Effective Learning and Revision Strategies

This post is designed to give parents and students a really brief insight into some practical strategies that might improve learning and make time spent on it more effective.

It is split into two parts. Part 1 looks at a how you might get started with revision and what the cycle of revision certain content might look like. Part 2 looks at some principles of effective learning. They are very general at this point. Part 3 suggests some further reading for students and parents who are interested. There are also some links to further strategies that might also be useful.

The post is designed to act as a starting point for parents and students to look more into effective learning and what it might look like for them.

Part 1: Effective Revision

Plenty of students work really hard. However, many don’t know how to learn, revise and study effectively. Many think that just reading their notes is good enough. This often lulls them into a false sense of security. “I’ve read everything, so therefore I have revised.” However, research suggests that this is a really ineffective use of time in terms of embedding things into the long term memory.

Hopefully, this section gives students an insight into how they might organise their time so that they spend more of it looking at content they don’t know yet, and then use strategies that are the most effective use of their time.

Assess Current Understanding

  1. Go through assessment marks and rank units in order of priority
  2. Take past paper tests on a unit or chunk of information
  3. For anything that you got right, go back and mark this as green in your booklet
  4. For anything that you got wrong, go back and mark it as red

Re-learn specific content

  1. Use booklet, textbook and trusted videos to make dual coded notes (text turned into diagrams and vice versa – see below for more info) on content that you did not know (from taking the practice test)
  2. Make flashcards on this content and then use them to learn content (using a specific strategy)
  3. Use the content to make your own mini-tests with answers and complete these tests repetitively over time until you get them correct 100% of the time. Mark tests immediately and then look over the content again, but leave some time between completing the tests so that ideas can enter your long term memory more effectively.
  4. Any of the retrieval practice exercises you have learned or have been shown.

The diagram below represents this in a more visual way. (note, this is an example of dual coding – see part 2).

Screenshot 2019-02-14 at 12.18.27.png
A graphic organiser that suggests how students might navigate entering the revision cycle (this is also an example of dual coding)

Part 2: Principles of effective learning

Research suggests certain principles that might make learning more effective. There is no one magic bullet for learning.

The main takeaway though is that just reading through notes is not effective. Neither is just re-writing notes again and again.

Below is a table of some principles, with a short explanation and then some potential strategies. The list is by no means exhaustive, but all of the principles should be incorporated into a revision strategy in some way. Students are encouraged to be inventive with how they put these principles into practice.

Principle Explanation Some Potential Strategies
Retrieval Practice Research suggests that regularly trying to retrieve content from your memory helps embed knowledge and understanding into your long term memory. It is important to note that this can be demoralising as students discover what they don’t know. It is important to approach this with the right mindset!
  1. Past Paper Questions
  2. Drawing Concept Maps from Memory
  3. Re-writing explanations from memory
  4. Create tests from your study notes using Quillionz (unfortunately this only works with text)
Dual Coding Research suggests both verbal and non-verbal processing are important in making connections in learning. Drawing diagrams helps you to make connections that you might not make when writing/saying and vice versa.
  1. Using written explanations to draw annotated diagrams
  2. Creating written explanations using a diagram
  3. Breaking down explanations and process into flowcharts or cartoon strips
  4. Representing concepts and relationships between concepts as Venn diagrams
  5. Using graphic organisers to sequence and order knowledge and create connections between them
Spaced Practice Research suggests that spacing learning over time is more effective in terms of storing knowledge and understanding in our long term memory. This means regular periods of revision starting now, rather than cramming during study leave.
  1. Creating a revision timetable and writing what content you will study and how (look at strategies given).
  2. In your revision timetable, leave gaps between revisiting a certain unit. For example, if you study C1 on Monday, study C2 on Tuesday, C3 on Wednesday and don’t come back to C1 until Thursday.

Further reading

  1. The Learning Scientists have a great website that looks at the science behind learning. This is essential reading for parents and students (link). They also have a great book called “Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide” (link). It is really clear and offers great strategies for learning and goes a bit deeper into some of the experiments and theory that support this.
  2. A really nice post from the Cult of Pedagogy on Retrieval Practice (link). Could a parent try any of these at home?

2 thoughts on “Effective Learning and Revision Strategies

Add yours

  1. I am immediate amazed at how little of this post I was aware of. I don’t think I could actually give an articulate response to ‘How do learners learn?’. Maybe we get so caught up in the day to day teaching that we rarely step outside the box and identify what research actually says about learning!

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    1. Yes, me too! The issue some find with this type of stuff is that: is it learning for exams? I don’t think it is, it’s just that a lot of the research (or where it is applied) is done in areas where success in exams is what we measure…

      I see incredible overlaps with CBTL and if anything, enacting these principles just improves my classroom practice. One thing Stuart reminded me of though, is that there is a difference between success in school and success in life. So I think these things are really important, but we must also remember about the transferal of knowledge etc that CBTL promotes so well…

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