How to Revise

Revision is something that we all dread, but it is also a highly valuable skill which will get you a long way in life. When we are younger revision is the main influential factor in whether we pass the tests and this will affect our eventual grades and potentially even our careers. As we get older though there is still a lot to be said for revision and we will often use it to learn about a company before an interview, or to prepare for a speech that we intend to do off by heart. There are many little tips and strategies that can make revision a lot more successful and a lot easier, and we shall address a few of those here.

Do not cram: Cramming is a bad idea in any circumstance. Cramming occurs usually when we are under-prepared for an exam and we thus try to make up for it by learning everything in one night. This then invariably results in our staying up until all hours of the morning and getting about three hours worth of sleep that night and you will find that this just is not adequate in order to perform at your best. As such then, you should make sure that you time your revision correctly so that it is spaced out throughout the day rather than crammed into the last minute.

Test yourself: Constantly testing yourself on certain points is a very good way to train yourself to not only store the information, but to be able to rapidly recall it too. Each time you do this you are using a ‘deep’ level of processing which means you are more actively engaging in the information. As you do you will literally be strengthening the neurons between your brain cells and that will make it easier to bring back that information at a later date.

Engage with the information: To learn the information you really need to understand it, so do not just rote learn numbers and names, but instead remember who they are and what they did. The more you think about the information the more you will learn it – this is called ‘deep processing’ and it means that you are focussing more of your attention on that information. The brain is very good at remembering stories.

Use mnemonics: Here you use small little ‘tricks’ to remember things. A popular form of mnemonic is to use an acronym – so say you had to remember four items, you would then take the first letter for each. You might otherwise make a rhyme or a joke involving the information and you will likely find you are more likely to remember this than just the raw information.

Link the information: Linking together various ideas and items is a great way to make them easier to recall. The brain works as a series of neuronal connections so that one idea or memory triggers another. Take advantage then of this structure by structuring your revision in a similar way. Many people for this reason advocate the use of ‘mind maps’ in order to plot out the concepts and how they relate to one another.

Memory technique 1: Another technique, taught by Derren Brown in his book ‘Trick of the Mind’ provides a great way to remember lists and uses this connectivity along with a visual encoding. Here, you take the items on the list – say the first three were ‘monkey, phone, cheese’ and connect them with visual imagery in pairs. So the first image you would focus on would be ‘monkey’ and ‘phone’ and to do this you would spend a lot of energy trying to really visualise a picture of a monkey on a phone. You engage with that idea and you look at it. Then you visualise the second pair ‘phone’ and ‘cheese’.  

Use various encoding methods: When you store information you will likely store it in one of several ways – as imagery, as sound, lexically (based on meaning) or as touch. Interestingly different people tend to prefer different encoding and some people work better with more visual information while others work better with more acoustic information. Think: is it the sound of the word you remember? Or is it the image it conjures up or the meaning you assign to it? Then think how you can use this to your advantage. Using imagery works well for a lot of people, so try imagining a picture that reminds you of the item you are trying to remember.

Memory technique 2: In some cases you can benefit from using both a visual and an auditory encoding together. A great technique to remember numbers for instance is to think of how they sound. Numbers are very dry and can be difficult to engage with so this method helps to make them more interesting. For one then you might think of ‘thumb’ and for two you might think of ‘stew’. Thus to remember the number 12 you would think of the image of a thumb, and then the thumb being put in stew. If you wanted to remember that there were twelve of something, you would then link this image to the images of the thumb and the stew.

Condense information: Remembering large amounts of information can take a lot of time to commit to memory. By condensing the information you can get rid of any information you do not need to know and combine other items. For remembering long numbers you can use a method called ‘chunking’ which is where you take two numbers and make them into one number – for instance ‘3, 3, 4, 2, 1’ becomes ‘33,421’ which is like remembering one thing instead of remember five.

Memory technique 3: When you are revising for an exam or an interview then you should almost always find that you can fit all of the information you need to know onto a single page. To do this then, just incrementally condense the information – write it all down, then write it all down onto two pages, and then write it all down onto one. This way you benefit from the act of writing down the information several times, as well as from the fact that you will end up with just one page to learn.

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