Revision not working? This might be why…

Very few GCSE and A-Level students are taught how to revise by their schools.

And, judging by the responses to a recent question on our Facebook page, those who are given some information about how to revise are confused. They're getting seemingly conflicting advice and it grinds them to a halt because without certainty about how to revise they just don't know how to get started.

In this article I'll explain:

  • Why you're receiving conflicting advice about revision
  • The basic principles of revision that everyone needs to know and work within
  • Where and why you can adapt your revision approach to suit the way you learn best
  • How to learn how to revise once and for all

Revision not working? This might be why…

Why you're receiving conflicting advice about revision

On that question on our Facebook page, one parent said:

My son's form teacher is also his English teacher. This week she told the form class one way to revise and then told her English class a different way. Other teacher's have said something else entirely. The conclusion of the discussion was to follow what Lucy says?

So, why are teachers giving such conflicting advice?

The answer has two strands:

  • There are different ways to revise for different subjects
  • Different individual teachers have different personal experiences of revision and what works and they bring this to their teaching

It could very well be that the teacher giving one set of advice to their form group and another set of advice to their English class isn't actually contradicting themselves – it's just the difference between general and specific revision information.

The basic principles of revision

In order to revise effectively for exams students need to know the basic principles of revision that apply to all subjects.

We teach our students these principles:

1. Focus on your weaknesses

You need to focus on your weaker knowledge and skills in your revision because these are the things that will pull you down in an exam. Too many students stay in their comfort zones, focusing on the things they already know well and are good at. This won't get them very far with improving their grades.

2. Understand how learning works

In my experience, most teenagers don't have a clear understanding of how they actually learn. This leads to them making a pretty poster, sticking it on the wall and thinking this means they know their stuff or lying on their beds staring at a page of the text book.

These approaches are never going to work.

In module 7 in The Extraordinaries Club and during our Revision Kickstarter Workshops we teach our students about the learning machine and the important steps in it. After our last Revision Kickstarter Workshop one parent emailed to say that just by seeing how the learning machine works her year 10 daughter realised she was missing a crucial step from her revision, and has no implemented. She can already see that her revision is more effective.

3. Practicing skills

Too many students focus their revision on memorising knowledge and neglect practicing their exam skills until they've covered everything they need to know.

This is a mistake because practicing skills helps with memorising knowledge. It also means students have the skills they need to communicate what they know effectively so that examiners are able to give them the marks.

It really doesn't matter how much someone knows if they can't demonstrate that knowledge.

It really doesn't matter how much someone knows if they can't demonstrate that knowledge. Share on X

The Revision Power Hour is a great way to practice skills whilst consolidating knowledge.

4. Feedback

The final principle is to get feedback on their work.

Feedback can come in many forms including:

  • Marking your own work and understanding the next steps to improving it
  • Have a friend look at your work and give you feedback
  • Getting a teacher to mark your work for you
  • Seeing a friend's work and comparing it to your own

Feedback should always be about seeing:

  • What you're doing well already
  • What you can do from here to improve further

The Power Hour is also great for getting really constructive feedback.

These four principles should be included in every students' revision all the time.

When and why you can alter your revision approach

Once you understand the basic principles of revision, they provide a framework within which you can work. The specifics of how you revise within this framework depend on these factors:

  • How you learn best
  • The subjects you're revising
  • The level you're working at (GCSE, A-Level or beyond…)
  • To some extent, the grades you're aiming to get

Let's look at some examples…

Different subjects need different revision approaches

At GCSE, English Language and maths require a different revision approach to the sciences.

English and maths require a tool kit of skills, and minimal actual knowledge. You just need to learn the tools and then practice, practice, practice using them until you're really slick by doing past paper questions.

Sciences require a great deal more content knowledge than English and maths. This means spending a lot more time memorising content by rote. However, you also have to do exam practice and mark your own work using mark schemes so that you know how to communicate what you know.

English and maths are about using tools; the sciences are about communicating what you know effectively.

In these examples, what you actually do in your revision requires a very different balance. For example, in English, because there's less knowledge you'll spend a lot less time making resources such as flashcards and testing yourself, and a lot more time answering questions. With the science, the balance will be more in the direction of making resources and learning them with less time spent on past paper questions (which still shouldn't be neglected).

Different levels of study needs different approaches

As you move from GCSE to A-Level you find that your approach to revision evolves.

I remember revising mainly from flashcards for my science GCSEs but when I did chemistry and biology A-Level I moved to using more revision notes because the complexity of the information didn't necessarily fit on a flashcard.

Similarly, studying for my geography degree at university revision was much less about knowing lots of information and much more about understanding different academics' arguments – this was another shift in approach. But, I still had to recognise where my weaknesses were and work on them.

Subject specific revision advice

All the different nuances about how to revise for different subjects can leave students feeling confused. That's why we have subject specific How to Revise masterclasses for all the most popular academic GCSE and A-Level results in The Extraordinaries Club. Each expert teacher, many of whom also have examiner experience, shows your child the specific revision techniques for their subject at either GCSE or A-Level. This gives your child confidence to go away and revise that subject with an approach that really works.

Finding what works for you

When I teach students how to revise, I'm really giving them the principles and framework for revision within which they can work, and then giving them the confidence to go away and find out what works for them.

You simply can't revise effectively if you're constantly waiting for someone to tell you what to do next and how to do it. You need to take ownership of the process, discover what works, ditch what doesn't and let it evolve over time.

Learn how to revise

If your child needs to learn the principles of revision and be given the confidence and motivation to take ownership of their studies sign them up for my Revision Kickstarter Workshop. The next one is happening on 11th December 2021. However, they happen throughout the year so sign-up for the waiting list if you've missed this one.

Sign-up for the Revision Kickstarter Workshop.


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