Revision: the final stretch

This is a short term, and many of our students are now in the final furlong before the finish line of public exams at GCSE and A-level. Speaking tests and practical exams have already started, and Year 11 and Year 13 can now count the days until their first written exams. I thought this was the ideal opportunity to give some final advice and reminders for effective revision in the final stretch.

Finish-line

1. Break it up

Cramming doesn’t work. Revision is most effective when it is spaced out, with breaks in between. This allows the brain to consolidate what you have revised, and also helps keep a healthy balance between revision and relaxation. Take fifteen minutes off for every hour of revision completed – it’ll help you remember what you’ve learned, and stop you going stir-crazy.

2. Make your brain work hard

In order to remember something, you really have to think about it. Just reading through notes, watching a revision video on YouTube, or listening to a recording of the key information is not going to help you remember information, because your brain isn’t having to try very hard. Re-reading, watching or listening on their own are passive activities. For information to stick, you need to actively do something with it – so turn the information you’ve read, watched or listened to into something else. A mind-map, a spider-diagram, a practice answer, a poster, a set of flashcards…you choose! Taking information from a source, processing it, and turning it into something else will help you to recall it better. After a proper 45-minute revision session, you should feel tired – you will need that break! (see tip 1).

3. Practice makes perfect

At this stage of revision, in the final weeks, your best preparation will be to practice exactly what you will have to do in the real exam. Practice questions, completed from memory to the same timings as the exam, will not only sharpen up your exam technique but will also help you remember what you’ve learned because they are a form of retrieval practice. You can get past papers or practice questions from your teachers, the Academy’s VLE, and services such as MyMaths, but also from exam board websites, and revision sites such as Get Revising or Bitesize.

This excellent video from the BBC summarises these three strong approaches to revision:

Good luck?

If you’re well-prepared, you know your stuff, and you’ve practised your exam technique, you shouldn’t need luck – the exam is just an opportunity to show the examiner what you can do. But good luck to all our exam-takers anyway!

Eating and drinking to improve brain power

Top revision tips from Miss Tucker

1. The right kind of fat

1vqaw_ph_400x400Firstly, brains need fats! But no ordinary fats, it needs superstar fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. These essential fatty acids are linked to preventing a decline in mental skills and memory loss, and must come from what we eat and drink. Eating nuts, seeds, oily fish or drinking fish oil supplements (like cod liver oil) are all seen to be crucial to the creation and maintenance of brain cells. Those who consume more of these fats in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.

Salmon is an excellent source of these essential fats. Fresh, canned or frozen salmon is fabulous in fish cake patties. Good vegetarian alternatives includes pumpkin seeds and walnuts, or frozen soya beans are a good cheap source too and are great in a stir fry.

While Omegas are good fats for brains, eating other high fat foods containing artificial trans or partially hydrogenated fats do not just compromise brain health; they can impair memory, and lower brain volume. Thankfully most of these bad fats have been removed from supermarket and the big fast food brands but they are still common place in cheaper backstreet independent takeaways and imported American supermarket sweets and snacks (like the Reese, Hershey’s, and Flipz).  Give the body junk food, and the brain is certainly going to suffer.

2. Antioxidants

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There’s a huge amount of chemical processing in the brain which can make it highly susceptible to something called ‘oxidative’ damage but there are things called ‘antioxidants’ that are thought to protect against the harmful effects. Fortunately there is a wide variety of good antioxidants to be found in fruits and vegetables that enables brains to work well for longer periods of time. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide the body with different types of antioxidants, with purple and blue particularly linked to a reduction in mental decline and other benefits. Blueberries for example have an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E, and studies have shown improved memory with a diet including blueberries and strawberries (plus the seeds from berries are also another great source of Omega-3). In general, when it comes to berries the more intense the colour, the more nutrition in the berry. So, why not try adding some fresh berries to yogurt or a bowl of oats in the morning?

3. Micronutrients

health-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds-by-greenblenderThe brain needs a steady supply of other micronutrients, and without powerful vitamins B6 and B12 our brains are susceptible to brain disease and mental decline. Also, small amounts of the minerals iron, copper, zinc and sodium are fundamental to brain health and cognitive development. All dairy foods are packed with protein and the B vitamins needed for the growth of brain tissue and neurotransmitters; milk and yogurt are a great source. Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron, and also contains zinc, which helps with memory. For vegetarians, beans are a good choice of iron (plus they contain yet more omega-3 fatty acids). For zinc, the mineral vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, pumpkin seeds are richer than many other seeds.

