As a parent and a teacher, I often have the chance to ask students what they do to revise for an exam. By far the most common response is something like “I just read through my notes/textbook/revision guide until I remember it all”.
However, when you watch somebody actually using this method you realise that what they actually do is read the first first few sentences before their mind wanders off to what their friends are doing, or that TV show from last night, or Samson’s party at the weekend…blah, blah, blah.
Before they know it they’ve reached the bottom of the page and not read a single word.
But to the outside world, it looks as though the student has been working hard.
Their parents assume revision is being done.
They even manage to convince themselves that revision is being done.
Ask them to recall anything they’ve just “read”, however, and most fail to remember a single thing.
So is this effective revision?
Of course it isn’t!
Simply reading notes/textbook/revision guide has to be about the worst possible revision technique except one – and that’s not doing any revision at all!
So why do so many students do it? Because it’s easy! It’s easy to pick up a book and look at it. No effort at all is required to look at some pictures or the odd word of text. Even those students who go the extra mile and copy out all of the text are just fooling themselves that they’re working hard.
A simple rule of thumb that I often use is this:
If a 5 year old can do it, it’s not effective revision.
A 5 year old can look at a book. They can read some of the words. They can see the images, and most could probably even copy the text. But would they understand it? No! Would they remember it? No! Could they tell you what they’d just read? Of course not.
Effective revision involves some sort of brain processing. Some sort of interaction with the text. Examples include:
- Summarising a block of text as an image.
- Describing an image in words.
- Reducing a page of content to a few key points, and then to a few key words.
- Describing a page of a textbook to a friend (if you have one).
- Answering some exam-style questions about what you’ve just read.
A 5 year old couldn’t do any of these things!
Yes, I get that this is harder. I get that it takes more effort. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what makes revision effective? Isn’t that why revision is done in the first place?