When it comes to independent revision, students of all ages often struggle with knowing where to start and what to do.
Without guidance or resources provided by their teacher, they can easily fall into comforting, safe and passive revision strategies: reading, highlighting and copying out notes. This can help students recognise the learning, but it doesn’t have much benefit in terms of understanding or long-term recall.
The evidence is clear that the best revision strategies are active: they get our students’ brains working, aiding in the formation of schemas and long-term memory.
Below are five strategies I encourage my students to use. Although these are for students to use in their own time, it is always worth dedicating some lesson time for them to practise using them, with your support.
1. Closed book summaries
Ask students to read a section of text or watch a video clip, then, on a blank piece of paper, summarise everything they can remember without looking back at the resource. Once they have finished their summary, they should review the original resource, look away and add in anything they missed the first time around. Repeat this process until they can confidently recall the key information.
2. Closed book questioning
This is similar to closed book summaries, but while students read the text or watch the video clip, they should write some questions on the key information.
Ideally, these questions should be specific and promote deep thinking by requiring you to synthesise information in order to answer them: for example, listing the differences and similarities between two concepts.
Students should then close or turn off the resource and answer the questions. After checking their answers, they should repeat the process for any questions they missed or got wrong.
3. Concept maps
Ask students to summarise the key points of a topic in a concept map. They can use arrows to show connections, and if they can use a diagram or drawing, instead of writing, that’s even better. Remind them that it is the process of drawing the map that is helpful for their learning and not so much the finished product, so they shouldn’t worry if it looks a bit messy.
4. Use flashcards
Flashcards can be useful tools, but they should only be used for key definitions and factual recall. A few per revision session is best; research shows that spacing the use of flashcards is more effective than cramming questions. For example, you might use 10 flashcards at the end of each 30-minute revision session.
Students can make flashcards themselves, but there are also excellent pre-made flashcards made by teachers available for free on websites like Kahoot!.
5. Past paper and practice questions
Past paper and practice questions help students to understand the depth and breadth of questions they can expect on the exam, as well as give them a taste of common themes that come up. But they are also great resources for applying and consolidating learning.
Students should be shown where they can find the right past paper questions for their course, to give them ownership over the practice questions they complete.
In the classroom, you can scaffold students to develop a routine way of approaching past paper questions, which they can apply in their independent revision to make the most out of this tool. For example, they might use the following checklist:
- Read the question twice.
- Underline keywords.
- Consider the meaning of the command term.
- Study and summarise available diagrams.
- Use the number of marks available to guide the number of distinct points contained in your answer.
Hannah Bradley is a science teacher at an international school in Portugal. She tweets @HannahBradley_9