Christmas holidays have started for our pupils and are about to start for thousands of others across the UK. For many it will be a time of a total relaxation with a few holiday projects to contemplate but for those with mock exams looming early next year, the Christmas holidays can be a time of stress.
This week, I spoke to the Sunday Times about my tips for revision planning, and, hopefully, gave some constructive comment on sensible revision planning.
The crux of my advice concerned planning your revision over a period of months leading up to your examinations in order to take advantage of how your brain actually works.
Your brain needs time to transfer what it has learnt from the short term memory – where it initially holds information – to the long term memory. This can take several months and you are putting yourself at risk if you only rely on studying at the last moment!
In a nutshell, if any student merely relies on last minute cramming only, they are at risk of forgetting everything they have learnt because studies of the brain show that stress can wipe out the short term memory.
My advice to anyone facing exams or coming back to studying after a long period of time – for example adult learners – is first of all to identify what type of learner you are and then tailoring your revision style and approach to suit that style of learning.
Basically, there are three types of learners – auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Auditory learners would rather listen to things being explained than read about them. Visual learners would rather look at a demonstration or read about what they are learning while kinesthetic ( ‘tactile’) learners respond well to practical experiences to help them learn. Most people are able to combine all the types of learning but some respond much better to one type. It is useful to consider which type of learning suits you the most and then to work your revision plan around your own style.
An hour or so of revision at a set time daily works well for most people. There is no need to revise for hours on end if you follow a sensible revision plan. Revising before bed is a particularly good idea, leaving 20 minutes before you go to bed for the information to sink in as you undertake a non-taxing activity.
I suggest a good way to challenging yourself and kick-start the memory process is to write questions as you go along. In this way, you will not fall into the trap of reading through reams of information without really taking anything in which is very common for students when they start to panic about the gargantuan task ahead.
The key to then committing the information you have learnt to the long term memory is setting a regular review of no more than 30 minutes. This review is crucial to helping to create the neurological pathways which help to transfer the information to the long term memory.
If you have written questions for yourself during your revision as suggested, review those questions after a day, a week, a month: if you can’t answer them, go back and review the data again.
As your revision progresses, answer as many past papers in your subject or subjects as you can and use mark schemes to understand mistakes now.
Learn from those mistakes and review any topics which you have misunderstood or which have confused you. Speak to your tutor or teacher about any subject areas which you are still feeling unclear about. It is better to do this now than find out too late that you don’t understand something and become too nervous to admit to it!
Some students find it useful to have a ‘learning buddie’ to talk to about a topic and to question and explore themes together.
As you approach your exams, think about setting yourself a timed exam: timed conditions for exam questions are always useful.
Another useful tip is to imagine you are the examiner – pose the most difficult question you think you may be asked – can you answer it a week later?
Remember, try and stay calm as you approach your exams and make sure you give yourself time to sleep and relax. If you are worried about mock exams, try and remember that these are set to help you as much as to give your teachers and tutors an idea of how you are performing.
Mock exam performances and results can help students and teachers to identify areas which need more work or particular concentration and you can adapt your revision plan accordingly for any summer exams you are facing. Above all, whether you are a student at school or an adult learner, do not be afraid to seek help if you are worried about your studies, your revision plan or forthcoming exams. We want you to do your best and we are here to help!