Revision Skills 

Blog and Video

Dr Adrian Wallbank

Centre for Development of Academic Skills (CeDAS), Royal Holloway

Now that the better weather is finally arriving and the challenge of getting to lectures without becoming either soaked to the skin or turning into an iceberg has passed, your thoughts may be wandering towards sun-kissed beaches, festivals or catching up with family and friends.  Unfortunately you may have to get through a substantial set of exams before you can get some well-earned rest and relaxation. Effective revision is key to exam success, but have you really given much thought to what revision techniques you use and how effective they may be? In the video accompanying this blog you’ll find out more about what revision techniques to use to suit your learning preferences and how to use some advanced techniques to create ‘hooks’ and associations to drag what you have learnt out of your memory and onto the page. For now, though, I want to leave you with some thoughts about what’s known as the primacy and recency effect. Research has shown that the mind learns and absorbs information most effectively during the first and final stages of each learning event or activity (in others words, what happened in the primary part of the session and what happened most recently). During the middle part of any revision session, your mind is much less receptive and retentive, and even though this is probably the longest part of your study period, less information is actually making it into your long-term memory than during the relatively short primacy and recency periods. This may sound a little disheartening at first, but you can actually use this technique to enhance your revision sessions and be more efficient. Firstly, rather than revising for hours at a time, have lots of short breaks (aim not to exceed 20mins of revision at a time). This increases the number of times that you start and stop, thus increasing opportunities for the brain to learn through primacy and recency. Secondly, prioritise topics so that you revise these at the start and end of your sessions. So, if there are particular topics you are struggling with, subjects which you really think will come up in the exam, or issues which your lecturers have suggested you focus on, revise these at the beginning and at the end of each revision session. Use the less productive middle section of each session for topics which are either less important, less challenging or more familiar to you. And thirdly, use the primacy and recency periods to repeat, review, re-emphasise and summarise key information so as to ‘fix’ it in the long-term memory more effectively. Revise smart and success will be yours. Good luck!