distributive practice we mentioned above. Also build in breaks and fresh air to keep you stimulated.
This may sound basic but it is easy to let this go when you are stressed and revising. Eat well so you look after body and mind. Eat lots of protein which is good for the brain, foods like eggs, meats, and fish. Also drink lots of water to keep hydrated and also eat high energy foods like bananas.
Physical activity can be very helpful in helping you to increase your heart rate, get oxygen to the brain and help you focus. So a quick jog could be a great idea.
Try to get hold of past exam papers so you can practice. The questions will all start to follow a pattern and a way of examining you. It will also get you into the habit of quickly planning an answer and writing it.
Difficult to do but try to get lots of sleep. This really will help your brain to relax and work through all the revision you have done that day.