Updated: Aug 29, 2022
When considering revision and how best to teach it, it seems to split nicely into 3 categories; Time Management, Techniques and Testing yourself. Here are my favourite methods picked up over 22 years of teaching business, law, accounting and computer science.
1 TIME MANAGEMENT
As a teacher, it struck me how students struggled to manage the time they had to complete revision tasks every year. Procrastination and distractions make it hard for them to achieve their objectives. Mobile phones add to this with a wealth of apps ready to steal their productivity. Here are some ways that students can use their phones to revise instead:
a) Create a Gantt Chart
This old school tool is still a favourite. Students should map out a Gantt chart at the start of the revision season. It's a tool that will help them to see the bigger picture of all of their revision topics and to be able to start breaking it down into more manageable daily chunks. They can also see any events coming up (like a sister's birthday or a family holiday), and they can factor in the time that they will not be able to revise. This means students are not mentally punishing themselves for being away from the books, as they have already accounted for this interruption. I would suggest they make it on Excel, but there are many apps available that will allow students to create more exciting versions. Some require a subscription, so investigate the free options first. Activities should go down the first column and time across the top. They can put in days, weeks or months. They can have any system of coloured blocks. It will also help students to see that they can do more than one task in one revision session if they have two blocks in a column.
b) Crisis Square
This tool has a variety of names and its origins are unclear, but I have always called it crisis square to give it the most impact. To begin with, students should be given a copy of the specification to RAG (red, amber, green) rate, in terms of how well they know a topic and how confident they are about answering exam questions on it. Students should then be encouraged to draw this matrix out and put all the tasks for revision based on their red, amber, and green status into the boxes. Those in the urgent and important box are now in the crisis square. These are the topics that must be tackled first. They can also add all their "time stealers" to the not important and not urgent box. This helps to give them a sense of priority of tasks.
c) Top 3
This technique was shared with me recently by a year 13 who had been inspired by their geography teacher. When faced with an overwhelming amount of GCSE revision the teacher suggested that the student should write a list in columns of everything to be revised. There could be a column of topics for each subject e.g. history, maths, English etc. and then each day he should choose just the top three. These should be revised first and when the student is satisfied they should be removed from the list, and the next 3 were the focus of the following day. This is a great technique when juggling revision for multiple subjects, there is also an element of satisfaction in watching the list shrink.
There are so many exciting revision techniques that this blog would be far too long if I went into them all. Here are three of my favourite methods.
a) Cornell note-making
The Cornell system of taking notes was born in the 1950s at Cornell University in America. It's such a simple system that is very effective, especially with students that have a very disorganised set of notes. I once tipped out my son's school bag as it had got wet (dropped in a puddle as a goalpost) and I was shocked at the ragtag bundle of notes that fluttered out. Cornell helps students like this to put their notes together. You can buy notebooks already ruled out like this or they can make notes on Word using a template. I added the 3 stars at the bottom as the summary should be just that. Three key things to remember.
b) Brain dump
This is another recent acquisition for me, gained from asking year 13s what their most useful revision tip had been during their GCSEs. One student said, "100% best revision tip was Brain Dump". This involves students being given blank paper and asked to put down everything they already know about a topic. They then match this with the spec or their notes and fill in the gaps in a different colour. This has the magic effect that students realise that they already know most of the material and it prevents them from going back over what they already know. Revision time is well spent filling in the blanks. The weeks when they were off or didn't quite understand the topic. Any topic that occurs as a majority on student's brain dump sheets can be tackled in a class by the teacher. This focuses students during revision sessions as they know they need to listen as it's missing information.
Padlet is an online system of curating multimedia information. So if a student is a visual or auditory learner, then just writing out notes may not work for them. This is an alternative. You get 4 Padlets for free and if you need more schools can buy backpacks that give students unlimited Padlets. Students can add written notes but also podcast clips, videos, documents, images and more.
3 TESTING YOURSELF
Retrieval is the new buzzword in teaching this year. This has always been known but now there is a spotlight on this subject and I totally agree that self-testing should be given more time and importance in revision sessions. Here are some techniques that I like.
Students should create Kahoots and use them to test the rest of the class or each other in small groups. It's free and very easy to get started with simple true-false questions. They can build up to multiple-choice later on. Great for home learning if you have to go back to Teams, Google Classroom or Zoom again.
I once took flashcards into school and offered students the opportunity to write them out or use Quizlet on the computer. Every group I tried that experiment on that day opted for the laptops and Quizlet. They liked the option that they could make flashcards and then test themselves using them.
We should be less scared of letting students take control of their own revision. They should be offered a variety of tools so they can find the ones that suit them best.