Category Archives: Learning and teaching

Are last-minute Easter cramming sessions harmful rather than helpful?


The popularity of holiday revision classes are growing rapidly with one tutoring organisation expecting more than 3,500 students this April.

Whether students are attending sessions run by their own schools or those set up by independent enterprises, it strikes me that they are going back to the classroom, when what they need to be doing is consolidating their own learning.

Most of the course content for GCSEs, AS and A2s will have been taught by Easter. Most of the assessment and portfolio work will be completed and moderated.

It’s the perfect time for students to sit down with their own notes and text books to figure out what they have learnt and what is still a slight mystery to them.

These two weeks empower them to fix these gaps and come back to their teachers with the questions they still need answering.

If, instead, they are sitting in some ‘fits all’ revision session that is covering a number of key points, they are not targeting the areas that they personally need to develop.

There is so much unhelpful spoon feeding that we are taking away the ability of some students to discover and plan for themselves. They will need to be able to study independently when they go onto further education and we should allow them to begin now.

The worry is that for some students knowing that a revision class is scheduled for Easter may make them believe this to be some sort of magic solution and that their simple attendance will wipe away the fact of not enough effort until that date.

I think they can have false hopes as to how much progress these sessions can bring them.



Brain food for the exam season

It’s all too easy to reward ourselves with junk food when we’re working hard on revision even though we know that certain foods plus exercise can actually enhance brain function.

So take a few minutes to read this great infographic from Convita, and then go for a walk and stock your fridge with brain foods.

You never know, it could make the 1 point difference between an ‘A’ and a ‘B’!



So you think you know how to revise?

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.





Do you have a photographic memory?

Those with a photographic memory must be at a huge advantage when it come to learning and revision, but are you one of them?

The Open University and ‘The Bang Goes The Theory’ Team ( BBC ) have come up with this ‘Photographic Memory Test’ so you can find out if you’re one of the lucky ones by answering the 10 questions.

My results
Sadly I failed – but that’s not surprising as I’ve spent my whole life using numerous strategies to drill things into my head ready for an exam, only to forget the whole lot the day after ( I’m the one you really don’t want on your pub-quiz team ). But of course things like Google ( and now Rockfig) are my saviour and now I can proudly say ‘I don’t have to remember it – I just Google (Rockfig) it!’.

I love the words below but not sure I’ll ever remember to quote them.

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