How to revise for exams

Study skills | Kiran Kapur | 24 November 2016

Trying to retain information when your brain is bunged up with work, home, family and general life can seem impossible. Not to worry though, I've got a handy technique you can use to help when it comes to exam revision!

I teach the College’s exam techniques course and there are always questions about the best way to revise. Trying to retain information ready for an exam, on top of everything else going on in your life, can seem impossible.

Recommended exam revision technique

I am going to outline a method called Shaped Learning which uses neurological understanding of how memory is laid down. This method works for when you just need to learn a set of facts, models or theories.

You will need:

  • a 50 minute block of time
  • some notes of the facts to learn
  • a timer set for 10 minute intervals

Step one - learn the facts

The first 10 minute interval is spent learning facts. In class, this would be done with a set of slides with basic facts on them which the tutor would go through, simply stating the facts with no additional information or explanation. If you are revising alone, recite the facts to yourself. 10 to 15 minutes is a good length of time, but you can do more or less.

Step two - have some fun

For the next 10 minutes you can have fun. Put the notes aside and do something totally different – play a game, do a Rubiks cube, check Facebook, do a drawing, sing, listen to music, go for a walk – anything that is totally different. The point is to use a different part of your brain. Don’t feel guilty – this is a crucial part of laying down the facts into memory.  Stop after 10 minutes (that’s why you need a timer, as it is very easy to get distracted at this point!)

Step three - repeat the facts you have learned

For the third section, you repeat back the facts you have learnt. In class, the tutor may do this by putting up same slides but with gaps. If you are revising alone, cover up parts of your notes or ask someone to test you. Don’t worry if you can’t remember bits, just learn them again.

Step four - take another break

Then you have another 10 minutes to play. These two gaps must be the full 10 minutes: don’t try to shorten the gap times.

Step five - apply what you have learned

Finally, in the last section, you apply the theory you have learnt. This is where you do an exam practice question or try to relate the theory to your own company.

At the end of the 50 minutes, you should be surprised at just how much you have learnt and, most importantly, retained.

The structure:

  • learn facts
  • play
  • revise facts
  • play
  • apply facts

This technique is simple and lays down the neurological pathways that put facts into memory. It’s also a lot less daunting to break a revision session into five short 10 minute sections, plus you get to play in the middle without feeling guilty. What’s not to like?

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