This time of year there’s an abundance of advice out there for students who want to know the best way to revise. But is all of this advice good?
I recently came across some research ( first published in 2013 by Prof John Dunlovsky, of Kent State University) that I think is worth re-sharing as it shows that some of the most popular exam revision techniques, will not actually lead to success in exams.
Highlighting: One of the most common and satisfying strategies but beware – it has LOW results. The research found that picking out individual phrases in florescent yellow, green or pink can actually hinder rather than support revision as students remember what is highlighted, but don’t integrate what they’ve read into the larger whole.
Writing summaries: You’d think this was a good test of what you’ve learnt, but the research showed that writing summaries does not help with revision at all.
Keyword mnemonics: Used since the beginning of time- but guess what – choosing a word to associate with information only works if you’re trying to remember specific information. It won’t help if you’re trying to remember large passages or maths and physics.
Imagery: forming mental pictures while reading or listening surprisingly produces LOW results
Re-reading: like writing summaries, re-reading was found to have LOW results.
So enough of what doesn’t work, what has HIGH results?
Practice testing – You need to learn the material and then self-test to check you know it. This retrieves what you know from your memory which means you’ll know the material better in the long-run. Flash-cards are a great tool for helping you do this so once you’ve learnt it, use the cards to test yourself.
Distributed practice: This means planning ahead and not doing all your revision on one subject in a block. Space it out, don’t cram and this is the most powerful and successful strategy of all.
So the next time you pick up those highlighters, think again: the research also showed that practice testing and distributed practice are not just effective for some people, but are better for everyone.