4. Carbohydrates

c618b53a-6262-11e8-a998-12ee0acfa260To enable the brain to efficiently perform it needs lots of the right type of fuel, most of which comes from carbohydrates, but specific carbohydrates effect how the brain responds. What we call ‘high glycemic’ food like white breads cause a rapid release of glucose into the blood followed by a big dip as blood sugar shoots down – and with it, your attention span.  On the other hand, oats, wholemeal bread, and ‘brown’ rice and pasta have far slower glucose release enabling a steadier level of attentiveness. Low-fat popcorn, switching bread to wholemeal and oats make for cheap, easy options. Oats also are good sources of vitamin E and B, as well as potassium and zinc – which make our bodies and brains function at full capacity. You could also try dry oats in a fruit smoothie to thicken it.

5. Choline

Choline, neither vitamin nor mineral, is another micronutrient that is essential in tiny amounts for brain development and memory function, and concentration. You’ll find it in beans, broccoli, lean beef, yogurt and eggs (especially the yolk). Eggs are great brain food also being vitamin B rich, but stick with poached or boiled; or why not have scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast?

6. Hydration

benefits-of-drinking-waterFor sustained brain power opting for a varied balanced diet of nutrient rich foods in three separate meals a day is critical. So is drinking the equivalent of between 6-8 glasses of water a day (between 1.9 and 2.25 litres) to avoid suffering dehydration, tiredness, and lack of concentration and short-term memory. Our brains are 73% water! Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can leave you irritable, sleepless, and anxious, and they have diuretic properties that can leads to further dehydration. Instead try un-caffeinated relaxing herbal chamomile tea, which has been  shown to improve cognitive function.

7. Sleep and exercise

Don’t forget that as well as a healthy diet, aiming for eight hours sleep and exercising helps to keep brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.

Good luck!

How to revise: retrieval practice

It’s that time of year when revision is moving to the forefront of our minds. It’s a particular focus for our Year 11 and Year 13 students they approach their public exams, but good revision practices are important for all students. If Year 7 get into good revision habits now, they will stand them in good stead for the future!

dunlosky

Key research paper from Dunlosky et al – how to learn!

Extensive research studies by cognitive and educational psychologists have shown that all revision is not equal. Some revision techniques are more effective at securing learning than others. So, what works? And what is less effective?

Less effective: reading through and/or highlighting your notes

highlight

Highlighting text feels good – but it doesn’t lead to effective learning

Whilst these techniques might make you feel like you’ve spent your time well, the research show that they are not that effective at actually helping to to remember what you’ve read or highlighted at a later point in time. They are generally quite low effort – your brain doesn’t have to work too hard to read through or highlight things. And, because you haven’t had to try too hard, your brain doesn’t retain much of what you’ve done.

More effective: retrieval practice

retrieval

Retrieval practice is hard work – but it helps you learn more effectively

Retrieval practice is recalling information to mind from your memory without notes or reminders. Some examples of retrieval practice are:

  • Having a list of key words in front of you, and writing down the definitions or meanings of those key words from memory
  • Having a quotation from a book, play or poem in front of you, and writing down what the quotation implies, demonstrates or illustrates – from memory
  • Having a topic title in front of you, and writing down everything you can remember about that topic without referring to your notes
  • Doing past paper questions without your notes in front of you.

After any retrieval practice, it’s really important to go back to your notes, the textbook or the answer sheet to check which elements you were able to remember correctly, and which you got wrong.

The research shows that even if you can’t remember the answers, or if you get them wrong, retrieval practice still strengthens your recall of the correct answers days and weeks later – provided you’ve corrected your mistakes after the retrieval practice.

Using flashcards is another great way of doing retrieval practice – there’s an excellent blog on how to do this from the psychologists at Inner Drive here.

What-are-revision-flashcards

Flashcards are a good way to organise your retrieval practice revision

More on how to revise

There are lots of older posts on this blog about revision techniques. You can find them all collected in the Revision category – just click here.

Twelve ways families can support revision

As we approach the exam period families will be wondering what the best methods are to help their children revise. Below are some tips which, based on research, are some of the best ways to help students to revise effectively.

Our mantra for revision is to recap and practise.

  1. Get them to self-test, a lot.

Research shows that testing in order to recall content is the best way of getting us to think hard. Thinking about and getting the answer is much better than re-reading notes. The more we recall information the better it sticks in our long term memory. This should be in the form of quizzing themselves where possible.

  1. Past Papers

Encourage them to redo any past exam questions without their notes. Simply trying to recall answers to mind is an effective revision technique. Afterwards,  use the mark scheme and help them to identify successes and areas for further work. Past papers and mark schemes can be found on any exam boards’ websites. Our exam board specifications for 2018 can be found on our website for Year 11 and Year 13.

  1. Talk to them

Get your child to tell you what they have learnt or are revising, then quiz them at random times: at breakfast, at the dinner table, or even in the car. Ask them questions that relate to their studies and get them to think hard about the answer. Their books should be a good source of quizzing information for you.

Get them to explain their answer. Adding reason to an answer helps them to remember. And only accept the right answer – no half marks.

