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Revision Technique

By: Miriam Vered - Updated: 27 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Revision Technique Exam Memory Past

In almost all examination situations, your chances of success are very largely determined by how well you've revised. There are always a few annoying individuals who claim that they can wing it using native cunning and lucky guesses despite having neglected to glance at the material beforehand.

If you're fortunate enough to possess a photographic memory and speed reading abilities, you may be able to whip through lengthy tomes in a few all night sessions and then pass with flying colours. But for most exam candidates who want to succeed, there's really no alternative to hitting the books in a sensible and organized manner.

What Should You Revise From?

At University level, this question is in fact quite crucial. In most subjects a plethora of sources usually exists, and many lecturers recommend lengthy reading lists, so students may well begin the revision process in a state of panic and confusion over the seemingly huge volume of material. How will you ever even read it all in the time available, let alone understand, memorise and then spew it forth under controlled conditions?

If that's how you feel when confronted by the volume of material, and you find yourself wishing for a detailed, GCSE style syllabus, then, in most cases, you should not despair. Even though the examiners may not think they've handed out a defined and clear syllabus, in fact, in most cases, they have already done just that.

Past papers at this point are your best friend. Get hold of as many of those as you can and if you use them to structure your revision you won't go far wrong.

Never, ever just pick up a textbook and start from page 1. That is the surest possible route to a lot of wasted effort and ultimate exam failure or underachievement. Of course the examiners don't expect you to memorise the entire contents of those lengthy tomes – just to understand the important bits. Which bits are the important bits? Past papers are the surest way to tell. Don't just use past papers to test yourself. Rather, go through all the past papers, see what they've ever asked, then start reading and making notes based on how you'd answer the questions.

How Should You Revise?

Those annoying and perhaps imaginary individuals we mentioned earlier with photographic memories and speed reading abilities may be able to skim through text and take it in, but most of us can't. Modern cognitive neuroscience findings support methods that good learners have always come by intuitively.

Brain based, whole brain learning means engaging all your faculties in the task at hand, so that when you come to recall the material, you'll have as many neural pathway options as possible available for memory retrieval. These principles apply at all ages and for all types of learners. For example, dyslexic children who find it difficult to recall letter shapes may benefit hugely from making playdo sculptures of letters and experiencing them with their tactile senses. When they're asked later to identify a letter, they can access the tactile memory if the visual one fails.

Many good revisors use similar techniques though they may not even know they're doing it. Writing notes while you're reading engages all the "writing" brain areas and repeating material aloud to yourself involves the speaking and listening parts of your brain. Rearranging material in your notes into flow chart and mind map format also contributes to the whole brain revision experience by activating memory pathways associated with pattern recognition. Overall, you've got a far greater chance of recall if you've involved all those modalities rather than just reading a page of text to yourself. You also make the whole experience far more interesting which means you also have a much greater chance of recall.

Of course, asking yourself and repeatedly trying to answer past questions is also an invaluable part of the revision process. If you've already practiced answering a question in the comfort of your revision nest, you'll be far less fazed by it when it appears on the big day than you would be if this was the first time you'd thought about how to answer.

Get Emotional

Medieval scholars who excelled at memorizing large chunks of information understood the importance of all those neural pathways that mediate our emotions. The experiences and stories we remember best are those that are exciting, terrifying, passionate or shocking.

So the medieval scholars made deliberate use of strong visual imagery, both in artistic depictions and in minds eye visualizations, when they would deliberately work themselves up to fever pitch as a mnemonic technique. Nowadays, fear of exam failure may be the predominant emotion in many student's lives. But if you can somehow incorporate emotional imagery into your approach to your subject, then you may engage the amygdala, a brain area which deals with our most primitive feelings, and you may just find that you have a whole new route to recall of important facts when under pressure.

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