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Exams & revision: Easier revision

“...humans start losing the memory of learned knowledge over time, in a matter of days or weeks, unless the learned knowledge is consciously reviewed time and again”

Revision is not REvision if you feel you learning things for the first time because you have forgotten it all since your lectures. If you attend a lecture and then put your notes away until it is time to revise then this is how you will feel. This page gives some advice on what to do to make stuff 'stick' in your brain after you have first learned it and so make the revision process far easier.

The forgetting curve

Classic psychological research has shown that if you do not reinforce the learning of new information within 24-48 hours you will forget about 80% of it (Ebbinghaus, 1885). This means that simply looking back over your notes within one or two days of your lecture will make revision easier by helping you to remember more content from the first time you learned it. Regularly reviewing your notes from week-to-week or month-to-month will help even more.

We know we should do this - but how many of us actually do? Below you will find four simple ways to review work to ensure it stays current in your memory.

Ebbinhaus forgetting curve showing that early review of material can prevent memories from being lost

Simple ways to review work

Although you could just read through notes again, this is not necessarily the best way to review work (and would soon become a bit boring too). Mix up your review methods using one of the techniques below and you will find it more enjoyable:

Summarise sections of your lecture notes

If you use the Cornell Note Taking method for you lecture notes (see right/below), you can leave the 'summary section' at the bottom of the page to be filled in the day after the lecture. Simply add a sentence or two, or a couple of bullet points which summarising the main points on the page.

Even if you don't use Cornell, you can still use the same principle and write a sentence or two to summarise the main topics of each lecture.

Reading over these summaries is a great way to remind yourself of what was covered previously before you go into the next week's lecture too. That is another way to stop the memories from disappearing because the new material you learn is being incorporated with the older information.

Cornell lecture notes sheet - cue column on left, notes area on right and summary area across the bottom.

Create a mind-map of your lecture notes

This doesn't have to be a work of art - look for ways of connecting the topics of your lecture notes. Look back over your summaries of previous lectures and see if anything fits in too.

During exams, you will get extra credit, if you can connect relevant information from other topics. Start doing it between lectures and you will already be on to a good thing!

A hand-drawn mind map about corvid intelligence

Colour code your notes

Use highlighter pens or coloured pencils to highlight over parts of your notes that fit into certain categories. You can decide on your own categories - it is the act of deciding what belongs in what colour that will help you to remember them.

It will also help you see connections between different parts of the topics which will help you in assignments and exams as mentioned above.

pack of coloured highlighter pens

Discuss with friends

Create a small study group with your friends and talk about what you found most interesting or what you found hard to understand - more than one head together can often help. You can even create things together to help you remember - posters, mindmaps etc. If a topic is two-sided, have a mini-debate.

If you are lucky enough to have PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) in your subject area, you have a ready-made group study session where you can engage in activities in the same way.

Student discussion group