Many students with dyslexia or other learning difficulties can struggle to remember what they have heard, read or learned, which makes revising for tests and exams very difficult. The following are some suggestions to make the revision process easier.
1) Make a Realistic, Detailed Revision Timetable
If you break down everything you can learn into chunks and allocate those chunks to time slots in a week by week plan, you have a plan to help you achieve all that is possible. This takes a huge amount of the worry out of approaching exams. You can only do the best you can, only do what is possible. Once a realistic plan is written, all you have to do is follow it, to be doing all that is possible. At least some of the stress will be taken out of looming exams. Set aside a couple of evenings or days at the weekend to build your plan systematically. Here is a guide to help you do this:
- Start with a blank template for each week: morning, early afternoon, late afternoon and evening sessions each day, perhaps. You can use a week per page calendar or diary, or create a Word table with five columns (the first split into days of the week) and eight rows (the first with the headings morning, early afternoon, late afternoon & evening). Or do two or more weeks to a page, if you are neat or are typing. (N.b. Pre-structured online commercial revision guides are very complicated and encourage students to be over ambitious in what they include, and they might therefore not be as effective: you might not be as likely to stick to them.)
- First, fill in when you have lessons at school and when you have clubs or sports practice after school and at weekends. Do this for each week’s plan in order, as a first step. Decide how many of your clubs and activities you can continue. Don’t give them all up. You need exercise, fun, variety and rewards. Choose a particular colour pen to mark regular sport or other hobbies. You may want to put diagonal lines across Monday to Friday morning and early afternoon lessons during term time, unless you have study periods free, in which case these times could become revision sessions.
- If your sports or clubs sessions are reward enough in terms of recreation to keep you going, that is great, but you may want to add in a reward session or two each week. Maybe you always see your friends Friday evenings. Or maybe you like a long lie in on Saturday mornings. Give rewards their own colour.
- Make sure you include part time work shifts where relevant.
- Then add a realistic number of revision blocks to each day. Think how many sessions you can realistically commit to. You may decide two days a week before and/ or after dinner you can revise, leaving the other days free for homework and sport for example. You may choose Sunday morning and evening, or Saturday afternoon, It is entirely your plan. If you are too ambitious, you will give up quickly. Circle these time blocks to denote “revision”, so you can easily see where to fill in subject specific details later. (N.b. February just before half term is a good time to start a revision timetable for May/ June exams, in order to fit most of what you need to achieve into the number of sessions you allocate yourself, but you can start earlier. If you start later, you may have to prioritise what there is time for and what there isn’t time for.
- Then collect together all your subject by subject revision guides and look at the contents pages to help you break down units of learning into names of topics. Write (different colour for each subject if possible) the unit & specific topic with a page number in each allocated session on your plan, rather than writing “History” or “Biology”. This is how you can work out how to cover everything you need to in the time available. It also means when you come to a revision session and are tired, you don’t need to motivate yourself to decide what to do: that is already done. It is easier to get started that way.
- If you are unsure of how much time to give each topic, check how many pages the revision guide takes up on that topic. This may help you to plan how long it will take to revise.
- Include at least one session a week on the plan for “catch-up” or “contingency”: to use if you don’t complete a topic in the time allocated or you missed a session for any reason.
- Remember, be realistic about how much time you plan to revise. If you know you can only concentrate for 2-3 hours a day, plan a timetable that fits this time limit, or you will get behind.
- Start your revision with topics that you are less sure of and may need more time to go over. There may not be time to include all topics, especially if you start your planning at a late stage or cannot manage many hours a day. It is better to do good revision for a limited period each day than pretend to be learning, or passively reading for many hours.
- If you do a revision plan for mock exams or year 10/ year 12 exams, make sure you tick off topics you complete and make a note of those you were still unsure of on your plan, so you can prioritise weaker topics and remember which weren’t yet covered for your next revision period.
2) Revision Techniques
- Revision sessions should have several periods of 20 – 30 minute work with a 5 minute break between.
