Revision Guide

Revision is always at the front of our minds when exams are looming but generally loses its way as those exams seem further and further away. I wonder whether if revising earlier with more time between would help memory retrieval on the day.  This can only get more important now as more exams change from being modular to one shot on the day and that’s that.

This blog by David Cox is really interesting and challenges some of the tried and tested ways  of old and makes we think maybe we need to teach our children a different way to revise. Not only that it scientifically all makes sense.

A neuroscience student harnesses his knowledge to advise fellow students about memorising information

Here are some excerpts…

How does it work? Information is transmitted by brain cells called neurons. When you learn something new, a group of neurons activate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It’s like a pattern of light bulbs turning on.

Your hippocampus is forced to store many new patterns every day. This increases hugely when you are revising. Provided with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. But if it keeps getting new information, the overworked brain might go wrong. That’s what happens when you think you’ve committed a new fact to memory, only to find 15 minutes later that it’s disappeared again

and his seven suggestions

Forget about initial letters

Teachers often urge students to make up mnemonics – sentences based on the initial letters of items you’re trying to remember. Trouble is, they help you remember the order, but not the names.

Repeat yourself

Pathways between neurons can be strengthened over time. Simple repetition – practising retrieving a memory over and over again – is the best form of consolidating the pattern.

Use science to help you retrieve info

Science tells us the ideal time to revise what you’ve learned is just before you’re about to forget it. And because memories get stronger the more you retrieve them, you should wait exponentially longer each time – after a few minutes, then a few hours, then a day, then a few days. This technique is known as spaced repetition.

This also explains why you forget things so quickly after a week of cramming for an exam. Because the exponential curve of memory retrieval does not continue, the process reverses and within a few weeks, you have forgotten everything.

Take regular breaks

Breaks are important to minimise interference. When your hippocampus is forced to store many new (and often similar) patterns in a short space of time, it can get them jumbled up.

The best example of this is when you get a new telephone number. Your old number is still so well-entrenched in your memory that remembering the new one is a nightmare. It’s even worse if the new one has a few similarities to the old.

Plan your revision so you can take breaks and revise what you’ve just learned before moving on to anything new.

Avoid distractions

Attention is the key to memorising. By choosing to focus on something, you give it a personal meaning that makes it easier to remember. In fact, most of our problems when it comes to revision have very little to do with the brain’s capacity for remembering things; we just struggle to devote our full attention to the task in hand.

Playing music while revising will make your task harder, because any speech-like sounds, even at low volume, will automatically use up part of the brain’s attention capacity.

Sleep is vital

We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and it’s never as important as during revision time. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation – this is when the brain backs up short-term patterns and creates long-term memories. The process is believed to occur during deep sleep, when the hippocampal neurons pass the patterns of activity to another part of the brain called the neocortex, which is responsible for language and the generation of motor commands.

Recent research in Nature Neuroscience has shed new light on how memories are decluttered and irrelevant information is deleted during this process. This results in the important memories (the pathways that have been strengthened through repetition) becoming easier to access.

Control your emotions

We remember emotionally charged events far better than others, and this is especially the case if the emotion was a positive one. It is not always possible to have warm feelings about your revision, but if you can associate a particular fact with a visual, auditory or emotional experience from the past, then you have a better chance of remembering it, as you have created multiple pathways for retrieval.

Try to reduce anxiety, because it uses up working memory, leaving a much smaller capacity available for processing and encoding new information.

 

More innovative – and useful – approaches to language revision can untie students hands in exam settings – UK MFL

Rote learning of stock phrases short-changes language students and ties their hands in exam settings. More innovative – and useful – approaches to language revision can change that, says Jane Jones.

From my experience learning in context is always more advantageous for learners rather than stock phrases that need to be put together. This can make for clumsy answers which no doubt decreases their performance on the fluency scale. In my teens I struggled to learn French but learnt by rote all of the sentences turn right, turn left, brother, sister etc, etc and was then shocked when I got to the exam and needed joining words.  I am hoping that this advice from AQA will be really useful to all language teachers. Also despite it being written for MFL teachers I think this is also the case for any language teaching including EAL, ELL, EFL etc.

It can be found below at http://cerp.aqa.org.uk/perspectives/revising-revision-mfl

The semi-apologetic phrase ‘only doing revision’ devalues the highly skilled teaching and formative assessment involved in good revision. It can provide opportunities for pupils to practise, hone and demonstrate their linguistic knowledge and skills; yet  some revision activities in modern foreign languages (MFL) seem to close down options for students to use their language fully and flexibly.

 

The focus becomes fixed on paradigms, lists and formulaic expression that can paralyse comprehension and leave students lost for words in exam settings. Mindful of this, I set a challenge for my trainee teachers to devise revision activities for Key Stage 4 pupils that would provide structure as well as opportunities to diverge and to be creative.

 

Engaging with assessment Revision is most productive when it reflects regular classroom learning, teaching and assessment styles (albeit more intensified), and a classroom culture of challenge and collaboration. The student teachers were very inventive in their ideas for quality revision. Their work was underpinned by a strong belief in the basic tenets of an Assessment for Learning approach, providing activities to progress learning and ensuring students took responsibility for their learning and gave support to their peers. The revision activities were collaborative and mutually supportive, the learners benefiting from helpful questioning and feedback from each other. The aim was for them to know what ‘good work’ looked and sounded like – crucial in MFL.

 

Newly qualified teacher Nicola provided an example of revision activities on the topic of ‘healthy lifestyle’. Following some initial recall and practice exercises using the mark scheme as a guide, pupils in her German class had to come up with an answer to the question ‘what makes a healthy lifestyle?’  After a few lessons marking each others’ work and scrutinising sample answers from the exam board to generate success criteria, the pupils attempted to answer the question in groups. The criteria were: use three tenses, give your opinion, and use complex language.

 

Nicola provided a hint on how to tackle the question to achieve the highest possible marks, but the students then took over, adapting previously learnt language and creating new language to hit the success criteria. The students then swapped their answers with other groups, got out their mark-scheme checklists and awarded grades, highlighting aspects of language which scored points based on the success criteria and also the GCSE exam marks. They became quite expert, says Nicola, and sample responses were written up as exemplars and shared with the class.

 

This example shows how pupils can engage deeply with the assessment criteria and come to an understanding for themselves through peer- and self -assessment of what they need to be able to do.

 

Furthermore, such activities can wrap around any aspect of assessment. This provides a huge confidence boost and enables pupils to become not just skilled test-takers, useful though this might be (McDonough, 1995), but expert examiners for themselves. In this way, summative assessment can be very formative (Jones and Wiliam, 2008) and can generate creative and contingent use of language as well as consolidating known structures and vocabulary.

 

The student teachers felt that intensive periods of challenging revision could be integrated more regularly into normal MFL teaching and learning as part of pupils’ self-guided learning and assessment awareness. In such a way, revision is not confined to an end of year activity but becomes a central driver and enabler of learning in a continuous cycle of revision.

 

Dr Jane Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education and Head of MFL Teacher Education at King’s College London

 

References:
  1. Jones , J. and Wiliam, D. (2008) Modern Foreign Languages inside the Black Box. London: GL Assessment.
  2. McDonough, S. (1995) Strategy and Skill in learning a Foreign Language. London: Edward Arnold.