  1. Read around the subject

Even if the content is not in the exam, understanding the subject area better helps to build links which may be valuable for those higher grade questions. Recommended documentaries, websites, exam board resources and places of interest to visit can also be beneficial.

  1. Space it out

Distribute their practice of different subjects or different areas of a subject. Research shows that spacing out practice aids memory. Cramming will help for a short period and may be useful the night before an exam but this is not the most effective for long-term memory. A revision time table can help with this.

  1. Learn keywords and definitions by heart

Learning the correct definitions in some subjects will help gain a few extra marks, so long as they use them correctly. Produce memory cards with the key word and the definition on to test them regularly.

  1. Use memory tricks

Mnemonics, such as “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to remember the colours of the rainbow, can be a good trick to remember sequences and lists of information. Get them to invent their own. Making them funny or rude can be a great hook for memory! They can be a good way of helping to store larger chunks of information. Write them on posters and stick them up around their room or the house.

  1. Go easy on the highlighters

Rereading and highlighting key points is not the best way to revise. If they are unsure on a subject this may help to learn a topic, but always get them to check with a teacher that they’ve understood properly what they’ve read.

  1. Sleeping, eating and hydration

Exercise can be beneficial for the mind and body and students should not ignore this. Exercise and revision can lead to tiredness and learning is hard work, so the brain and body need plenty of fuel.

  1. Build in breaks

Splitting up a study day in to small study and rest periods can be beneficial. Remove any distractions such as computers and other media sources, especially mobile phones. These can be a reward for studying hard. It is useful to have a positive learning environment – a dedicated space that is clear and equipped for revising so there is no procrastinating.

  1. Start now

The mock exams are a good indicator of where they are but with a balanced programme of study they can gain those few extra grades between now and the summer.

  1. Subject specific is best

The nature of revision varies from subject to subject. The subject content is the most important thing for them to learn. Their job is to remember what we taught them in class. The whole purpose of revision should be to help with that.

Good luck! 

revision tips

How to revise #6: concrete examples

This is the sixth and final post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton – she’s the real deal!

Read all the revision posts here.

Concrete examples: what is it?

Concrete examples help you to remember abstract or difficult ideas by finding ways in which they can be applied in the real world.

Concrete examples: why?

Ideas on their own are difficult to remember. If you have a good example of how an idea is applied, it is much easier then to remember the idea itself.

Concrete examples: how do I do it?

Keep note of examples of concepts, ideas, and theories provided in class, either by your teacher or in textbooks or other resources. Also, try to think of examples for yourself. For example, if I am trying to remember the idea that repetition is an important rhetorical device used in public speaking, it’s much easier if I think about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech which repeats “I have a dream” eight times and “let freedom ring” ten times. In this case, the speech is a concrete example of the effective use of repetition in public speaking. If I remember the speech, I remember the idea of repetition as a rhetorical device.

Concrete examples: next steps

Checking that the examples you are using are accurate is really, really important. If you are able to create your own examples it’s a sign that you have fully understood a concept or idea.  And don’t assume that examples you find on the internet are necessarily correct – always double check with a reliable source. Check your examples with your teachers just to make sure.

Concrete examples: watch the video

How to revise #5: interleaving

This is the fifth post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Read all the revision posts here.

Interleaving: what is it?

Interleaving is when you switch between different topics in your revision sessions.

Interleaving: why?

Switching between topics helps your brain to see the similarities and differences between them. It helps to avoid confusion and also allows you to make links between different areas of study, which aids retention. Finally, it’s much harder than studying just one topic for a long time, and this difficulty means your brain has to work harder, which means it remembers more.

Interleaving: how do I do it?

It’s more effective to revise one topic for a short time, making sure you have a good grasp of it, then switch to another topic, then another. When you come back to the topics again as part of your spaced practice, review them in a different order. Try to look for the links and connections between topics as you study them.

Interleaving: next steps

Don’t switch too often – you’ll get confused! Three separate topics in one revision session is usually about the right balance. And don’t switch too quickly – make sure you’ve fully understood what you’re studying before you move on to the next topic.

Interleaving: watch the video

How to revise #4: Dual Coding

This is the fourth post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Read all the revision posts here.

Dual Coding: what is it?

Dual coding is when you use a combination of pictures/visuals and words to help you learn material.

Dual Coding: why?

By transferring the material from a visual form into words, or from words into visuals, you are strengthening the connections in your brain around the material itself. You are also giving yourself multiple formats to remember things in – the words might act as a memory hook for the visuals, or you might remember the visuals and that will trigger the memory of the words.

Dual coding: how do I do it?

If you have a textbook, look for the visuals and see what the connection is between those and the words. What does the visual tell you that the words don’t? What do the words clarify that isn’t clear in the visual? Asking these questions helps secure your knowledge of all aspects of the topic.

