How to use the Force to focus revision

10th April 2017 at 12:30
How the tactics of Star Wars’ Jedi knights can communicate the message that exam success is within students’ control and bring the best out of revision sessions

I’m a Star Wars fan. I admit it. And yes, I am going to teach you how to use the Force for revision.

Students want to follow the quick and easy path of the dark side, losing hours traversing the forbidden planets of Facebook, Snapchat and XBox Live. We must look to help unpick these bad habits, while helping them to develop the patience and self-control of a true Jedi, so that they may wield their revision arsenal with success.

I have had great results with this method so here are my tips.

Jedi mind trick 1: Revision is the “in” thing

Take this familiar scenario: despite your best attempts, a third of your group fail to do their revision homework task. Annoyed and frustrated, you issue a detention and demand better next time. Next time comes along and…well, you know the story.

Try reversing this gloom-ridden scenario. Instead of spending all your time railing at those who have failed to revise, celebrate individuals who exhibit the revision behaviours we desire, making every student think this is the norm. This should dent the students' feeling of safety in their group identity as being anti-academic as we can speak with relentless positivity about how much students are revising.

As every teacher knows instinctively, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” What our students want and need is to feel like they belong.

Jedi mind trick 2: 'You will achieve'

As a prosthetic little green philosopher once said: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

It's too easy for students to give up and believe that they can’t revise or that they aren’t "naturally" academic – as Yoda would have said, “That is why you fail.” The now well-known idea of growth mindset, based on Carol Dweck’s research, can surely help here.

The self-control and application required of revision sessions is aided by the belief that failure, difficulty and struggle, provide what Dweck describes as “opportunities for learning”. We need to focus on failure and celebrate it as an opportunity to get better, alongside communicating the message that exam success is within students’ control.

Jedi mind trick 3: 'This is the route to that job you have always wanted’

Students need to also believe that their long-term goals are personally attainable too. Telling them stories of the hard-won success of past students can prove a lasting revision mind trick.

Yet while students are no doubt influenced and motivated by revision success stories, a great exam grade is just an outcome and it doesn’t feel tangible to students. Their prospective future career is still in a galaxy far, far away to them.

Our students need to understand how these seemingly interminable revision sessions relate to their future goals – they are more motivated when they understand how their physics GCSE could lead to an engineering career, which could in turn see them help people, making lives healthier, safer and richer. 

Jedi mind trick 4: ‘You do have a choice’

Drivers to boost the motivation of students to revise harder are everywhere if we seek them out. It's amazing how much more motivated students can become when revising if given a few simple choices.

It could be allowing them to determine their revision strategy of choice, or where and when they revise. A little autonomy can go a long way when trying to motivate a determinedly independent teen.

The ARCS model of motivation, by John Keller, is helpful. It stands for the following:

Attention

Grabbing their attention when guiding them to revision, using strategies like humour, interesting examples and active participation, really does matter a great deal.

Relevance

Students need to find a bigger purpose for their revision – something to drag them through. Making the topics and the subject relevant to their future lives in a concrete way is helpful.

Confidence

Doing harder revision is difficult work, so it takes confidence. If they can see they are making progress in small steps, their growing competence will fuel their confidence, which will in turn drive them to revise more.

Satisfaction

This is a simple idea, but our students need to feel satisfied by their revision, so they can grow to enjoy a challenge and appreciate when they see the rewards come their way.

Jedi mind trick 5: Highlighters are not the answer

Surprisingly, the dark side is daubed in highlighter pens.

The highlighter pen is not the revision tool you are looking for. Research on the science of memory and revision has shown that some revision strategies prove flimsier than a 3PO protocol droid stuck in a Tatooine desert.

According to Professor John Dunlovsky, of Kent State University, we should guide our students to avoid flawed revision strategies, such as simply rereading their notes, with a smattering of highlighter pen; underlining key words; or relying on mnemonics.

Jedi mind trick 6: Testing is both fun and useful

Get students to test themselves. It takes some convincing to get them to revise without their notes, or the awkward experience of trying and failing at a tricky quiz.

It's so much easier for our young padawans to play their favourite music and happily read their notes with a bit of colouring in, in blissful ignorance that it won’t likely stick, than to grapple with a blank page. But persuade them, you must.

Jedi mind trick 7: 'You want to turn that music off and enjoy silence’

Other revision myths need razing from our students minds, like the seductive belief in multi-tasking? IT’S A TRAP.

School them like Obi-wan with the knowledge that multi-tasking is a myth and the reality is that they are task switching – an ineffective way to learn and remember. Convince students of the following: switch off your music, put away your phone and focus. Attractive, it is not; effective it will be.

Jedi mind trick 8: ‘Revision is easy’

Students are likely to need a lot of convincing to change and improve their revision habits. Like young Skywalker, they must unlearn what they have learned. Our students can prove a stubborn lot and will resist any particular mind tricks that force them to think harder and even feel a little uncomfortable at times.

As teachers, we can get stuck in the groove of setting more and more revision, asking them to work harder and harder.

We need to convince them that if they use the most effective revision strategies (self-testing, quizzing, using flashcards, undertaking regular past exam questions) and they switch off their technological devices to better focus, they could indeed do less, but it would still likely have more impact on their examination results – it is more powerful than they could have possibly imagined.

This is an edited version of an article by Alex Quigley, director of research at Huntington School in York. 

Visit our revision hub and wave goodbye to stress during exam season. It’s packed with tips, tricks and techniques that can help set your students on the path to success.