Some good, OK, and useless revision techniques

Exams have been haunting students forever, and although you’re willing to do whatever you can to retain essential information, sometimes you end up spending weeks studying with useless revision techniques.

We’re accustomed to employing our own techniques when it comes to studying such as making sticky notes, highlighting, or drawing charts. However, recent studies conducted in the US have shown that many of the most famous revision techniques are pointless and shouldn’t be considered a guarantee for exam success.

All learning institutions, including colleges, universities and schools, are constantly attempting to help students grab essential information through their own developed methods as well. Some of them consist in re-reading notes, making a summary, and highlighting important parts, while others make use of knowledge tests and all types of mnemonics (ways of remembering important lists or facts, and even of visualizing representations of learned information).

Specialists agree that teachers cannot know for sure whether their techniques will work, since the information they have about the human brain is still not enough.

Highlighting text – a useless revision strategy

Girl highlighting and doing revision

How to highlight paragraphs for better reading?

John Dunlosky, professor at Kent State University, reviewed around 1,000 scientific studies related to 10 most commonly used revision strategies, and found out that only two of them really work, while the other 8 can hinder the process of learning.

Students who highlight their notes will be surprised to find out about Dunlosky’s research, which has shown that highlighting individual phrases in colors such as pink, green or florescent yellow can affect the revision process in a bad way. According to his professional statements, when students use a highlighter pen, they no longer integrate that piece of information into larger wholes, meaning that the comprehension of that particular material is diminished.

Is summarizing information that good for students? Apparently not!

Most teachers advise their students to read through notes taken from lessons and try to summarize them, yet this is another technique disapproved by specialists. According to Prof. Dunlovsky, summaries don’t help students at all. Those who re-read their notes retain as much as the ones who summarize them while reading.

Mnemonics – an okay revision technique

Specialists agree that mnemonics are the perfect tool when it comes to remembering details, but their effectiveness diminishes when used with other types of materials. For example, you will never manage to learn mathematics, physics or long passages using these memory aids.

So if you can’t use them, what should you do? The only techniques are effective imply testing yourself as often as you can and revising over and over again. Prof. Dunlovsky says that students who test themselves by trying to retrieve specific information from their memory will retain it better and for a longer period of time.

As a result, they’re advised to read their text books and summarize essential pieces of information using flash cards. When they think that the information has been retained, they should test themselves. Repeated testing is very helpful for students, as they become more engaged and their minds remain focused for a longer amount of time.

Starting early – a top-rated revision strategy for students

This is perhaps one of the best revision strategies we could ever think of. If you plan ahead, you will avoid situations like cramming for examples. To make the revision process even easier, you can try to combine the subjects that you’re trying to revise (this method is known as distributed practice).

According to Prof. Dunlovsky and his team, this strategy is the best of all. Rehearsal should start as early as possible, since it’s nearly impossible to learn everything in a couple of days or hours.

Distributed practice combined with an early start are a guarantee for high marks, but you can also use additional learning techniques too, depending on which can best match your style. However, if re-reading notes, highlighting, or summarizing can help you, nothing should stop you from doing it, regardless of what scientists say.

Revision techniques for students are endless, yet naming the best of the best is debatable. Every student learns differently, so we can’t force them to opt for a tactic that they can’t understand or apply. In spite of what scientists and experts might say, the golden rule to successful revisions is to attend class. Knowing what you’re about to revise superficially, can help you retain the essentials in a lot easier and smoother way.