The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that we are what we repeatedly do, so excellence is not an act but a habit. During revision, many students confuse how hard they are working with how well they are working. For revision to be effective, you need to work both hard and smart.
Why do some people improve and learn at a faster rate than others? Answering this question has been researcher K. Anders Ericsson’s life work. He has studied expert performers in nearly every walk of life – be it chess, music, sport or business. He found that experts in these very different areas shared one thing in common: they don't just work hard, they work smart. They used their time developing their skills effectively. The following tips provide a handy checklist to ensure that you do the same whilst revising.
Target a specific part of your knowledge
Imagine you are practising a song on an instrument and struggle with the middle section. Would it be better to practise the whole song through or focus on the part you struggle with? The answer is definitely the latter. The same is true no matter what the task. Focus on the specific parts that you want to work on. The more time you spend practising and developing specific gaps in your knowledge, the better they will become.
What’s more, psychologist Daniel T. Willingham says that the more you know, the easier it is to learn new information. He says “research literature from cognitive science shows that knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: it actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more – the rich get richer”.
Take yourself out of your comfort zone
Stretching yourself means trying to improve by an amount that is just possible if you push yourself. This often means choosing the slightly more difficult question or spending time on areas that you haven’t quite mastered yet. As singer Beyonce remarked, if everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow”.
Reinforce and build on previous work
A random scattergun approach is unlikely to yield long term gains. Being able to link to and build on previous revision sessions will help to solidify information in your long term memory. This is called ‘scaffolding’ as it literally helps you to build on previous experiences.
A good approach to revision is to spend some time at the start reminding yourself of what you have learnt previously. After that, do your current revision before finally reflecting on how this new content relates and develops your previous knowledge.
Test yourself and get feedback on how you are doing
Feedback is the guide that you need to follow to better your abilities. If you don’t get feedback on what you are doing, how can you know for sure that you are getting better at it? Testing yourself as you go along is a great way to improve your memory and provides objective information about what you do and don’t know.
Strengthen your weaknesses and build on your strengths
Left to our own devices, many people will spend their time on what they are good at, which is normally the subjects they enjoy the most. It is important to build on your strengths because settling for good is often the enemy of great. However, nothing develops confidence and motivation more than improving, and your weaknesses offer the greatest scope for this. So be sure to do both: strengthen your weaknesses and build on your strengths.
For more revision help have a look at our page Best Ways to Revise - where you'll also find links to great blogs that will help you do your best during exams.