Revision Myths Debunked: Part Two

Learning Tips

Remember the one about the student that didn’t even look at their notes and still got an A on the final test? Welcome to the world of revision myths: common tales that can strike fear into the heart of any student into the run-up to exams.

Following on from last week’s blog, which focused on prevalent study myths, the Mentor Education team are back with a final round-up of revision dos and don’ts to help you feel confident and calm during exam season.

‘Re-reading and highlighting my notes is the best way to revise’

Whilst arming oneself with a colourful array of pens, sitting down in a comfy seat and whiling away the hours re-reading and highlighting one’s notes might seem like an attractive proposition, the truth is that this form of ‘revision’ isn’t really revision at all. It all feels a little too easy.

To ensure that you have the best chance of success, you need to test yourself. ‘Retrieval practice’ –which involves regular tests of your memory – and ‘distributed practice – spreading out your revision sessions and ensuring that these are intense – are likely to be much more successful revision methods.

Re-reading notes over and over again can lull you into a false sense of security. As the notes become more familiar, you may believe that you’ve committed every detail to memory – which could be misleading. Moreover, memorising pages of information isn’t the only (or best) way to learn; tackling practice questions, past papers, or asking a friend to test you will challenge your cognitive skills, forcing you to call back relevant facts and helping you to assess how well you understand a certain topic. As an added bonus, this form of learning will also increase the level of information that you store in your long-term memory.

Highlighting can still be useful, of course: you can use it to pull out important theories, names, or quotes, making it easy for you to find these details when you return to the topic at a later date. But it’s not a ‘one-stop shop’ in terms of revision success.

‘Who needs notes? The textbook is good enough!’

Whilst we’ve mentioned that re-reading notes isn’t an effective revision technique in itself, the process of taking notes is something different: it’s the first step in the revision process, in fact. The simple act of considering the information you’re being taught and putting it into your own words – creating summaries, diagrams, or even mind maps as you go – can be a powerful memory-boosting exercise. You may wish to ditch the iPad or laptop in favour of a trusty biro, too, because the way in which you take notes could have an impact: indeed, a Princeton University study concluded that ‘longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently.’

Ultimately, each student needs to find a form of note-taking that works for them: whether it’s typing ideas up, writing out their thoughts in full, producing summaries, highlighting key facts, or even drawing pictures, note-taking can be hugely effective. Whatever you do, make sure that you can read and understand your notes when you come back to them – and that you store them in a safe place!

‘Essay planning is a waste of time’

There’s a longstanding myth about exams that concerns spontaneity: that you can memorise the facts and hone your understanding as much as possible, but once you get into the exam, you will have to rely on your ‘wits’.

Whilst this is true in a sense – there’s no way of knowing exactly what you’ll be asked – it doesn’t mean that you can’t go into the exam armed with a question-answering strategy. With this in mind, essay planning can be an extremely helpful technique – both in and out of the exam hall.

Prior to the exam, you should go over the basics: what makes a great essay? How do you craft an inspiring introduction and a clever conclusion? For each topic, make a list of quotations, key themes, and contextual details that you think would be useful, and make sure you have committed these to memory – and that you know how you’ll use them in a variety of circumstances.

But the strategising element of revision doesn’t end there: it continues into the exam itself. When you’re faced with the exam paper, it can be tempting to plunge straight in; after all, time is limited, and who wants to waste precious moments planning an answer? Don’t fall into this trap. Excellent exam answers require logical thought processes and careful planning.  As such, before you start answering an exam question, think back to the essay preparation you undertook as part of your revision schedule and apply it to the questions in front of you. Sketch out a rough outline for your introduction, body text, and conclusion – as well as referencing any vital quotes or facts – before you start writing. This doesn’t need to take long, but having that skeleton to refer to will help make sure you don’t miss anything vital, and that you express your main points as clearly and convincingly as possible.

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