To state the obvious, different people use different techniques when they are revising. And some people’s minds seem naturally better suited to one method or another.
The two main schools are: written revision, non-written/mental revision.
Most people seem to take notes when they are revising, but there are those who do all revision ‘mentally’: they just read carefully over and over their notes and try to remember and grasp material that way.
A lot of people use the second form for small amounts of revision; for instance when learning how to spell words and to remember foreign vocabulary for tests and so on, whilst the first method is probably more common for significant amounts of revision for a series of exams.
The mental method is much quicker than the first method because you are not writing which is what takes the time and slows the process down. However, it does not suit a lot of people. This is because it requires even more powers of concentration than the first technique; since nothing is written down then the material needs to be fed into your brain purely from the words on the page. This can be quite an intensive process and can easily lead to frustration. Hence it is probably fair to say that this method is not suitable for most people when it comes to significant amounts of revision; for it to work you need to have a very receptive mind and be able to remember details easily. If this is you, then by all means use this technique, but we would always advise you do some taking of revision notes as well to supplement the above; as if you have ten or so subjects to revise for, or four or five in depth, then it is really very difficult to get good grades purely from reading material and trying to remember that way.
The other reason why most people use the first method is because of ‘the practice factor’. It is very important that when you revise you practice what you are studying. This is particularly the case with Mathematics – you must never think you can just take notes for this subject; you really need to practice and practice questions under each topic; this is the best way to revise here and you will quickly find where your strengths and weaknesses lie and can set about correcting them. Also when learning foreign languages, you must actually practice writing and so on and so forth.
The danger of the first method is slavishly writing down everything you see, and thinking you are revising. This is dangerous because after a couple of hours revision you may leave the books and then realise to your horror that you haven’t absorbed/taken anything in at all – and thus what you just did was, in a sense, a waste of time. This is a very tempting and easy trap to fall into, but must be avoided at all costs.
So, when you are revising by taking notes, which should be the majority of the revision, we recommend you employ the technique as follows here:-
- Concentrate. Do not fall into the trap of just copying
- Actively take notes:- do not write down unnecessary information, if you’re notes are to be of any use they must summarise
- Think if what you note down is necessary, cut out the jump
- Keep your notes legible, do not scrawl, otherwise they will be of no particular use to you
- You may like to use different colours or abbreviate certain words when taking notes, as long as you will know what you mean later on; perhaps take the vowels out of certain words, or abbreviate common long words
- Do not think you can take notes for hours on end without breaks. The longer you note take for, the more you will just copy and the less you will take in. Short, sharp bursts are the best
- REVIEW your notes after you have taken them. When you finish your revision session, do not just pack up and go away. Spend five or ten minutes to go through your notes and read them to yourself – out loud if you like – and concentrate hard to try and commit to memory. This can really turn a revision session into a great success, as you are confirming what you have just gone over and your concentration will be pretty much at its best at the end of a revision session
In summary then, concentrate and make discerning notes. Do not revise for long periods. Avoid copying and writing reams and reams of information. Write legibly. Use different colours/highlight and differentiate according to importance. When you have finished revising, review and commit to memory as much as you can from the notes you have just taken. Organise them and file them so that you do not lose them – they will be of use to you the night or few days before an exam when you commence your final revision. Next, onto memory techniques/methods that can be employed to help you remember material.
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