Exam-season can prove a stressful time for students. To conquer low-level anxieties, students often invest their nervous energy into creating beautifully crafted colour-coded study plans rather than actively engaging in the hard thinking that defines successful revision.
To support our students to manage effective study habits and routines, it is important to weave teaching effective revision strategies into our classroom practice as early as possible.
But, if students have not already developed a regular study habit, what can we do to help them at this point? How can we support them to develop a healthy routine for the final push of revision?
Teaching students to manage their revision repertoire
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of explicitly teaching both revision strategies and the metacognitive awareness to pick the right revision approach at the right time.
Recommendation 2 of the EEF guidance report ‘Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning’ refers to the need to, “explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning”. We should ask, do pupils know ‘when’ and ‘how’ to use flashcards, or how to engage in ‘retrieval practice’? This is the stuff of metacognition and self-regulation.
Students are metacognitive if they are managing their revision repertoire and selecting and monitoring their specific strategies. If we want students to be more self-aware, and independent, we have to show them how to get there with explicit intent.
In ‘Strengthening the Student Toolbox’, Dunlosky finds that, “students believe ..relatively ineffective strategies are actually the most effective”, possibly because we have not always focused enough “on training students how to go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying”. This is still relevant to the revision run-in. We can encourage students to draw from a range of revision strategies, ensuring that they can use them effectively and evaluate which ones work best for them.
Too often we see students using strategies such as re-reading copious notes, highlighting entire pages, alongside designing with ‘flashcards’ overloaded with excess information because we haven’t been explicit enough consistently enough about how to study effectively. Let’s reiterate the key insights they need to enact these strategies effectively during exam revision.
Evidence-informed practical strategies for the examinations run-in
Despite the constant challenges with supporting students to make suitable choices for independent study, we plough on with our best efforts. What might the available evidence suggest could be the best approaches to building study habits and revision routines for the run-up to exams? Here are four ideas we apply in our work in college:
Model the process of effective study habits. Our science team spend time to teach a 5‑stage process to their students, including ‘Consolidate, Learn, Assessment, Feedback, Action’. This approach encourages students to actively condense their notes (‘consolidate’) whilst also self-testing their knowledge (‘assessment’).
Developing a study plan underpinned by robust strategies. Understanding ‘spaced practice’ and ‘interleaving’ could really help students to plan their study more effectively. Additionally, applied approaches, such as modelling the ‘Pomodoro technique’ (using a timer to chunk down your revision sessions and to bake-in some potentially productive ‘spacing’) can offer students useful tools to apply independently.
Focus on active revision routines. Our students can be lulled into a false sense of security from re-reading or daubing their notes in a rainbow of highlighter colours. More active strategies, such as ‘map from memory’, ensure that students engage in the productive struggle of ‘retrieval practice’. Additionally, the ‘Leitner technique’, with flashcards, can offer a more deliberate revision strategy which ensures students reflect on their success.
Build-in reflection to revision routines. My colleagues will regularly encourage our college students to RAG rate their revision techniques to track their progress. This structured reflection is likely to help them better calibrate their routines and identify the most appropriate revision strategy for the job.
Alongside these ideas, I found that Julie Kettlewell’s blog ‘Supporting revision and the 7 step model’ proved a useful resource to take students through a framework for the effective use of flashcards. Additionally, Jade Pearce’s EEF guest blog on retrieval, offers useful insights for independent study.
Establishing new routines as final exams quickly approach is no easy task. And yet, for many of our students, if they build (or re-establish) good study habits during this period, it could prove a key factor for success, conquering that understandable angst about the prospect of exams.
Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning
Supporting Revision and the ‘Seven-step Model’