Five tips from cognitive science on the best ways to revise

The Learning Scientists are a group of US education academics who aim to increase evidence-based practice in schools. This is the first in a series of blogs they will write for TES. With the arrival of exam season, it is devoted to the art of effective revision

Cindy Wooldridge

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It is exams season, so to kick off our new blog series for TES, we thought we would provide some helpful tips for successful revising, reviewing and – gasp – cramming. Below are five tips for teachers to pass on to students:

  1. Space out your revision

    Revise a little bit every day. You will remember more than if you do a marathon revision session. Even if you wait until the night before, you should still space out your revision: take a break to get a snack or have a nap.
  2. Mix up your revision

    If you have three exams in, say, English, maths, and psychology, it’s best if you revise English for 30 minutes, then maths for 30 minutes, then psychology for 30 minutes and then cycle through again, rather than revising each one for a long time before switching.
  3. Stop rereading and highlighting

    While reviewing your notes might be valuable if you haven't looked at the material in a while, the two strategies below will provide far greater benefits than simply going over your notes or book over and over again. For more information, see our guide on how to study a textbook.
  4. Put the material in your own words and connect it to what you know

    See if you can translate your notes or book into words that you understand, and then try to think of examples from your own life or from other classes that fit this new concept. For example, if you need to remember that episodic memories are memories with time and space, you could think of examples from your own life such as a recent birthday party. 
  5. Practise retrieving the information

    You don't want to get to the test and find out that you can't actually pull any of that studied material out of your memory. If you practise retrieving the information by asking yourself quiz questions, quizzing with a friend, or using flashcards, you will be able to review those areas that you have trouble recalling.

So, to summarise, for the best kind of revision... stop rereading and instead spread out your revision activities (or at least mix up the materials that you need to revise); explain confusing topics to yourself to make sure you understand them; and quiz yourself or ask a friend to quiz you.

Finally, if you're going to cram, you can still have a cramming session with frequent breaks, lots of quizzing and thinking of examples of material instead of just rereading.

We hope that this helps. Happy revising, and please get in touch to let us know if any of these tips helped.

Dr Cindy Wooldridge is an assistant professor at Washburn University in Kansas. This blog post originally appeared on the Learning Scientists Blog as a part of a weekly resource digest. Follow the Learning Scientists on Twitter at @AceThatTest

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Cindy Wooldridge

@PsyDocCindy, Washburn University

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