My All-Time Favourite Revision Technique (and why it’s so effective)
I can't tell you the number of people, come April and May, who write to me asking, “What is the best revision technique for me?”. It comes out of the panic that follows months of procrastination – when students know that time is running out and they really have to get their heads down to salvage this exam season.
Up until now I've always given the same response: it depends.
It depends on what subjects you're studying how your brain works, what level you're studying at (GCSE, A Level or degree). And then I've always pointed the students in the direction of the free chapter of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, so that they can find out how they should be revising.
However, today, I'm coming out from behind this and share with you my all-time favourite revision technique.
My all-time favourite revision technique
So, here it is, my all time favourite revision technique: teaching other people.
I've been using this technique, in some form or another, since I was studying for my GCSEs. The way it would work back then was that I'd create revision materials such as index cards or notes. I'd go over these several times on my own before going downstairs and having my mum test me on my knowledge and understanding. The simple act of talking through what I'd learned and what I understood did three things:
- It showed where gaps remained in my knowledge and understanding
- It made me explain my knowledge, in my own words, in a way that someone else could understand.
- By explaining my knowledge, and answering questions, I started to build new connections and achieve a deeper level of understanding of what I was learning.
In the classroom
When I became a geography teacher this way of learning went to a whole new level. You see, you might even have a degree in a subject, be able to write a 1,500 word essay about it and yet still struggle to explain it to a novice.
One particular incident springs to mind. It was while I was doing one of my teaching placements while I was doing my teacher training. I was teaching weather to a year 7 class, specifically, we were learning about depressions. One of the children asked me why weather fronts are at an angle rather than going straight up vertically into the sky. I had never really considered this question before but, thinking on my feet and pulling together what I knew already, I grabbed a ruler that was on a desk and showed them how sinking cold air pushed underneath the rising hot air, turning the boundary (or front) between the two air masses into an oblique angle.
After the lesson my mentor, the head of geography in this school and a very experienced teacher, congratulated me on how I handled this question.
I could tell you about numerous other times when my understanding of geographical concepts was tested to its limits because of the curious minds of bright young people. All of it made me understand my subject better. Every year, when I returned to the same topics, my explanations of ideas and processes would get clearer and easier for my students to understand. This was because I was repeatedly practicing how to put my knowledge into words in a way that made sense to other people
How you can teach other people
There are various ways you can incorporate teaching other people into your revision.
1. Revising in a group
Recently, I was doing a Revision Masterclass at a school and, towards the end of the day, I got the students to choose one revision technique to revise a topic they'd identified as a weakness. One of the groups chose to teach each other. It worked extremely well for them.
You could do this with your own revision by getting together with a group of people who study your subject and allocating different topics to each other to learn and then teach to the group.
2. Teaching a family member
Like I did, when I was studying for my GCSEs, you could test your learning by teaching someone else such as your mum, dad, sister or brother. They've got to be patient and willing to be your guinea pig!
3. On your own
If you can't find anyone to teach you can still use this technique. Just pretend that you're going to teach someone else. Learn your stuff and prepare a lesson. Then teach it to an imaginary person. You could even video yourself teaching it and watch it back to see how well you did.
The ultimate test
Teaching someone something that you've learned verbally is a safe way to test yourself. It's like haveing a safe space to try out how to put words together and explain things. However, the real test comes when you try to explain what you know to an examiner, in writing, in the exam hall.
This is when you really need to do past practice questions. And, the perfect way to do this is by incorporating your content learning and past papers into a Revision Power Hour.
Are you looking for other revision techniques?
While I think that teaching other people is a highly effective revision technique (and I'm pretty sure it will work for most people) you might be looking for other ways to revise. If so, you'll love the part of my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, where I give you 39 alternative revision techniques. You can pre-order the book today, and it'll be on your front door mat on 14th February, the day of
Over to you
In the comments below I'd love to know:
- Have you ever tried to teach someone else? How did you find it as a way to learn?
- What's your favourite revision technique? Why do you think it works for you?