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Revision – The Good, The Bad and The Downright Useful.

‘Revision’ is the dreaded word that not many particularly look forward to. The connotations of revision, for most of us, are almost always negative. However, we all know that it is a necessary evil. What we want to do, is show you, that by taking a different approach to revision, can turn the dread into something far less dreadful. Let’s explore…

The Good

Ok, so we know revision needs to happen, but why? Firstly, contrary to popular belief and desire, permanent learning does not happen through osmosis. It is scientifically proven that sleeping on your notes/books does not make your brain absorb the information.[1] Revision is necessary for long-term memory and without too much detail, it is all to do with neurons in your brain which activate in the hippocampus. However, only effective revision will make this happen. This is why, often, we find ourselves convinced that we have committed something to memory only to discover that we cannot recall it half an hour afterwards.

Effective revision is the key and there is actually no hard and fast rule for all. The first thing that we need to accept is that effective revision is different for each and every one of us. The second thing we need to accept is that we will only discover our own effective revision through trial and error. The third and most important thing we need to accept is that our own effective revision can change over a period of time.

The best thing about revision, is that the most effective strategies are those which interest us. This is why we can only make recommendations for strategies to try and advice on how and when to go about it. The most beautiful thing about revision is that we can be as creative as we want to be. There are no limitations, no boundaries (within reason!), and no stipulations. Our revision mantra needs to be: ‘Just give it all a go’.

The Bad

‘Revision is boring’, ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I’ll start next week’, ‘I revise better close to deadlines’.

There is no denying it; all of these things may well be true. Without a doubt, revision can certainly be boring…if we allow it to be. It can be mind-numbing, making us feel like we are simply losing the will to live. However, we have to change this and only we can do that for ourselves. Revision doesn’t have to be boring. The reason why is often is, is because we’re all stuck in our ways because no-one has ever convinced us that it can be anything otherwise.

Without a doubt, none of us really have time for revision. If we are talking about children and young adults, they’re all so busy playing, socialising, and catching up on seriously engaging television programmes. If we’re talking about adults, they have children and families, houses to run, jobs to do. BUT, and it is a big BUT, we have to make time for it. Revision requires commitment and planning but done properly, half an hour a night should suffice. We must get into a routine and when approached in the correct way, it should not be dreaded. It should simply be embraced and seen as another part of your day.

Without a doubt, we all want to procrastinate, put it off until tomorrow, next week even. However, when we put it off in this fashion, we are diluting the effectiveness and impact that it will have. We need to change our attitude and deal with it head on. We all know that no-one gives us anything in this life. You may be lucky enough to inherit money or property, but absorbing information into your long-term memory takes time and effort. So, we need to stop moaning about the prospect of it and get on with it. It will never be as bad as what you anticipate.

Without a doubt, we have all procrastinated from time to time. We may genuinely believe that we learn better under pressure, closer to deadlines. However, the probability of this being effective learning is very low. Effective revision, permanent learning will only happen, in most cases, when it is spread out over a period of time. There is always a place for cramming and last-minute learning, but this must be an addition to good quality effective revision that has already taken place. Let’s not forget, our brain is a big muscle. We need to exercise it, give it a good workout. No-one gets fit and healthy overnight. This has to be a routine, a lifestyle choice and overall, it should be gradual to make it truly worthwhile in the future and we are therefore much more likely to maintain the new knowledge rather than forget it and go back to where we started.

The Downright Useful – 25 Revision tips that WILL make all the difference.

  1. Start revising early – the key is beginning months in advance of any examinations. This will remove some of the pressure and give your hippocampus time to really process the information.
  2. Eat regularly and drink plenty – if you are hungry or dehydrated, your brain will be no use to anyone. Our brains need food and water to function properly.
  3. Find the right environment to revise – this is down to the individual but be sensible and realistic about what works for you. Where will provide you with the least distractions?
  4. Put your phone away – Commit to that revision time and reduce the likelihood of you getting distracted by social media, WhatsApp etc.
  5. Make connections – link information to other areas.
  6. Don’t listen to music – those who study in a quiet environment are more likely to remember information learnt. If you can’t stand silence, play music with no lyrics as you will be less likely to become distracted.
  7. Repeat yourself – Revisiting information is the best way to consolidate the learning process in your brain.
  8. Spaced Repetition – Revisit information just as you are about to forget to make it stick. Firstly, leave a couple of hours, then a day, a few days, a couple of weeks etc. This will ensure that you exercise your brain enough to make that information remain until the end of time.
  9. Take regular breaks – You need to plan breaks in your revision every 30 to 60 minutes. Even if it’s just five minutes, go and make a cup of tea then come back. Importantly, do come back after the short break and immediately revisit what you have just been revising.
  10. Revise effectively – don’t spend too much time making your notes look pretty. Colour and layout does help but don’t take away from the precious time we need to do some actual learning.
  11. Use lots of different strategies – Revise on your own, get people to test you and you get people to listen and ask questions. Teach them what you have learnt.
  12. Use sticky notes around your bedroom and around the house (with permission!) – this will add another visual element to your learning and will jog your memory subconsciously.
  13. Read problematic bits in funny accents – this will make that piece of information stand out.
  14. Put the information to music – make a song or change the lyrics from your favourite songs. We remember song lyrics for a lifetime so it clearly works.
  15. Work with the information you are revising – draw it, say it, sing it, organise it … even colour it in.
  16. Break information up – don’t tackle one huge piece of information all at one. Small chunks are best. Use a highlighter and colour co-ordinate.
  17. Summarise what you have learnt – use revision cards that you can keep with you for bite sized revision on the go.
  18. Test yourself – you can do this on your own with the read/cover/write/check method or rope in someone else to test you. Whatever works best for you.
  19. Record yourself – use a voice recorder with the information you need to learn and play it back to yourself. This tends to work well at night time as you are settling down.
  20. Create mind maps – this will help to organise your notes and whittle down information into manageable key points.
  21. Complete past papers – Whether you are working towards an examination or not, these will add another element to your revision that is measurable.
  22. Use mnemonics – these will help to remember the order of certain things.
  23. Reward yourself – a great incentive for people of all ages!
  24. Get enough sleep – 8 hours of sleep is recommended as a minimum. Sleep enables our whole bodies to rest, our organs to repair and our brains to process information and function clearly the following day.
  25. Continue to have a life – you must leave some time for yourself to do the things that you enjoy. Well-planned revision, started in advance will not take over your life and nor should it.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2012/nov/06/how-your-brain-likes-to-revise

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