The school year may only just be starting, but that doesn’t mean you begin to worry – or at least think – about revising for exams.
Studying takes time and effort but, according to Tse Chi-shing, an Associate Professor at the Chinese University’s Department of Educational Psychology, if you use the right methods, you’ll find it much easier to revise and ace any tests that comes your way.
“Sometimes, if students don’t understand a concept, they will try to memorise stuff by rote … they don’t put in the effort to figure out what the concept means,” says Tse, who explained that memorising and repeating information isn’t the same as understanding it.
Instead, Tse suggested using a method called “retrieval practice” to revise materials for exams, and using a process of self-evaluation to test yourself on those topics.
“Every time we are studying and learning new concepts, we need to try connecting the new concepts with previous ones we have studied,” Tse explained. “You’re trying to recall, or retrieve, what you already know.”
“For example, if we are learning about a new concept in chemistry, we first need to recall what we have already learned in chemistry, and try to use that previous knowledge to help us make sense of the new information,” Tse explained.
He says that, as an examination requires students to recall information they have learned before, the practice trains a student how to remember something by retrieving it and thinking about it right now.
Tse used an example from his own experience to explain how to use the retrieval process: “When I was at university, I studied for a number of courses,” Tse said. “In the index page of the textbooks, there was a long list of vocabulary related that particular subject,” he said.
Tse used the vocabulary as a starting point to revise each concept: “[I would] try to remember what I had learned about this concept, what kind of experiments or theories are related to this concept, and I tried to recall them,” he explained.
At this point, the retrieval practise ties in with what Tse refers to as “self-testing”, where you need to evaluate how well you can recall the information you have learned before.
“When we recall information, we need to evaluate whether we understand it,” he said. “You’re trying to develop a sense of self-awareness about your learning.”
Tse said that whenever he failed to recall a concept properly as a student, he would then go back and try to fill in the gaps in his knowledge.
Tse also encouraged students to space out their revision, rather than trying to cram it all in just before an exam. “At the end of each class, it helps to quickly skim through all your class materials … if you spot a concept that you don’t understand very clearly, it’s best to try and figure out the meaning immediately,” Tse said. “After a week, you can go through the materials again, and see if you still remember the content.”
Although Tse believes the retrieval method is effective, he acknowledged that everyone’s study preferences will be different. “Students need to evaluate whether a particular study method really works best for them.”