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Make your revision about quality, not quantity

Make your revision about quality, not quantity

Especially when exams are looming and you start to feel the pressure, it can be tempting to spend every possible hour hitting the books (or screen). But there’s a growing belief that this kind of intensive cramming is less effective than targeted, briefer bursts of effort.

The notion that the more hours you spend, the better the end result is a seductive one. But could this be yet another area of our lives where less is actually more?

As with most work, revision isn’t just about how long you spend chained to a desk, although of course, you do need to put the hours in – more often, it’s about the quality and effectiveness of your study process.

The need to manage learning has grown in importance in recent years with the increase in the number of opportunities for people to study outside formal classroom environments. It’s something that can potentially be misjudged or mismanaged if you are not careful, as backed up in research by Bjork, Dunlosky and Kornell from 2012.

The Right Revision Techniques

So, essentially, it’s not just about the hours you graft, but what you do with them. As well as spending quality time on your revision with full concentration, you need to ensure you adopt the most appropriate study method for you.

We’ve previously discussed less effective revision techniques, such as over-reliance on highlighting notes or other information and rereading passively.

You could certainly put in the hours on these less efficient study techniques, but that may not get you the results you need. Actively self-testing and quizzing yourself, making revision notes rather than just rereading, plus writing and using flashcards are likely to be far more helpful in the long term in terms of retaining information.

Targeting Weaker Areas

Know your weaknesses and target them with laser-like precision rather than sitting down to ‘revise to pass the exam’. Building a mind map of your existing knowledge and testing yourself on areas you’ve not yet fully mastered will help identify any weaker areas.

The notion that the more hours you spend revising, the better the end result is a seductive one. But could this be yet another area of our lives where less is actually more? Click To Tweet


Little and Often

Psychology professor Anders Ericsson, of Florida State University, has studied experts in many fields – from sports to academia and beyond – and found that all of them put in fewer hours than you might have thought to achieve their level of expertise.

Revising in bursts of no longer than 30 minutes, with breaks in between, is likely to be effective when you combine this approach with techniques that suit your own personal learning style(s). Any session needs to be short enough for you to give full attention throughout, interspersed with breaks so the brain has time to consolidate learning.

We’ve previously mentioned the Pomodoro ‘tomato timer’ technique, which guides you towards 25-minute sprints of activity. It’s certainly one good way of bringing a specific end to each revision session. Even a bus or train journey can be used as a limited block of time during which you can go over a specific topic. Or you could take an exam question with you (in your head!) to ponder over on a brisk 30-minute run or walk.

Another important approach to include in your revision armoury is ‘interleaving’, or mixing up your topics. This helps the brain to remember and organise the information it has learned.

In summary, it’s not about spending every waking moment revising – just doing it better and in shorter bursts. The good news is that if you pick the right revision methods, less really can mean more.