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Work hard and smart: four simple ways to help your students improve their revision

Work hard and smart: four simple ways to help your students improve their revision

Why do some people learn at a faster rate than others? Answering this question has been researcher K. Anders Ericsson's life work. He has studied expert performers in various walks of life, including chess, music, sport and business. He found that experts in these very different areas shared one thing in common: they didn't just work hard, they worked smart.

For students' revision to be effective, they need to do the same thing. But how? Here's a handy guide to help your pupils get the best out of their time.

Target specific knowledge

Imagine you are learning to play a song on an instrument and you're struggling with the middle section. It is clearly better to focus on the part you are having trouble with, rather than the whole thing. The same is true of all tasks: focus on the specific parts you need to work on. The more time you spend fixing gaps in your knowledge, the better you will become.

What's more, according to psychologist Daniel T. Willingham, the more you know, the easier it is to learn new information. He says: "Research literature from cognitive science shows that knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: it actually makes learning easier... Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more – the rich get richer". 

Build on previous work

A scattergun approach to revision is unlikely to yield long-term gains. Students need to link up and build on previous lessons and revision sessions to solidify information in their long-term memory. This approach is called scaffolding as it helps students build on previous experiences. When it comes to revision, a good approach is to spend some time at the start reminding them of what you have already covered. After that, get students to complete their current revision before finally reflecting on how this new content relates to their previous knowledge.

Test your pupils

Feedback acts as a guide for your students to follow to improve their abilities. If you don't get feedback on what you are doing, you can't know if you're getting better at it. It's also worth asking your students to test themselves as they go along – this is a great way to improve their memory and provides objective information about what they do and don't know.

Tackle the tough stuff

Left to their own devices, people will often spend their time on what they are good at, which – in revision terms – usually means the subjects they enjoy the most.While it is important to build on your strengths (settling for good is often the enemy of great), nothing develops confidence and motivation more than improving – working on students' weaknesses offers the greatest scope for this. So be sure to do both: strengthen your students' weaknesses and build on their strengths.

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