Four reasons not to run revision classes

Last-minute cramming sessions are counterproductive and ineffective, says this teacher. He shares tips for what to do instead

Adam Riches

Exam body accused of ‘piling pressure on schools’

No matter how much revisiting and recapping you do throughout the year in class, it seems that the mad dash towards the exams after Christmas is inevitable: revision classes become the norm.

But this year, I’m doing things differently. This year, I am not doing revision. And here’s why.

1. Cramming overloads students’ working memory

A limiting factor in any classroom is the students’ working memory. Any teacher worth their salt knows that students can only process small chunks of information at a time, and the revision period is no different. Lessons in which teachers try to cover whole units in an attempt to remind students about their contents just before the exams are ineffective. Some may argue this approach can even be damaging to students’ performance. Revision shouldn’t be about cramming in a panicked fashion. So this year, I’m doing away with any kind of full-unit recap lessons.

2. What are you actually revising?

A lot of the time, recall of knowledge needs to be encoded again to suit the question being asked. Application is much more important for me than recapping facts in isolation. Instead of directing students to revise in a more traditional way, I am going to centre their exam preparation around practising applying the skills required in context. This may not take the form of an exam question, but I plan on being a lot more pragmatic about the way I expect my students to apply their learning.

3. We’re better off teaching about memory

The market is saturated with revision guides (of varying quality) that are assumed to be all-knowing by students. We are all aware that, no matter how hard we try, there will be students who rely solely on skim-reading these guides as their “revision”. Can we really expect 15- and 16-year-olds to be able to revise successfully independently? Not without guidance. I’m going to spend time teaching my students about how revision and recapping actually works. I’m going to show them exactly how we can prepare for exams and I’m going to guide them away from generic revision books.

4. Recapping should be happening all year

Yep, you heard it, we’re revising all year. I’m focusing on my medium-and long-term planning, and putting aside time in lessons to revisit, recap and interleave skills to ensure that my students don’t need to do so much at the end of the year. It sounds intuitive, but well-planned recapping across units (and that’s the key) is a great way to ensure that students don’t forget key information. Negating the effect of the forgetting curve is doable and, with practice, I think this is one of the key solutions to the time wasted “revising” before exams.

Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English

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Adam Riches

Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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