Andy Falconer


How To Help Your Pupils Revise More Effectively

19 May 2017 | Leave a Comment |

There isn’t one perfect revision method which will guarantee success 100% of the time. revisionWe know that. We’ve all taken exams ourselves and we’ve probably tried various methods of cramming information into our heads. For the well organised planners among us this probably included preparing beautifully organised folders with coloured dividers, a wealth of plastic pockets and a reassuringly huge amount of paper, indexed and featuring carefully copied notes. For the last minute panickers among us it was probably more to do with an overdose of caffeine and sugar and a lot of desperate praying the night before. For some of you those techniques may actually have worked! For some of you they won’t.

The good news is that since we took our exams a lot more is known about how the brain learns, and we have a much better idea of how to use that understanding to guide pupils through revision.

You’re reading this because you want to help your children or pupils do that, which is great news for teachers and for the children, because we know that the most effective way of supporting pupils is to present a united front and share a common goal.

This is a recent quote from Alex Quigley in the Times Educational Supplement:

Research demonstrated that students don’t like to use the most effective revision approaches such as self-testing (they don’t think it aids their learning), or using flashcards and quizzing. Not only that, our students routinely use less effective methods, such as re-reading their class books and highlighting their notes.

They then tend to apply these ineffective techniques over long periods, clocking up the hours in the belief that time spent means grades earned, but a lot of this time is wasted.’

I’m sure that some of this sounds familiar to you. We often hear pupils saying that their favourite revision method is reading their notes or copying them out.revision mandala We hear from parents that a child has spent a huge amount of time revising but still hasn’t done very well in the exam.

The fact is that many pupils revise ineffectively for extended periods and are then crushed when their hard work seems to have been a waste of time. Our teachers have also noticed in conversations with pupils that they tend to consider learning facts to be ‘better revision’ than practising skills, which just isn’t true. A lot of questions in exams (probably those worth the most marks) are skills based, they’re not about the regurgitation of facts.

This brings me onto the other side of the coin: exam technique. Some pupils will prepare very well but on the day they will get their timing wrong; or they will miss vital instructions on the paper; or they will fail to correct silly errors; or they will go blank because they’re nervous. And if they’re going to make those kinds of mistakes, we want pupils to make them here, during internal school exams, where the stakes are low. We will reassure, advise, commiserate and set targets to try and prevent them making the same mistakes in the future.

Interestingly, pupils who are set targets linked to exam technique tend to be more positive about facing future exams than those who receive targets linked to revision technique. I wonder if this might be because a target linked to exam technique seems external to the pupil: the exams are like a beast that needs taming – once you have the right tools and training you will be victorious! Whereas a target linked to revision technique is taken more to heart and can be seen as a personal criticism by some pupils.

At St Olave’s School we recently ran a revision workshop for parents of our 10-13 year olds (over 150 attended) revision mind mapwhere teachers gave four brief presentations about revision methods that are tried and tested. The teachers explained why these techniques work and they gave examples of how to use them using a visualiser. The methods were mind mapping, mandalas, flash cards and recording your voice.

These revision techniques are used by our teachers in lessons in the two weeks leading up to internal school exams. But old habits are hard to break. Some of the pupils sitting exams with us will have revised for previous exams, possibly using poor techniques, or using effective techniques in an ineffective manner. These pupils will want to stick to their own way of doing things. We need the help of parents to show them the benefit of moving out of their comfort zone and trying something new, or tweaking their methods to make them more effective. Some pupils may have lost some confidence after previous exams and need a reassuring helping hand at home to guide their revision.

Effective revision is a key skill which we have to help our young people to learn about, develop and work out what works best for them.

(The bulk of this blog was taken from the introduction given by Cathy Lees, Director of Teaching and Learning at St Olave’s School, to parents at a revision workshop)