When you are revising, draw visuals to go along with each section of your written notes. This could be a timeline, a diagram, a flow-chart, a mind-map, an illustration, an infographic or whatever you want!

If you have diagrams, illustrations or other visuals to work from, write down in your own words what the visual is telling you. Processing the information from one code (visual) to another (words) helps you to recall it later.

Dual coding: next steps

When you are first starting out, you will have your notes, textbook or resources in front of you. As you get better, try to dual code without the material in front of you – drawing a visual representation of the material from memory, or writing a description or explanation of the visual in your own words without looking at it. This combines dual coding with retrieval practice to help secure your revision.

Dual coding: watch the video

How to revise #3: Elaboration

 

elaboration

 

This is the third post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Read all the revision posts here. 

Elaboration: what is it?

When you are elaborating, you are explaining and describing what you are revising with as many details as possible. You are looking for answers to why and how things work, and you are looking for connections between the material and other things you know.

Elaboration: why?

When you elaborate, you focus on the details and the connections between the material (what you are revising) and things in your own experience and knowledge (already safely in your long-term memory). These details and connections create “hooks” to help you remember the material you are revising.

Also, by working the material through your brain and doing something with it, you are strengthening the connections in your memory.

Elaboration: how do I do it?

How you elaborate depends on what it is that you are revising. Let’s say you are revising Biology, and you want to remember cell structures. You could ask yourself why animal and plant cells differ, and how they differ. Note the answers down, or say them out loud to yourself (or into a voice memo recorder). You could then ask yourself how they are similar, and why.

Always check that your elaborations are accurate after you’ve done them. Refer back to your notes, textbooks, or online resources. Correct and mistakes and repeat the elaboration with the corrections, otherwise you’ll risk remembering the incorrect material.

Elaboration: next steps

In the early stages of elaboration, it’s a good idea to have your notes around you to refer to. The eventual aim, however, is to get to the point where you can describe and explain accurately without the material in front of you.

Elaboration: watch the video

 

How to revise #2: Spaced Practice

 

 

This is the second post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton – she’s the real deal!

Read all the revision posts here.

Spaced Practice: what is it?

Spaced practice, sometimes called distributed practice, means that you revise little and often rather than all at once.

Spaced Practice: why?

forgetting curve

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve – reviews over time lead to better retention of learned information

Spacing out your revision so that you revisit your material again and again  over time with breaks in between is far more effective than cramming all at once. Studies have shown that revisiting material helps secure the connections in your brain.

Spaced Practice: how do I do it?

Spaced practice needs planning – but it can start straight away. In any year, you can start spaced practice immediately to help secure your learning for the future. At the weekend, give yourself time to go over what you’ve learned in the previous week. It doesn’t need to be long – just a few minutes to make sure you’ve remembered what you’ve studied during the week.

Spaced Practice: next steps

After a few weeks, go back over the stuff from a month ago to make sure it’s still there. If you have to remind yourself of things that you’ve forgotten – don’t worry! Re-learning and reminding yourself of things you’ve forgotten actually makes the retention rate better.

In the run-up to exams, make sure you revise your material a little and often, leaving spaces of a few days between sessions on the same subject.

When you are revising, use the retrieval practice method, elaboration (see post #3!) and self-testing. Don’t just read over your notes – make your brain work hard with the material so you remember it better.

Finally, don’t leave all your revision to the night before – you won’t remember it! You’re actually far better off getting a good night’s sleep than pulling an all-nighter. Your brain will be sharper and more effective for the exam if you’re well rested.

Spaced Practice: watch the video

How to Revise #1: Retrieval Practice

This is the first post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Retrieval Practice: what is it?

Retrieval practice is when you make your brain recall information from memory, and then do something with that information.

Retrieval Practice: why?

By forcing your brain to recall information from memory, it strengthens the connection in the long term memory and makes it easier to remember it next time. Failure to retrieve information also helps. If you can’t remember an important piece of information, fact or idea, it tells you that you need to re-learn it carefully so you can retrieve it next time.

Retrieval Practice: how do I do it?

 

Flashcards are particularly useful. Write a concept or keyword on one side, and the definition on the reverse. Alternatively, write a question on one side, and the answer on the other. Look at the front and remember the information on the reverse. Don’t be tempted to flip the card – if you do, you’re just reading the information, not recalling it from memory, and this isn’t helping with retrieval.

Retrieval Practice: next steps

Testing yourself is difficult! Don’t worry if you find it hard. The struggle is actually making the connections in your brain more secure. Follow the advice above and it will get easier – but if you cheat and look at the answers, you aren’t securing those connections to your memory.

It’s also vital to check that you’ve recalled information correctly, otherwise you might be cementing incorrect definitions and ideas into your memory!

Retrieval Practice: watch the video

In this video, the Learning Scientists explain about retrieval practice:

 

Happy revising!