Revision: Keep Focused on the End Goal

Revision is part of the dress rehearsal as the opening night of your exams looms ever closer, says Claire Russell, Head of Student Achievement and Progress at Tanglin Trust School.
Revision: Keep Focused on the End Goal
By Carli Allan
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Revising for your GCSE, A Level or IB exams in May? While it might be tempting to put off your revision until the last moment, starting your revision early means you can spread it out and avoid that last-minute panic. 

Claire Russell, Senior School Assistant Headteacher (Head of Student Achievement and Progress), Tanglin Trust School shares her advice to help you stay on track with your revision, so that you enter that exam hall at your most confident.

"A final examination at the end of a course is a performance, and in that sense can be likened to a theatre performance at the end of a long and intense period of rehearsal.

Everything that leads up to the exam performance is a part of the rehearsal, and to extend the metaphor further, revision and mock exams are all part of the dress rehearsal as the opening night looms ever closer.

At Tanglin Trust School, we encourage students to see their two year (I)GCSE, A Level or International Baccalaureate courses as a long rehearsal for the final show, where fluffing your lines or entering from stage left instead of stage right is all part of the learning process. Mistakes will and should be made, because without mistakes, we do not learn or grow. But as our students approach the final examination period, and enter the dress rehearsal, we turn our attention to the things that will make a difference to their performance in the final stages of rehearsal.

As any director will tell you, the show often comes together at what seems to be the final moment, and this is also often the case with learning and exam preparation. Two years of groundwork has been done, the content has been covered, learning has taken place, so how do we ensure that students are now able to show all of this off in the final examinations? The answer is: revision.

Revision used to mean endless hours of re-reading notes, highlighting said notes, and then desperately hoping that the content of the notes would somehow “stick”. It was hit and miss for many students as to whether this approach would be successful. As students reach the culminating stages of their courses, it is all about activating memory, and as Daniel Willingham famously said, “Memory is the residue of thought”, so it’s time to get thinking!

Luckily, cognitive science has taught us a great deal in the education world in recent years, and we now know much better how to kick the memory into gear.

Here are some useful steps students can follow for effective revision:

  • Get organised. Sift through your notes and put everything useful into folders by subject, then topic (digital or hard copy).
  • Use the sifted notes to make summary posters for topics. Mind maps or bullet points will work, depending on your preference. Use sketch-noting to help you visualize the points when you try to recall them later. Display the posters if you can and look at them frequently.
  • From your summary posters, create flashcards with key content/terms. Most subjects require you to memorise and recall key information. Get family and friends to test you when you have made the flashcards.
  • Create or find retrieval quizzes (there are lots online) to support your memory.
  • Use past papers and mark schemes to get thinking a little harder and to apply the knowledge you are learning. Remember that this is all part of the dress rehearsal. The more practice you can do at this stage, the better. As you get closer to the exams, make sure you are doing past papers under self-timed conditions. Ask teachers to give you some feedback on your practices.

Planning the time for your revision is also important, and a revision timetable will help (there are multiple online revision timetable tools you can use to do this). Work out when you are free outside of school hours and be realistic.

Keep some balance in your life and build in time to stay active, see friends, and do things other than studying so that your brain gets the rest and time necessary to process all of the information you are trying to remember. Don’t forget that none of us can concentrate for long periods of time, so planning three-hour sessions is ineffective. Online tools such as the Pomodoro timer will help you to stay focused for shorter bursts of time and ensure you are using your time well.

Finally, some words of advice about the reality of revision. It’s not easy, but neither is it supposed to be. Bjork talks about something called “desirable difficulties” and the idea that you only truly learn and understand something if you have to struggle a little to get there. Revision will be a bit of a struggle, but it will pay off.

Keep your eyes on the final performance and remember why you are doing this."

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