Be the perfect role model and show your students how to effectively study for their exams

A cartoon of a tiny scientist reading a paper output of Chemistry knowledge from a giant brain

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Stop viewing revision as cramming information into students’ brains, and help them focus on retrieving what they know

The whole point of revision is to pull information out of pupils’ heads, rather than cramming it in, but too often cramming is exactly what happens. To help pull information out of students I’ve created a revision strategy based on the Education Endowment Foundation’s Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance.

The whole point of revision is to pull information out of pupils’ heads, rather than cramming it in, but too often cramming is exactly what happens. To help pull information out of students I’ve created a revision strategy based on the Education Endowment Foundation’s Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance:

It’s a seven-step model that gives students’ high-quality revision skills. It’s easy to do and, ultimately it’ll save you time and ensure better outcomes for your pupils.

1. Activate prior knowledge

The first step is to get pupils to remember where they have used a strategy before. Ask them if they have used this approach to revision previously and if so, when and how was it useful. You can also ask them if they know what types of subject knowledge work well with this type of resource.

For example, they might be making a set of revision questions. For this you could ask:

  • When have you written a quiz before?
  • How did you use it effectively?
  • What do you need to include to make it useful?

2. Give explicit instruction

This is where you outline how they should complete the task, including explaining how they will use the resource. For the revision questions example, this might include suggesting they get someone else to test them on those questions once complete. The important thing with this step is to make sure the instructions are clear and logical.

3. Model the strategy

Show the pupils what a good one looks like. This can be one you’ve created yourself, or an example produced by a pupil from another class or year group. You might like to consider live modelling here. This can be highly effective. For example, if the pupils are creating a spider-diagram, you might model how to do that for a topic.

Modelling is important as a teaching tool, and modelling how to revise can be a game-changer. Pupils will develop their skills over time to help them retain information ready for their exams. I’d argue this might well be the most important step of all seven.

4. Memorise strategy

Have the pupils understood what you want them to do? Do some cold calling and check they understand not just what to do but what a good example looks like. The key here is to confirm there are no uncertainties about the task, not about the knowledge they are revising. This process is about the skills for revision, not the content being revised.

Find out more

Read a blog about this approach from the EEF.

5. Guide their practice

Give pupils a template, or a partially completed example. For example with flashcards, on one side give a word and ask them to complete the definition on the other side. Or for classes who need more support, give the definition and ask them to fill in the words.

You might also take a more generic approach to scaffolding. For example, the outline for a spider diagram but with nothing completed, or a quiz paper with blank spaces for questions.

This is where knowledge of your class is key to enable appropriate differentiation. Use your professional judgement to enable each pupil to feel confident in their skills.

6. Practise independently

Once the pupils are confident in their ability to create a high-quality example, let them loose to have a go. This is the ultimate goal. It might not happen the first time you use these strategies, but if you begin this approach from the start of a year or course or even in the first years of secondary education, it will ultimately become second nature to the pupils.

7. Structure reflection time

This final step is an opportunity for the pupils to reflect on the quality of what they have made. Has it served the desired purpose? Can other people use it? How would they improve it the next time they make this type of resource?

Ask pupils to evaluate each other’s resources, perhaps by giving them a pro forma with those questions on so they can give and receive feedback. Alternatively, after some summative feedback from you they could reflect on whether the resource helped them.

Next steps

Hopefully you’ll find using this model with your students easy and successful. It’s likely that you are doing many (or all) of these steps unconsciously. When we have our own metacognitive approach to evidence-informed practice we can help our pupils toachieve greater skills and success.