3 Revision Techniques You Should Definitely Avoid

3 Revision Techniques You Should Definitely Avoid

Revision is personal. How we revise, the techniques we use and the time we spend trying to revise will vary but we do all drift towards techniques that feel intuitively productive. We're never sure what is the optimal technique but research has shown that by far the most popular strategies revolve around rereading, highlighting and summarising.

However, studies have shown that these techniques don't consistently boost our performance. This paper from 2013 by Professor Dunlosky, analysed hundreds of studies relating to revision technique and showed that these three popular techniques had 'low utility' when compared to other approaches. This post explores why.

1. Rereading

In my experience Rereading is probably the most popular technique through talking to people and asking them how they study which I do somewhat regularly one of the most common was Rereading their notes.

However research implies that this is not an efficent/productive method of studying. This is because Rereading is very passive and the brain retains information best when it is being actively used.

2. Highlighting

The second popular technique is highlighting. Once again, evidence suggests that highlighting is a particularly popular revision strategy – it's active, feels productive and even allows our creative tendencies to (over)flow into making our notes look colourful!

However, if we go back to the meta-study conducted by Professor Dunlosky and his associates, they rated highlighting as having low utility aswell - simply providing what Dunlosky called a “safety blanket”.

“In most situations…highlighting does little to boost performance. It may actually hurt performance on higher-level tasks that require inference making”.

3. Summarising

Summarising and taking notes has great appeal also as a means of making our revision feel more productive than it really is. Whilst evidence is more ambiguous in this case and the quality of notes varies between students, Professor Dunlosky and his colleagues concluded that:

“On the basis of the available evidence, we rate summarization as low utility. It can be an effective learning strategy for learners who are already skilled at summarizing; however, many learners (including children, high school students, and even some undergraduates) will require extensive training, which makes this strategy less feasible”.

In essence, if you know how to effectively summarise and make notes it can be useful but we're rarely, if ever, taught or trained to make notes effectively. Even if you're particularly adept at note-taking, the technique still falls around the middle of the pack compared to other revision techniques.

Consequently, the conclusion we should draw from this is that: Making notes is miles less effective than we perhaps convince ourselves that it may be.

This isn't to say that making notes is a complete waste of time – it can sometimes be useful closed book (but never open book) and can even help make revision enjoyable if you like making your notes look good. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it's a very effective revision technique – just because we're writing things down, doesn’t mean we're making the best use of our revision time.

Rereading, highlighting and summarising may be popular techniques that we've probably all used at some stage in our studies. However, their popularity does not correlate with their effectiveness. I will explore the revision techniques that we could be utilising to make our studying more effective and efficient in future blog posts in this 'How To Study' series.