Revision: How to build a ‘mind palace’

18th March 2016 at 00:00
Transforming the school exam hall into a Sherlock Holmes-style memory tool can boost your pupils’ powers of recollection – and their grades

When students sit in the exam hall, they tend to alternate between two things: writing furiously and looking around the hall for inspiration.

Watching this in action got me thinking about the objects that were placed around the room. These tend to mostly be permanent things like the clock, curtains and the whiteboard where the timings are written. I started thinking about how these objects might be used to help students visualise answers and to remember key information.

I designed a revision lesson to see if I would be able to help students in my A-level PE class use their surroundings in an exam environment to help them remember things. I wanted to see if I could turn their exam hall into a Sherlock-style Mind Palace.

We went to the hall where they would be doing the exam. I sat each student at an exam desk and placed them in alphabetical order (as they would be sat in an exam). As a class, we identified seven objects that were going to be in the room when they sat down to complete their final Year 13 exam paper.

We eventually decided on: the exam clock, the whiteboard, the chair of the person in front, the hall curtains, the speaker system control box, a set of speakers on the wall and a set of folding doors.

We then took these seven objects and designated them each one of the seven main areas of the A Level PE syllabus that we had covered.

Next, I placed a sheet of A3 white paper next to each item and gave each student a different coloured pen. I asked the students a series of questions related to each topic and when they got the answer, they wrote the information down on the relevant sheet of paper.

Before long, there were seven sheets full of coloured writing up on the walls.

I let the students move around the room, absorbing the information, and then I took the sheets away to see how much they could remember by simply looking at the object. I asked them to fill in some new blank sheets, which I again placed by the objects, purely to help them form the memory.

After the lesson, I made copies of the original sheets and handed them out to the class so that they could use them to revise.

Did it work? Obviously, I cannot prove it was the difference between an A or a B, but the feedback from the students was positive. They believed that it was helpful.

I have since recreated this type of revision activity with a number of different classes and they have reported the same: it was a useful jog to the memory while in the exam room.

So why not give it a go? Transform the exam room into a mind palace for your students.

Steve Miles is head of boys’ PE at Chesham Grammar

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