Exam season can feel a daunting time for both students and parents. With deadlines looming, it’s normal for pupils to feel overwhelmed and unsure how to approach revision. Meanwhile parents and families often feel at a loss of how to help motivate and support them. So we’ve put together our top revision tips to help your child optimize and make the most out of their revision time, helping them to excel in their exams.
Break it down!
Before your child starts revising, it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at the big picture – what topics do they need to be covering? If there are any specific exam board requirements they’ll need to meet. And also work backwards: how long they have until their exams. Think of it like mapping out their plan of action. By getting a grasp of what exactly they need to cover, they can begin planning what they will revise and when.
Next, separate each exam topic or subject into sub-topics, and work out what needs covering in each of them. By assigning a topic and sub-topic to different timeslots, they can cover all of the subject matter in plenty of time, without needing to cram in information the night before. When small sections are scheduled and then completed on particular days, this looks more manageable from the outset and provides more satisfaction (ticking or crossing each off as they go). This also helps to make sure they aren’t spending too much time on a subject they find easy or like the most, and avoiding the more difficult ones. It’s also helpful to work out what needs covering first for each topic, and focus on learning and understanding these essentials.
Covering all topics broadly is likely to work out better than fewer topics in more granular detail – the latter involves more of a gamble. Studying a whole syllabus but not in great detail isn’t the best approach in comparison to understanding the key information inside and out. Understanding the fundamental concepts of each topic fully will put your child in better stead at being able to answer the exam questions correctly.
Create a revision schedule
It’s useful for your child to create a revision timetable. A clear revision schedule that sets aside enough time for each topic will ensure that they are giving enough study time to each subject (as well as breaks!). It also helps to switch between different topics, so they aren’t looking at the same content for days in a row.
Breaking up a topic into multiple study sessions spaced out over a period of time, encourages more meaningful learning, instead of cramming the entire subject into one long session. What is more, going over the same concepts again but at a later date (a practice called spacing) helps to solidify the information in their minds as opposed to reviewing what they’ve learnt straight away or the next day. Spacing and repetition helps them to digest, form strong memory connections and then recall the information when they need it during their exams.
As much as revision is about learning and re-learning information, children also need to revise effectively. This means being fully engaged while they do so. Memory formation required more than absentmindedly copying information into new notes.
At Cranmore, we help our students optimise their own learning from an early age. From learning revision techniques and study skills from Year 4 onwards, to attending time management sessions in Year 8. Our students learn how to prioritise what they need to revise, and the best way for them personally to learn and re-learn information. Every child learns differently – by helping your child to find out the best way for them to learn, you can help them to optimise their revision sessions. In general, there are three main learning styles – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.
Visual learners take in information best through sight. So colour coding notes, using pictures, diagrams and mindmaps can help them to retain information more effectively. Children who prefer auditory learning, learn well through listening. Listening to recordings, answering questions aloud, and listening to subject videos on YouTube can help bring the information alive in their minds. Kinaesthetic learners meanwhile retain information best when they’ve learned something by ‘doing’. By turning revision into practical activities, you can help your child to remember information more effectively, such as turning their notes into an interactive presentation, creating revision cards and playing revision games.
Although children may prefer a specific learning style, it’s also helpful to combine different revision techniques so children have a chance to learn in different ways. In the beginning, they’ll have to experiment to discover which works best for them.
As long as they’re actively engaging in the information they need to learn, through deep level processing and turning it into a new format they’ll be more likely to remember it. Whether that’s colourful flashcards, revision games or voice recordings. This is because they have done something with the information, instead of simply copying it in the exact same wording. By extracting the key information, phrasing it in their own wording and turning it into a new format, they’ll help their brains to process the information and remember it later on. Deep processing involves elaboration rehearsal which involves a more meaningful analysis of information and leads to better recall. For example, giving words a meaning or linking them with previous knowledge.
As a rule of thumb, children can concentrate for around two-five minutes times their age. So five year olds will be able to concentrate for around 10 to 50 minutes depending on how hard the task is.
Scientists suggest that when revising, people should be taking a break every 30 minutes to give their brain a rest. A great technique is the Pomodoro method – working for 25-30 minutes then having a 5-minute break. You do 3-4 of these 25 minute studying bursts in a row to be rewarded with a longer break. The Pomodoro technique works by learning in short sessions so you don’t tire your brain via overload of information and prevent you from getting distracted when your focus begins to dwindle. Loss of focus and distraction can be demotivating so is best avoided.
Make sure they block out time for socialising, exercising and frequent breaks to give them time away from their books and mind maps. This helps their brains to recharge.
While revising too little is not the best course of action when it comes to exams, doing too much isn’t an advisable route either. Information overload can hinder learning and decrease the amount that our brains can remember. When we learn something new, our neurons send chemical messages to each other, building new connections between neurons. Memory formation also activates the part of your brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is used every day to store the new patterns of information that you learn. However, it’s increasingly called upon when we revise and are taking on a lot of new information. And when we try to take in too much at once, our brains ‘zone out’ and stop taking in the information.
Referred to as heavy cognitive load, our brain’s ability to process information slows down when used excessively, meaning that too much revision is actually detrimental to remembering information later on.
The best way to avoid cognitive load is to balance revision with some much-needed downtime. Taking breaks to enjoy activities entirely unrelated to revision will help your child to destress and unwind. This helps to restore their focus and gives their brains a chance to go over and solidify the information in their neural network.
During relaxation time, our brains ‘replay’ what we’ve learnt, which helps us to recall it and to digest new information on top, without erasing it. Fitting in breaks away from revision for playing with friends, exercising and watching TV helps children to recharge and absorb important information more effectively, placing them in better stead for their exams. This is something we encourage amongst all our students at Cranmore. Pupils who make time for physical activity and their favourite hobbies are able to come back to revision with a clear head and renewed energy.
Revising well is all about revising smart. From the Study Skills Sessions for our Year 7 students to the Study Skills workshops attended by the parents of our Year 8 pupils, we help our students and their parents learn how to revise effectively, equipping children to prepare for current and future exams.