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How to get your students through exams

Teacher trainer and English lecturer Roshan Doug shares five tips for preparing students for their upcoming tests

revision exams college FE preparation

Teacher trainer and English lecturer Roshan Doug shares five tips for preparing students for their upcoming tests

Revision is a key component of college study because most courses require students to sit a formal exam. The best way to revise is still a largely subjective matter. But some universally useful tips can be used by you and your students at this important time of year to help the process along.

1. Revision should not be an afterthought 

You should make the revision programme a central part of students’ studies. Make it a core component of their classwork with revision activities starting at the end of the second term – and not a couple of weeks before the exam.

2. Help individual students design a revision programme

This will help students to alleviate that sense of being overwhelmed by a heavy workload. Teachers must bear in mind that effective revision has to be differentiated and moulded to suit the learning needs of the student. To this end, you should help them to identify the differing modes of knowledge acquisition. You do this automatically in lesson planning – thinking about kinaesthetic forms of learning most suited to your students – and revision should be no exception.

For that reason, you should try to dissuade your students from cramming everything at the last minute. Despite what former students say about the success of revision cramming, it is largely ineffective. It may work with the odd student, but on the whole, it is a poor, lazy way of revising. Instead, try to help your students to plan a revision programme to meet their learning targets. You should help to organise their revision into manageable, bite-sized sessions. This will help reduce students’ anxiety and stress levels.

3. Try high-intensity interval training

There is a tendency for students to view revision as boring. This is partly because students may be revising in the same mode for prolonged periods, which will prevent real engagement. One of the most uninspiring forms is the endless copying of notes. Such an approach is not only dull and uninspiring, but ineffective. You should encourage students to vary their modes of revision and the time they spend doing it.

Encourage students to do between half an hour and 45 minutes of revision activity and then do something unconnected – walking in the park, playing a computer game, listening to music – before coming back for another half an hour working on a different activity. Studies have shown that change in activity is good for the digestion and memorisation of knowledge. It improves our cognitive ability and capacity.

Many athletes do high-intensity interval training – in other words, short bouts of individual exercises that target different parts of the body. The same could apply to your students and their revision. Employ various techniques to learn a topic/subject. It is important that you use multiple modes of learning, such as watching films on a given topic, viewing vlogs, writing notes, using flashcards, working in groups, designing mind maps, explaining or discussing a topic and carrying out presentations to the class. It makes revision sessions just that bit more interesting. 

4. Students should immerse themselves 

Despite what one or two policymakers have said about rote learning, you should encourage students to understand a topic fully. Students should avoid simply regurgitating “facts” and “knowledge” you have given out in the form of notes and handouts. Instead, they should be encouraged to develop both depth and breadth to their understanding. Knowledge without context/application is incomplete. Multimedia – in the form of IT learning tools, video clips, blogs, vlogs, film animations, podcasts – has opened up doors to different ways of gaining knowledge and perspective. It has democratised the mass sharing of knowledge and experiences – any subject has a range of free accessible resources presented by enthusiasts and professionals in that field.

5. Familiarise students with the exam format

Studies have shown that giving out past exam papers and familiarising students with the format of the exam paper/questions, and the kind of topics that have appeared in the past, helps students to feel confident about the assessment. So give your students plenty of practice in completing exam papers in a given time. For essay questions, get students to identify key words and use them throughout their response. That way, what they produce is more likely to be relevant. In addition, familiarise your students with the mark scheme for each paper so that they can see where they are losing marks. It will help them to identify their weaknesses – something they can focus on in their next revision session.

That aside – and perhaps more importantly – teachers need to encourage wellbeing during this stressful time for young people. Studies have shown that physical exercise improves our mental health. Promote exercise and healthy eating, and be in tune with your individual students to identify their concerns about the exams. It is only then that you will create a conducive environment for your students to perform well and achieve.   

Dr Roshan Doug is a teacher trainer and lecturer in English at Halesowen College, West Midlands

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