Revision, revision, revision.

How to make revision feel less like revision. 

The HOW might be more important than the WHEN?

One thing about education is the cyclical nature of the activity. Year on year, things don’t much change. The classroom of 1900 isn’t that far removed from the classrooms of 2000. Unless of course a global pandemic arrives, changes things and then we all clamour to return to ‘the good old days’ which we all moaned about previously. Believe it or not, teachers are humans too. 

The nature of the education system in the UK demands that, more than ever, children are tested and examined. There are conflicting arguments about the best way to test learning and knowledge, but it would appear we are stuck with this rather old fashioned memory test for a few more years to come. 

Love it or hate it, revision is part of the culture of most schools and the wider educational landscape. Often this can manifest itself early on in learning weekly spellings in infant school, SATs, the 11+ exam, GCSEs and A-levels. Indeed, revision is a skill we need right through our lives as the professionalisation of careers continues. I venture the following as simply an observation. Students know what revision is. When you ask them, they respond. It gets a little trickier when you ask them how they revise. Or indeed, what techniques work best for them. This is where things become less clear. 

We appear to have a number of conflicting opinions. I will attempt to illuminate by initially examining 3 of the main protagonists: Teachers, parents and guardians and the students themselves. It really is remarkable what variation there appears to be. For example, teachers provide quality resources, time for revision and supply direction throughout the year. They are clear on what needs to be revised, when it needs to be revised and how the revision will result in better outcomes for the students. 

On the whole, Parents and guardians by contrast, have an almost Victorian view on revision. It needs to be ‘done’, regularly and for prolonged periods of time. Technology needs to be banned, distractions eliminated and solitude sought at all cost. Paper needs to be written upon. Filed and rewritten. Books need to be laboriously read and memorised. Days are preferable to hours and months to weeks. More is more. It needs to be observable. Being locked away in their bedroom for hours on end is simply a byproduct of ‘good’ revision. 

The students, faced with impending eradication of any social life adopt a clever ‘non-position’. Instinctively they know examinations and tests require a degree of revision. However, they are also faced with losing any sense of ‘belonging’ should they appear unduly ‘swatty’ or to use the new parlance, ‘a sweat’. Teachers tell them to revise, parents and guardians tell them to revise, even the media tell them to revise. So what do they do faced with this growing bank of evidence and advice? They bury their head in the sand for as long as possible. However, the cleverer amongst them do actually revise. Under the cover of darkness or in some clandestine way. Leaving many to simulate revision. It looks like revision, smells like revision but alas, it’s not really doing a great deal to ensure success in the exam. On the face of it they are revising. Confident to be able to tell their teachers, parents and guardians that revision is being done. But ultimately futile and a bit of a waste of time. 

The other thing that appears to be missed in all this is explicitly teaching good study skills and revision strategies. Just try it out. Ask the following question: How do you revise? What skills and strategies are required? Are they really best placed to know what works? In my experience this has more of an impact on them than asking them when they are going to revise.

We can all draw up elaborate timetables with colour coded reference points and distributed learning opportunities. Possibly more importantly is what are they going to use this time for? I’m not saying not having a timetable is the way to go, far from it. But ultimately a timetable on its own won’t bring about the learning outcomes we all want for our young people. Sure, take time to investigate the when, but spend much longer on the what. What am I going to do to help me over-learn, re-learn and remember what I need for the exam? Me, not what my friend is doing, not what BBC Bitesize says, not even my academic uncle who went to university. What am I going to do to make my chances of success increase? That’s the challenge!

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