- Breaks are important, but should not include texting, social media or playing computer games. New words going into your head will displace those you’ve just been learning and reduce the impact of your revision. Listen to music (without words) or get some fresh air. It is important to take your breaks. A calm mind, and a period when no other new information enters your head after a session, means you keep processing what you revised for longer.
- Colour code your revision (using highlighters and Post-its) to make learning more memorable. Use a different colour for each subject’s revision cards or notes, as this gives your memory a helping hand by associating a colour with a topic.
- Create (coloured) spider diagrams or Mind-maps for topics you have learned, to keep in a revision box or folder. You can do this straight after a lesson or unit, rather than wait until you start formal revision. For your MindMap or SpiderGram, make brief visual notes about all aspects of the subject you remember, without looking at your class notes. Ask yourself questions to remember all the different aspects you covered. Use arrows to note where things are connected. Then go back to your books or learning site to check what you couldn’t remember initially and add it. This is an active process, which will make you more likely to retain and understand information. Add to your MindMaps, as you learn more.
- When using Revision Guides, don’t just read the pages in front of you – interact with them actively. Here are some ways to do this:
- Highlight key phrases in the revision guide or worksheet, while saying them out loud.
- Put things into your own words in a margin, or at the side of the page, to make them more meaningful to you.
- Turn facts into questions on the front of a revision card, and write the answers on the back. Make sure you understand what you are writing. Don’t copy without comprehension. You can turn the card over for answers early on in revision but you will recall answers without turning the card over, when you have done enough work.
- Always answer questions at the end of revision guide topics as part of your revision session. Also, leave time in your plan to mark your answers and write revision cards for those you got wrong!
- Ask someone else to test you verbally. When you are not reading, your mind might be more actively tuned in to working things out.
- Explain what you have learned to someone else, (your mum, dad, sister or brother maybe?) You understand better, what you can make something clear to others.
- Make sure you include time on your Revision Timetable to work through Past Papers AND to mark your answers and write up the concepts and facts you were not sure of onto new revision cards. Otherwise, you are not learning from doing the past paper.
- When answering questions on past papers, always give full answers. Don’t mentally think you know it and give a partial answer. This could make you lazy when doing the real thing. In many subjects, marks can be lost by sloppiness in not fully answering a question
These are all ways to systematically prepare for exams. Breaking down learning into tangible processes like this, and chunking everything into manageable targets, all of which has been scheduled, takes a huge mental load off and can be a great incentive to get started and keep going.
3) Create a Revision Box for Revision Resources
- Having pieces of paper, some folded, some not, some half under the bed, is not an ideal way to prepare for effective revision. If pieces of paper all look the same, or not important, that is an opportunity lost. We remember what is meaningful to us, what looks interesting or different.
- So taking time to create colourful, clear, visual revision notes and resources helps our brains remember them. Also, if you keep everything together, it is much easier to access it quickly, and you are more likely to be motivated to use resources more often. Here are some tips for effective revision resources:
- First find or create a box to store all of your different revision materials. Make sure it is deep and attractive.
- Create effective revision cards by turning simple facts into questions to write on one side of the card, then writing the answer on the back of the same card, laid out in a visually memorable way. Use different coloured cards or pens for different subjects or topics. This all makes for more active learning and gives you “hooks” to help you recall information. Try using capital letters & different sizes of writing to make key words stand out, too.
- Create revision card packs for specific subjects, using a treasury tag or craft ring to keep them together, so you can pop them in a bag or pocket to run through on bus journeys or in short intervals of free time away from home, outside of set revision sessions. This is where you can really secure learning: more repetitions means you retain more of what you learn and remember it more quickly.
- When you feel you know a topic well, take that card out of the pack and put it back in the box for later. This way, you are concentrating on areas you are still unsure of in your precious time.
- You could try writing key vocabulary for different subjects/ topics, using colour coded Post It notes and sticking them in different rooms to look at when eating/ getting dressed etc.
- Any Spider-grams that you create when planning writing or thinking about what you have learned throughout the year could be kept in the box and added to each time you review them. (Or ring-binders could be used with spider-grams organised by subject.)
- Keep all marked past papers in the box. Put the questions you got wrong and the correct answers on new revision cards to go over. Time invested in writing these out will be rewarded.