Some people read textbooks in the bath when revising for exams while others plaster their homes with notelets covered in facts. There are certainly many ways to review work, but there is no magic formula guaranteeing exam success. Experts agree that only hard work, planning and starting early, preferably during the spring term, will maximise most people’s chances.
There are a few wily short cuts that can make a big difference – but the exact approach can only be determined by the person who is going to have to sit the GCSE, A-level or other exam.
The first and most basic point is to make a solid revision plan, says Dr Val Brooks, a specialist in educational assessment from Warwick University’s Institute of Education. “Research on undergraduates shows that those who have a working style based on breaking down tasks into small, manageable parts end up with better degrees,” she says.
Revision should never simply be seen as soaking up knowledge. Pupils should try to get involved in what they are studying – preferably by trying to marshal the topics they are revising.
Parents should not stop their children from revising with a friend, if they are explaining concepts to one another, she says. This can be one of the best ways to understand a complicated subject. Writing out plans for exam answers and doing timed exam questions are also important.
Anyone who is going to sit an exam needs to have as good a knowledge as possible of the marking scheme, according to Dr Brooks. Teachers should pass on to pupils details of specimen material from exam boards. These model answers help to show exactly what the difference is between an A star and a C grade, and show students just how much work they need to do.
It is generally better to have a series of intensive study periods followed by a short break. The length of time individuals can concentrate for varies, but Dr Brooks believes a 40-minute session followed by a 10-minute break and another session is a good way to start.
Writing down key points can help to build up a sort of index in a student’s memory that can unlock more detail once they have written down a few key words.
Dr Rosemary Stevenson, a researcher in learning at Durham University’s psychology department, says: “People who say they can’t revise are talking themselves out of it. Motivation is at the root of learning. That is why some people find it easier to learn than others, although how we learn is a very complicated subject.”
Some students, for example, like to use colour-coded charts, while others favour writing out notes. There is a lot of research on different learning styles, but no clear view about which technique is best. Colour coding, for example, may help students to learn facts, but it won’t help their understanding – which is the key to doing well.
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