Active-Passive Revision Practice

There is only a week to go until the summer term begins at university. That means only two things: revision and exams. I have taken a week back to campus early to focus on revising so that I have more space to work on my exams. In the past I haven’t done so well on exams of a certain course and that was because the methods that I used were not well enough for me.

I got a back several years ago on how to use revision effectively. The Students Guide to Exam Success by Eileen Tracy. It was a really good source of reference and some of the methods that I learned to revise with were very good. There major difference is between how they get into your head and recall them in the exam centre.

Now some of the students in my class had a different approach to writing notes as the lecture was being given. A majority of them were following the lecturer by typing notes onto a word processor and saving them for reference. This also including downloading the lecture slides available on our university resource service called Moodle. Some of them copied and pasted the slides onto word processors for revision notes. I however took an old fashioned approach and wrote the details as annotations and writing references by hand in my notebook. This was an active way to do it and it works better than their method which was passive.

There is a chapter in the revision handbook that I have on the methods of revision. The key to learn and revise effectively is to distinguish between active and passive methods. Here is a list of those methods.

  • Re-reading
  • Copying Out
  • Putting your notes on computer
  • Highlighting
  • Writing Index Cards
  • Annotating texts
  • Mindmapping
  • Repeating out loud
  • Doing past papers

Of these methods the best ones to choose is the active methods. Although there are some creative and recreational ways in which you can approach your revision as well.

Re-reading (Passive)

Why bother with just simply rereading everything? You might have to go over your past work to check what you learnt but you’ll need to recall it. Re-reading will only fill your head, but you won’t absorb it very well.

Copying Out (Passive)

This might sound like rote writing whereby you give yourself a recall of everything you learnt. But it takes ages and doesn’t engage your mind. Your like a secretary operating a writing task but not taking in the contents. You will also risk having a time wasting routine of re-writing your old notes without any validation.

Putting notes on a computer (Passive)

In class a lot of my other friends did this but it doesn’t do much work. By writing your notes from lectures on computer you channel the information into the machine, but not into your brain. As you write with your hands you engage the brain to do a task which puts your senses into the context of the subject your learning. Putting everything on computer will mean your entire knowledge into a machine that you will have to carry around with you and you might be tempted to browse on social media instead of focusing on your revision.

Highlighting (Passive)

Highlighting works when you are looking for keywords to certain technical terms in science and engineering. It doesn’t require much thinking because all you are doing is recognising terms but not recalling them. It doesn’t make them easier to learn it just gives you a reason to procrastinate in your work.

Writing Index Cards (Active)

Here we have our first active one and I did it myself when revising for an exam many years ago. There is an app called Quizlet which contains electronic versions of flashcards that you can carry on your phone or tablet. With index cards you can draw your attention to something and say the first thing that comes into your head. Summarising the word or picture on the card makes referring to material easy to look back on. Writing the cards yourself can be time consuming but the rewards will be good.

Annotating your texts (Active)

When I was at the Open University I had all the textbooks supplied to me for the course. There was no shopping for books necessary. In these books I looked at the paragraphs and annotated the texts in the margins to digest their meaning. I could work out what a passage was about and say it in a nutshell. It could also be written in a personal style to me that I could understand without all that tedious terminology that was made out in the text.

Suddenly everything made sense to me in a clear and coherent manner. It’s a lot less intrusive than highlighting and makes the notes clean, uncluttered and easy to read. Thus avoiding looking for a needle in a haystack. You can even annotate with sketches if like me you have a visually thinking mind.

Mindmapping (Active)

This a very creative way of revision. Instead of a bulk of notes you digest it from a spider gram like graph with keywords to each topic of the subject.

Repeating out loud (Active)

Speaking about your subject of revision is a good method to follow as well. I sometimes speak out my thinking to myself or in conversation about my topic of what I have learnt. I have shared my knowledge of what I have learnt with some of my friends and applied it to something of interest that is related to them. In the case of geology I have talked about how it is of use to civil engineering to my politics friends who have debated the topic of flood prevention and building riverside structures on stable ground.

You can even make catchphrases and buzzwords to remember certain things about your subject. It’s a tactic similar to that of what TV advertising uses and we get to memorise their product and business slogans. I also use this method in ventriloquism whereby I talk to my puppets about the subject that I am reading and getting myself to recall it from my head.

Doing past papers (Active)

This is the most active method of revision that you can do. It prepares you for exactly what you are going in for. It helps you to recollect information and you get to see exactly what the examiners expect of you. It can familiarise you with the format of the exams as well. I have access to a countless supply of past papers free of charge which should also be available to most universities. Ask your tutor where to get past papers to practice with.

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