Essential Tips For Remembering And Revision.

Once again, friend of the Studying With Dyslexia Blog and memory and dyslexia tutor, Sarah Guest is sharing with us ways to help with learning by understanding how memory works and when we should invest time in revision of learning materials.

Make ‘remembering’ easier by using the ‘forgetting curve’.

The music writer Bob Dorough might have told us that “3 is the magic number”, but when it comes to remembering information we need to think more like Dolly Parton’s “(9 –) 5”.

A comment I hear a lot of the time from my dyslexic students is “I don’t want to start my revision too early because I know I’ll forget it anyway”. This leads to many of them leaving their revision until the month before, or even a few weeks before their exams.

We all know deep down that trying to cram our revision into the night before an exam by pulling an “all-nighter” never really works; but why not? And what can we do to try and make sure we don’t forget revision from months ago? Firstly, we need to understand how our minds retain – and lose - information and this will help us time our revision to fit in with these natural cycles, making revision much easier.

Herman Ebbinghaus first looked into how quickly we forget information in 1895 and his results were startling (if a little unsurprising?). The blue line on this graph (copied from shows how quickly our memory can deteriorates – it suggests that even 10 minutes after a lesson up to 60% can be forgotten already (as someone who taught in a classroom for years, I can say that’s quite a depressing thought after all my hard work planning those lessons!!)

Graphics Buzz
Graphic courtesy of Graphics Buzz.

But it’s not all bad news. Look what happens when that information is reviewed over time – less and less is forgotten as the information transfers over into the long-term memory and the minds ability to recall it is made stronger. Tony Buzan, one of the leading current writers in the field of Study Skills (and the inventor of the ‘MindMapping’ concept – a revision tool used by thousands of students), has added a 5th review point to the list, which comes 6 months later.
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So, for those of you with exams this summer here’s my ‘revision plan’, using the knowledge about our minds natural cycle for forgetting – and remembering – information:

Monday – Friday:

1.     Each night: Sit down for 30 minutes and review what you’ve learnt that day. Remember to keep it ‘multi-sensory’ so… sum up each lesson into 3 points (re-wording and reducing information), use symbols and colour (visual learning), maybe speak the points out loud, or have a certain album playing in the background for each subject (auditory learning).
2.     1 day later: Look back over your review work from yesterday for 15 mins or so. Can you understand and recall it all from these brief notes? If not go back to the original and refresh your memory, adding to your review notes.
a.     Remember - Today is also ‘Day 1’ for new learning! So your revision time should look like this: 30 minutes = Step 1; review what you’ve learnt today. 15 minutes = Step 2; look back over yesterday’s review.
Saturday – Sunday.
3.     1 week later: Spend time looking over Mon – Fri’s review work. The amount here will vary depending on how many subjects you’re studying for and how many lessons/lectures you’ve had in the week. Only sit down in 30-minute bursts. Look over your review notes for a subject (5 mins) and then do something with the information, e.g. use it to answer some practice questions.

4.     1 month later: At the end of each month/ half term go back over all your review notes and practice questions. Try to fit the learning into the wider context of the course you’re studying, i.e. which Unit/ Topic has this covered? Try to pull together all your reviews into one revision piece; e.g. make a MindMap of the whole topic.

5.     6 months later /Just before your exam: While everyone else is stressing and trying to cram all their revision into a few short weeks all you need to do is final preparations. Take out your ‘Step 4’ revision piece, practice some more past paper questions and revisit those few areas that need just a little more reviewing.

If you follow these steps you should feel in control of your revision, which will make you relax more, reducing your stress and allowing you to recall what you’ve learnt more easily. So, to the tune of Dolly Parton’s classic the new mantra is: “Working up to 5, helps you to be rememberin’”  Stick with it and the hard work will pay off in the end.

Want to get in touch with Sarah Guest?  Click here.

Sarah is also attending The SEN Jigsaw Conference in April. The SEN Jigsaw explores many aspects of special educational needs through plenary talks and workshops whilst giving parents and education professionals an opportunity to meet and discuss the challenges that SEN can present for our children.

Check out our programme below:

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