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Exam season is looming. Paul Norton reveals his alternative revision tips

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 17, 2016 | School life

The tried-and-tested revision methods we hear each year; such as ‘start early,’ ‘organise a timetable’, and ‘schedule regular breaks’ are techniques that have been proven to work, but as teachers and school leaders it’s important to move with the times, and remember that effective teaching never uses a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

The beauty of working at an independent school is that we can create our own unique prospectus and focus on the individual interests and strengths of each pupil. We are able to embrace new technologies and build bespoke curriculums that are truly diverse, making education an interesting and engaging experience. Tailoring teaching in this way makes for effective schooling – and revision techniques should reflect this.

Make the most of media

There are plenty of online resources at our fingertips that offer pupils the opportunity to identify holes in their knowledge, work on improving their weaknesses and take online tests to monitor their progress. 

Cultural references from TV and film can also help ignite fresh interest in subjects like English literature, drama, or media studies. There’s a wealth of useful content on YouTube, with clips including modern adaptations of everything from Shakespeare to Hitchcock – which can help spark a renewed interest in set texts. It’s worth encouraging your pupils to find and share clips with each other, as they’re likely to talk about their insights into the topic, thinking about underlying messages and themes that help them understand the work they’re studying.

Online resources can be a valuable revision aid

Go dark

Having said that, technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to revision. While it can be a useful tool for studying, it’s also a massive source of distracting material. Pupils should limit the time spent aimlessly browsing and focus on one task at a time. One useful tool worth mentioning is Dark Room – the software encourages you focus on the task at hand by filling your screen with a text document of your choice, preventing you from accessing the internet when they should be working. 

Switch off 

Phones are another irresistible source of distraction with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp all vying for teenager’s attention. As a starter for ten, notifications should be muted and phones should be switched to silent. To avoid the temptation of checking anyway, it’s best to suggest putting the phone in a drawer or somewhere out of sight. Teenagers can find it especially hard to go for long periods of time without checking their phones, often feeling they’re missing out on what’s going on in the world around them. The “Pomodoro technique” is a great solution to this, and suggests breaking down revision to 35 minutes of focused work, broken by five-minute intervals. Each interval gives youngsters a brief window of time to spend doing whatever they want – be it texting their friends or sending a tweet.  

Netflix and chill (out)

Taking a break following a hard day spent revising is just as important as the revision itself. Youngsters should feel able to reward themselves with a well-earned treat after accomplishing a goal, such as memorising a set of information, or revising solidly for a set amount of time. Suggest that they treat themselves to 10 minutes of checking social media, or have something lined up to watch on Netflix as a reward for reaching a milestone. (Just make sure they switch off after one episode!) 

Respond to the right

The right side of the brain, that is. This is the part of the brain that governs emotional thought, as opposed to order and logic. It’s important to remember that the pressure of impending exams can leave pupils feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed and sometimes they need something other than pragmatic advice and practical solutions. In this instance, it’s all about encouragement, reassurance, and perspective. As important as they are, exams aren’t the be-all and end-all and each pupil is a unique individual with talents and interests that are specific to them. 

While a transition from a state secondary school to an independent sixth form can be a daunting experience, with the right support and encouragement it can do wonders for a young person’s academic and personal progress. 

Paul Norton is Principal of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff

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