Strategies for Exam Success
To know the best revision techniques, you must know how your brain works. You have 86 million neurones (nerve cells) in your brain. Each neurone is connected to another neurone via a synapse, (the small gap between these cells.) This network of neurones and synapses is called a neural pathway. Information is stored in these neural pathways, so to remember information these pathways must remain intact.
The Science of Learning
When you learn something new, this will collect as disconnected facts in your brain. To turn this into knowledge you must make connections. These connections between facts are connections between neurones.
I am going to go through the TOP 7 REVISION STRATEGIES which make and strengthen these connections.
How Effective is Your Current Revision Technique?
Try the quiz below to assess how effective your current revision technique is. For each technique answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and then add up your totals at the bottom.
If you answered mainly blue, this means your revision is more passive. Passive revision doesn’t encourage connection making in the brain. It is not effective at making neural pathways or long-term memories.
If you answered mainly yellow, this means your revision is more active. Active revision tests your memory. It encourages the creation of new connections and strengthens existing connections. Active recall improves knowledge and long-term memories.
How many total techniques do you use? For the best exam results, you should use more than 5 techniques before every test. Having a range of techniques will help you practise and develop different skills. Each technique will have a different benefit, so by completing a combination you gain more benefits.
My Top 7 Revision Techniques Based on Neuroscience.
Tip 1: Flashcards
Flashcards are a popular revision choice, but are you making and using them correctly?
How to make a flash card:
Flashcards should be questions and answers or keywords and definitions ideally. There should not be lots of information on each card.
They should not be cards full of writing and all the notes on one topic. This isn’t a ‘flash’ card, it is a card with all your notes squashed on it.
Using images is really helpful too. You could have the name of a structure on the side on the card, and the image on the other.
How to use flash cards:
The Leitner System is the best way to use flashcards.
Test yourself going through your whole pack, and any card you get wrong or forget goes onto a ‘try again’ pile.
Cards that you easily remembered do not need to be practised as often. The cards on your ‘try again’ pile need to be revisited frequently. Keep testing yourself on the cards you forget in one sitting until you can remember.
Within is a week, test yourself on the ‘try again’ pile again.
Shuffle your cards:
When you use your cards, shuffle them!
Your brain will start to remember patterns, and know which card comes next. To really test your knowledge, shuffle your cards every time to prevent this.
Flip your cards:
When you shuffle your cards, turn your cards to face different ways. For example, some will have the keyword first and you have to guess the definition. Other cards will have the definition first, and you have to guess the keyword.
This strengthens your understanding and prepares you for a range of exam questions.
Tip 2: Blurting
Blurting is the active revision alternative to re-writing notes. A blurt should not be pretty of neat. This is a very quick and effective technique.
Blurting is to test what you already remember, and which neural pathways are already strong. You then identify which information you didn’t remember and start building neural pathways.
Blurting step 1:
Pick a topic, for example DNA structure. Set yourself 5- 10 minutes, depending on how big the topic is. In that time, you write and draw everything you can remember. You cannot use any textbooks or notes to help, as the key is to see what you already know.
Blurting step 2:
With a bright coloured pen, fill in the gaps. Use your textbook, videos, notes or the specification to see what you didn’t remember.
Blurting step 3:
Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the same topic three more times with at least a 3-day gap. Step 3 is essential for maintaining neural pathway connections and increasing your long-term memory.
Tip 3: Multiple encoding
Smell and Images
Have you ever experienced a smell causing a vivid memory to come flooding back?
Memories linked to smells and emotions form much stronger neural pathways. You are more likely to remember something if it involves multiple stimuli.
For example, written information linked to smell, sound or images.
This is because if there is more than one stimulus linked to the memory then the neural pathway will contain more neurones, and this strengthens the pathway.
You could make use of this in your revision. Why not try using different scented candles when you revise different content? You’ll find that every time you light the candle you will think of that content.
Or why not include images within your notes or stick images linked to the content up in your bedroom?
Tip 4: Spaced repetition
Forgetting and Memory
Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, conducted studies in the late 1800s based on human memory. From his research he created the now famous ‘forgetting curve’.
His forgetting curve shows the rate at which most humans forget new knowledge if they never revisit that knowledge, and it is shocking just how quickly we forget!
This means you will probably forget approximately 67% of what you learn this morning by the end of the day, and 6 days later you will have probably forgotten 75%. This is not ideal if you are learning lots of new information for many subjects for your GCSEs and A-levels, but there is a way to overcome this!
The Solution to Improving your Long-Term Memory
They key to making memories is spaced retrieval of information. Try weekly or monthly reviews of content you have learned to make sure that the neural pathway doesn’t get severed in your sleep, and instead it gets strengthen.
It has been found that they key number of revisits for content is 5 times. If you space out retrieval and look over the content 5 times before an exam it should strengthen the neural pathway to the point it becomes a long-term memory.
Spaced Revision Tracker
You could try a spaced revision tracker. Write out the key topics from you course and make 5 revisit columns.
Each time you revisit, write it what activity you completed. This could be that you made a mind map, tried practice questions or used your flash cards.
Revisits don’t have to take long, but for maximum effect space out your revisits evenly up until your final exam.
Tip 5: Graphic organisers
Instead of copying notes from the textbook, challenge your brain to be active and to make connections. Turn written notes into mind maps. Or, connection diagrams like the one below.
Write out the key terms from a topic, then draw a line to show any connections you can think on.
On the connecting line state what the connection is. This forces you to remember the definition, and then apply your knowledge to make links.
You will understand the topic better, but also understand the bigger picture. This method helps you have a holistic understanding.
Venn diagrams and comparison tables also encourage connections between content. Try and find similarities and difference between different molecules or processes. Such as, mitosis and meiosis. Or, carbohydrates and proteins
Tip 6: Text to Image
Text to image is exactly what it says. Use a paragraph on text from your book and turn it into a diagram. This tests whether you are really thinking about what you read. It also helps you make more unique notes, and visual images of a process is a multiple encoding example.
You can also reverse this. The more advanced option is image to text. Using an image from your textbook, turn it into a paragraph. This could be a paragraph describing or explaining what the image shows. This will really help your clarity of answer for exams and develop a deeper understanding of the topic.
Tip 7: Practice Questions
Before any test, you must have tried practice questions. There are different types of questions.
High frequency low stake questions
Try lots of multiple choice and short answer questions regularly. Senaca learning is great for this https://www.senecalearning.com/ and it is free. I also post multiple questions daily on my @MissEstruch Instagram.
To test your application of knowledge you should try short and long answer questions. For Biology, I have practice questions by topic and skill on www.MissEstruch.com .
When your final test is near, make sure you complete past papers in exam conditions. Part of the challenge is the timing. Underline command words in questions and read information given carefully.
When you self-mark your test, be strict. Examiners will stick to exactly what the mark scheme says, so make sure you do to. This will help you learn the level of detail and keywords you must include.
Give it a Go!
Hopefully, at least 1 of these techniques appeals to you. Give them all a go and see what suits you. The key is that your revision is spaced out, topics are repeated, and the techniques are active. If the activity is too easy and you are not using your brain, then it won’t be helping.
Check out my full YouTube video showing me complete each of these techniques