Study Guides and Revision

The new specification examinations for English are gruelling.  Students are expected to cover and exibit a wide range of skills in the examinations they will undertake.Because of this, it is more important than ever before to structure and vary revision consistently throughout the course of study.  Cramming has never been more ineffective.  The problem with this, of course, is that revision in itself can be dull. By nature you are repeating or ‘re-seeing’ what you have already studied.

My Year 11 students have just finished sitting their GCSE mocks; without doubt this has been the most demanding examination period I have been a part of in the 14 years I have been teaching.  Just English mock GCSEs alone comprised of 4 exam papers: that’s 7 hours of exam time (if I have my maths right)… 420 minutes.

Watching them in the exam room made me proud; they worked hard; they care about doing well; they are invested.  But, really, they have little choice. There is a lot resting on those 7 hours.  I can see the anxiety of it etched on the faces of the young people I work with every day.

I wish they would remember that the power to succeed is all theirs.  Revision strategies, preparation, practice and commitment to themselves and their success is all they need. And the good news is, it’s April: in two months it will be over.  The bad news is it’s April: in two months it will be over.

I wish that they would remember that this is such a short time, but it is a time of exponential importance.  The closer we get to the real exam season, the more the pressure grows, the more valuable learning time becomes and the more crucial it is that students use their time wisely. But they have to get it right: too much and they will burn out, too little and they won’t be prepared.

And it can be confusing to just know where to start.

How do you revise effectively? What strategies will work? How on earth can you make revision more interesting and less repetitive? How much is too much? How much is too little?

For parents it can be daunting too, knowing how best and how much to support, push or trust in your kids.  You know how vital these years are, but more than anything you want them to be happy, now and always.  It’s a tricky balance to strike.

Year 11 Parents’ evenings are always full of questions that all boil down to the same thing: how can I help them prepare for the exams?

You will find a selection of resources and study guides to help here.

If you want to make revision interesting and effective, it is imperative that you vary your revision activities accordingly.  But where to start? What to do? So many learners have no idea what they can do to revise effectively (short of re-reading notes and attending sessions in school – when they’re lucky enough to have them).

What makes revision effective?

It would be good to have a magic answer, but I don’t.  I do have a simple answer though: revise, revise smart and revise well. To do this, students just need to consider three things:

  1. What are the requirements of the exam. Too many students lose marks because they don’t actually do what the question asks.  This can be avoided by preparing to ensure that they know the demands of the exam paper before they are sitting in the exam room.  We can’t predict the questions but we can predict the skills.
  2. Practice the skills. Practice, practice, practice. Practice in as many ways as you can.  Evaluate, reflect and get feedback and help based on your practice attempts.  The more you do it the better you will get.
  3. Learn whatever information you need to learn. It might be key quotations, it might be key terminology – whatever it is, learn it.

Of course, that answers the ‘What do I do?’, but not the ‘How should I do it?’.

How to revise effectively:

Plan to succeed

Structure your revision and make time to complete it regularly and starting early.  Returning to topics repeatedly with breaks in between will help you be most successful.  But your planning should also allow you to cover everything proportionately.  Make sure you know how much each part of the exam is worth, and use that knowledge to plan how you will use your time most effectively.

Revision is a marathon (made up of lots of little sprints)

Don’t make the mistake of spending too long on one topic – or planning to revise for too long in one go.  Recent research on the part of the EEF has suggested that learners remember more when working in short bursts, with regular breaks and repetition.  Try structuring your revision in 12 minute chunks – and give yourself a ten minute break between each one… but be sure to revisit each section revised the next day. Read the article in Schools Week here:

You might spend 12 minutes revising key quotations for a set text – then get a cup of tea; then spend 12 minutes planning the structure of a descriptive writing task –  then go for a walk for inspiration; spend 12 minutes planning an argument to support your interpretation of a text – then lie back and listen to some music… and so on. The important thing is that whatever you do cover, the next day you should do it again.

Variety is the spice of learning

In order to make your studies more interesting and effective, vary your choices of revision activities.  Constantly re-reading a text or writing essays alone will only help so much – and it will almost certainly turn you off the whole thing.  Look for ways to revisit your learning that are varied.  In doing so also consider what will work best for you.

Use the revision triangle below to help. The percentages indicate how much scientists say you remember after two weeks of completing that type of activity; the black writing to the left gives you some ideas of revision straegies for each activity type and to the right are colour-coded tweaks, enabling you to see how to alter and adapt activities in different ways, creating variation and ensuring your revision works!

Revision Triangle