20 effective revision strategies

Author: Jake Hunton
Published: 17/08/2020

1. Employ the Leitner method. Make 20 key terms and definitions on flashcards. Label three boxes: ‘Every day’, ‘Tuesday and Thursday’, ‘Friday’:

  • Start revision on Monday and read the definitions. If you recall the definition perfectly, pop it in the Tuesday and Thursday box. If not, pop it in the ‘Every day’ box.
  • On Tuesday, take out cards from the ‘Every day’ box and recall the definitions. If they’re perfect, pop them in the ‘Tuesday and Thursday’ box. If not, pop them back in the ‘Every day’ box.
  • Then take cards out of the ‘Tuesday and Thursday’ box and recall the definitions. If they’re right, then pop them in the ‘Friday box’. If not, pop them in the ‘Every day’ box.
  • On Wednesday and Thursday go through all of the boxes, with any you get right going into the Friday box and any that are incorrect going back into the ‘Every Day’ box.

2. LIFT your revision resources and past papers. Get a past paper and use the LIFT (Learner Initiated Feedback Technique) strategy, as referred to by Gianfranco Conti. Read each question on the paper. For anything you don’t understand, underline it and write a brief sentence describing what you don’t understand and why you think you don’t understand it.

3. The power of three free recall. Use free recall tests (otherwise known as ‘brain dumps’) as a revision strategy, practising bringing information to mind three times. Get a revision guide and read the content on a page. Close the guide and write out in your own words everything you can recall. Open the guide, take a different-coloured pen, and amend and add in anything that is not correct or missing. Put your written notes away and close your guide. Then on another piece of paper, repeat. Then repeat again three times. 

4. Specification ‘brain dump’. Download the specification for the exam board, go to the subject content section, and read a prompt such as ‘Natural Hazards’. Write down everything you can recall from memory. Compare what you have written to a revision guide’s content for corrective feedback.

5. Change your surface structure. Create some more ‘practice problems’ by changing the surface structure on past paper questions. For example, if a question asks: ‘A quarter of a class wear glasses and 27 students don’t wear glasses. How many students are in the class in total?’, then answer it, get feedback, then change to ‘A quarter of a class wear glasses and 18 students don’t wear glasses’. Leave some forgetting time before answering ‘How many students are in the class in total?’  

6. Explain yourself. Harness the power of self-explanation as a revision tool. As you work through a problem, or even as you read a revision guide, ask yourself questions such as ‘What does this mean to me so far?’ and ‘What do I understand about these notes?’ Trial self-explanation while you complete a problem or while you read, as well as afterwards.  

7. Elaborative interrogation. Note down a list of factual statements from the specification subject content. Add ‘Why is this true?’ after each factual statement and then answer each one.

8. Mix it up. Interleave the same types of revision tasks with different ones. If you constantly practise one type of problem, when you come to the exam with different types of problems you won’t have had the opportunity to select and practise the correct strategy to solve them. Choose one or two problems from each topic of a revision guide and practise solving one before moving on to a different type of problem.

9. Avoid the interference. Try to avoid revising subjects with similar target information one after the other. For example, revising French followed by Spanish might create confusion because of similar vocabulary.

10. Test your calibration. Read a past paper question. Predict how well you think you know the answer out of 10, with 10 being certain that you know the answer. Then answer the question, check the answer with the mark scheme and review your prediction. 

Jake Hunton blogs at jakehuntonmfl.blogspot.co.uk @jakehuntonMFL.

Download all of his 20 effective revision strategies. 

Jake Hunton

Jake Hunton is the author of 'Exam Literacy: A Guide to Doing What Works (and Not What Doesn’t) to Better Prepare Students for Exams'.