Relaxing, Easy & Fun!

When you think of revision, how do you feel? Fear and dread? You probably shrink from the very idea. Knowing that your teenager needs to revise can be as worrying for you as it is for them, or even more so. After all, you know how horrible it is, right? Late nights, stressful cramming and extreme boredom are the results of revision when it is done badly. Cramming is a high-risk strategy, because the information is not secure. Even if a student manages to remember enough, for long enough to pass, they are unlikely to perform at the top of their ability, or to remember anything in the long-term, which seems a bit of a waste of all those years of school work!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

What is revision?

At its best, revision aims to re-view, or look again at the work that a student studied during the course. The work will (hopefully!) already be familiar. Good revision will make sure that the information is securely stored in a student’s long-term memory and easily accessible both during the exam and for the rest of their life.

 Relaxing, Easy & Fun?

It sounds unlikely, I know, but it is actually crucial that revision is as stress-free as possible. The memory is not at its best when in a state of panic. Fear, whether caused by a physical danger or by psychological stress, such as that caused by looming exams or anxiety caused by being unclear about how to revise effectively, causes the fight or flight syndrome. The reptilian part of the brain takes over the controls, pumping adrenaline into the blood-stream, making the heart beat faster and generally preparing us to beat off an attack or run away. This is great if we actually are in physical danger, but a disaster if we need to think or use our memories, because the parts of the brain we need to use get overwhelmed by the need for survival.

Nobody needs to be taught how to revise subjects that they enjoy. Learning those is easy. We all naturally have excellent memories for things that excite and interest us. It is not that we have poor memories, it is how we approach what we learn that makes the difference in how well we learn them. Because we do this without thinking about it, it seems that we have no control over what we can memorise. Think about this, though: advertisers often want us to remember their products and contact information, even when those products are not exciting or interesting. Nobody is actually excited and interested in insurance or utility companies, are they? We all know about that meerkat though; we all know about that annoying opera singer. We remember the adverts and we remember the boring information along with it. If advertisers can have control over what we remember, it means we can learn that control for ourselves.

The neuroscience bit…

The reason that the things we enjoy (and adverts) are so memorable is that we automatically engage our whole brains. Different parts of the brain are responsible for logic, words, sequence, creativity, emotion and humour, the senses (of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch etc.) and much, much more. When we enjoy something, we engage many of these parts and then we repeat the learning naturally, so the information easily enters the long-term memory. When we try to learn something we are not particularly interested in and which are just words on a page, we are simply not using enough of our brain to make it memorable. We also avoid repeating it, so the memory quickly fades.

The good news is; we can make something we want (or need) to learn easier to remember simply by involving as much of our brain in the process as we can. Revision needs to be logical and methodical, but make it creative and colourful too. Involve all the senses, make it funny, use plenty of pictures. Encourage them to sing and dance their revision, if that is their thing. Happily, making learning more interesting and fun also makes it more relaxing and much more memorable.

How great is that?

Melinda Bower
Exampion Tutor