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25 Nov 2018

Three messages to share with students about revision

Three messages to share with students about revision

One of the key focuses of our Maximising Memory and the Science of Learning course is how we support students to revise. There is an increasing amount of evidence about what makes for effective study and revision, but it is still difficult to transfer this into practice, and certainly very difficult for students to be able to organise their own highly effective revision. One thing that we would recommend is sticking to some consistent messages about revision. Here are three:

Message 1: Retrieval beats rereading

Even though it is counterintuitive, one of our key messages should be that retrieval practice is more effective than simply rereading. In trying to recall information, we strengthen our memory of it. Retrieval practice commonly takes the form of practice testing, but it can involve other methods.

Our job as teachers is to support students in being able to use retrieval practice. It’s all very well saying that they should quiz, but if we are not explicit about how to quiz and we don’t provide materials that make quizzing easy then they will struggle. Therefore, we should ensure that Knowledge Organisers and similar tools are designed in such a way that the information is quizzable. We can explicitly model the design and use of tools such as flashcards. For example, you could model use of the Leitner system. We should certainly use low-stakes quizzes in lessons and articulate how and why these are helpful.

Message 2: Effective studying will feel difficult

Students’ ability to revise is strongly linked to their motivation. If they don’t feel that they are making progress, then they will default to things that feel more effective such as reading their study guides or prioritising subjects that they are most confident in. So our second message should be that learning is hard!

Robert Bjork coined the term ‘Desirable Difficulties’, which is the idea that learning may be improved by making the conditions difficult:

“Conditions of learning that make performance improve rapidly often fail to support long-term retention and transfer, whereas conditions that create challenges and slow the rate of apparent learning often optimise long-term retention and transfer.”

Obviously there is a point by which things become too difficult, but we should reinforce the message that if you find revision really easy, you might be doing it wrong. Provide opportunities in lessons to see the benefits of study sessions e.g. by learning 10 unfamiliar terms during a lesson and articulating what is happening throughout the process. As they become more familiar, studying becomes easier, but only after the difficulty at the beginning.

Message 3: Plan, monitor and evaluate your study

The more time we take to explicitly model revision strategies, the easier students will find it. But effective study involves more than just completing a study activity. Once students have been shown a range of study strategies, they are better equipped with the tools to self-regulate their study. Our job is to share with them the fact that the study strategy sits in the middle of a sequence: plan, monitor, evaluate.

They can plan the most effective method for their study session(s). To do this, students consider a range of factors:

  • Knowledge of themselves – how they have been successful previously; what they found difficult in the past.
  • Knowledge of the task – what they are being asked to study; what else they need to study.
  • Knowledge of strategies – the different ways that they could approach their study; the best strategy for their task. (See the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report)

Once they have decided which strategies to use, the best learners will monitor their study session, asking whether it is working effectively, and which aspects of the study are not sinking in.

Finally, they can evaluate their study. They are best-placed to do this after a test or exam they have been studying for. That way, they can attempt to attribute results to their study sessions. Techniques like exam wrappers can help to do this.

Maximising Memory and the Science of Learning starts on 4th February. Find out more here:

  • Study

About Bradford Research School

Bradford Research School at Dixons Academies works to improve educational outcomes for children within the Bradford Opportunity Area and ensure that all pupils have the same opportunities for success.

We do this by supporting schools to make better use of evidence to inform their teaching, learning and decision making. We develop successful existing local networks and build new ones, offer training and provide personal support in order to bring about long term improvement in the classroom.