Senior School News

Study Skills

A few weeks ago, we ran a parent workshop based around the theme of study skills and this edition of the Lions Roar contains a summary of the key principles from that session. If you have been an avid reader of the Lion’s Roar over the last few years, you may recognize large sections of this article; I make no apologies for that as study skills are essential for academic success at BSM and beyond, and this information will help you support your child when they are studying at home.

We are focusing on this area of learning during Term 1 to ensure that parents and students are fully equipped with essential information about the most effective ways to study prior to Mock Examinations in January. You may be surprised to know that many ‘favourite’ study techniques that you have probably used in the past are actually the least effective, whilst a strong body of research evidence suggests that other techniques that you may be less familiar with are more effective. Read on to find out how to study most effectively!

Firstly, let’s consider the techniques that are least effective… These include highlighting, rereading and summarising. I am sure we are all guilty of using these techniques in the past, but they really should be avoided as other things work more effectively. Your children are being given this advice through their PSHE study skills sessions and we would en- courage you to reinforce these messages at home, however tempting it might be to rely on these least effective techniques.

Now we know what to avoid we need to consider the most efficient way to structure study time and home, along with specific revision techniques to use instead of highlighting, rereading and summarising.

The following graphs and information is based on research by Pauk and Owens (2013) ‘How to study in college (11th Edition)’ and is a rerun of an article I have shared with parents via the Lion’s Roar over the last couple of years.

How should you revise?
If you just sit down to revise, without a definite finishing time, then learning efficiency falls lower and lower, like this:

If you decide at the beginning how long you will work for (with a clock), as your brain knows the end is coming, the
graph rises towards the end:

If you break up a 2-hour session, into 4 shorter sessions, each of about 25-minutes, with a short planned break between
them, then it is even better:

The yellow area shows the improvement obtained by revising in 4 shorter sessions, rather than one longer session. Suppose you start work at 6 pm… You should decide, looking at your clock or watch, to stop at 6.25 pm and no later. Then at 6.25 pm have a break for 5-10 minutes. When you start again, look at the clock and decide to work until 7 pm exactly, and then have another break. This way, you are working most efficiently.

How often should I revise?
The graph below shows how much your brain can recall later. It rises for about 10 minutes and then falls:

If you quickly re-revise after 10 minutes, then it falls more slowly. The pink area on the graph below shows that re- revising after 10 minutes can significantly improve long term recall. We recommend that students re-revise material covered during the first 25 minute session at the start of their second 25 minute revision session.

If you re-revise again, after 1 day then the long term recall improves further, as demonstrated by the following graph:

If you re-revise again, after 1 week then the long term recall improves even further, as demonstrated by the following graph:

So the best intervals for ‘topping-up’, by reviewing or briefly re-revising are:

  • 10 minutes
  • 1 day
  • 1 week
  • 1 month

In addition to the best ways to structure their time, there are some techniques students can use to help them with their revision.

Retrieval Practice:

  1. Read a text for 5 minutes (time yourself)
  2. Take a minute break
  3. Now try and write down everything you can – try to remember the main points and concepts. Give yourself 5-10 minutes for this.
  4. Do not look at the text
  5. Repeat task 3 four times
  6. Now look back at your notes. Were there any things you missed or recalled incorrectly.

Read, Recite, Review

  1. Choose a text
  2. Read the text – aim for 5-10 minutes of reading
  3. Set the text aside and recite out loud all the you can remember of the main points
  4. Now review the text, targeting any gaps in your recall and comprehension revealed by the recitation.

Interleaving Practice

  • Don’t practice one skill in isolation, but mix it up with other skills you are trying to practice i.e. skill A then B, then C, returning to A again and continuing the cycle.

The following techniques are helpful ways to remember information and facts (based on an article by Willingham “What will improve a student’s memory”, 2008):

  • Create an Acronym i.e. the Great Lakes can be remembered via HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
  • Music or rhymes – the to-be-remembered material is set to a familiar tune, set to a rhythm or made into a rhyme.
  • Method of Loci – this technique is useful for memorizing lists of unrelated items in order by committing a ‘mental walk’ to memory. Select a familiar route with clear identifiable locations on the route and then associate each item on the list with a location on the mental walk.

There are many other techniques, but these are a very good starting point. For these techniques to be used effectively, multi-tasking must be avoided. Help your child find a suitable study space away from all distractions, including electronic distractions. Using a timer for each revision period, after which your child can have a small reward i.e. a short break, a biscuit.

Please encourage your children to follow the advice shared as it is proven to be an effective way to revise. In addition to this, you can support them in a number of other ways:

  • Take an interest in your child’s work. Find out what grades they achieved in their mock examinations / most recent assessments and discuss with them what they need to do to improve this further.
  • Support your child as he / she prepares a clear revision schedule. Ensure that time is devoted to all subjects and topics. Revision should start early and cramming should be avoided.
  • Ensure your child eats a healthy diet. Research indicates that diet can play an important role in aiding levels of concentration, which in turn helps learning and revision.
  • Ensure your child undertakes regular exercise. This also will help aid concentration and focus during revision times.
  • Make sure that time for some relaxation is built into the schedule. Whilst some pressure and stress can be very motivating, too much can inhibit the ability to learn and retain information. Helping your child get the balance right is very important.
  • Ensure that your child gets plenty of sleep. Students aged between 15 and 18 need between 7 and 8 hours a night. This sleep will be most beneficial if your child is relaxed before going to sleep. Try to avoid completing school work and using mobile technology before going to bed as this can affect the quality of sleep. Recreational reading for 20-30 minutes is a good way to relax and ensure that sleep is productive.
  • Encourage your child to contact their subject teacher if they need additional support with a particular topic or question.

We hope that this information will help you as parents to support your children with their study skills. Revising effectively, eating well, exercising regularly and sleeping well, will all give your children the best chance of academic success.

Next week is Week A.

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