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4 mistakes students should avoid during revision

4 mistakes students should avoid during revision

5 min read
  • Phones & technology
  • Sleep
  • Study skills & exam prep

Revision plays a pivotal role in the learning process. It isn’t just about students cramming information into their brain to do well in an upcoming assessment – it’s the process of cementing that knowledge in their mind for the long term.

But not all revision techniques are created equal. There are some common traps that students often fall into during their revision journey. These pitfalls can create hurdles in their learning path and jeopardise information retention.

Read on to find out more about:

  • The importance of independent learning
  • The negative impact of mobile phones on learning
  • Whether students should listen to music while studying
  • The pitfalls of cramming
  • The key role sleep plays

The importance of independent learning

Before we delve into four specific revision mistakes, it’s important to highlight the significance of fostering independent learning skills in students.

Independent learning is when students take responsibility for their own learning, which is why many consider it as the “Holy Grail” of education. This is the form of learning all students strive towards, where they have more control over their time and can decide how and when they spend their time studying.

However, students first need to learn the skills that will enable them to become independent learners. With this in mind, let’s explore the potential obstacles students may encounter during their revision process and how we can support them in overcoming these.

Ignite your students’ independent academic potential with our engaging and interactive student study skills workshops.

1. Letting their phone distract them

In today’s digital age, smartphones are ever present throughout the learning process, presenting both opportunities and challenges for students. During revision, the temptation to reach for their phones can be overwhelming, leading to distractions that disrupt their focus and concentration.

Research suggests that frequent multi-tasking with digital devices can reduce cognitive performance and impair learning outcomes. Further research has shown that even when students study near their phone, it reduces their concentration, making it harder to study – even if they weren’t even using their phones.

The research shows that phones are clearly detrimental when revising, so how can students reduce their screen time to make their revision time more efficient?

Well, research suggests one way is to advise students to change their phone screens to greyscale, with participants who did so reducing their screentime by 2 hours. Making their phones not as visually stimulating makes them device less appealing. However, it’s important to note this isn’t a long-term solution, as students can easily change their phone screens back.

Further research has highlighted that creating designated study environments free from electronic interruptions can be beneficial. Additionally, promoting the use of productivity apps that limit phone usage during study periods has shown promising results in enhancing students’ ability to concentrate during academic tasks.

To find out more ways to help your students revise better by managing their phones, have a read of our blog, 5 ways to manage your phone better.

2. Listening to music while studying

While music can be a source of comfort and relaxation, its impact on cognitive processes during revision requires careful consideration. Cognitive Load Theory suggests that the brain has limited capacity for processing information, and external stimuli such as music can contribute to cognitive overload, particularly when engaging in complex tasks like studying.

Research has highlighted that listening to music with lyrics can disrupt verbal working memory, which can in turn potentially hinder a student’s ability to retain and recall information. These findings further emphasise the potential detrimental effects of lyrical music on cognitive functions that are essential for effective revision.

To address this challenge, encourage your students to choose instrumental music or ambient sounds (or even better, study in silence) to create a more conducive study environment without overloading cognitive demands. This means they are supporting their revision by minimising the negative impact of music on cognitive processes.

We will teach your students to thrive under pressure with key stress management skills. Ideal in the lead up to exams.

3. Cramming instead of spacing

Cramming before an exam is a well-known practice among students. However, studies consistently highlight the effectiveness of Spaced Practice over massed practice for long-term knowledge retention.

The Spacing Effect points out that spreading study sessions over time results in stronger memory retention, which has been supported by many studies. Research found that students who used Spaced Practice performed better in both immediate and delayed tests compared to those who crammed. Similarly, one study showed that learners who used Spacing had better long-term recall.

So how can you encourage your students to drop cramming and invest in Spacing?

  1.  Chunk information – Breaking information down into smaller chunks can help stop students from being overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to study. 
  2.  Mix and match concepts – Instead of focusing on one concept for an extended amount of time and not revisiting it again, students should look at different concepts in each studying session. This is similar to Interleaving.

To get more tips on how to guide your students during Spacing, have a read of our blog, What is the Spacing Effect? 

4. Not getting enough sleep

With the pressures of school life, students might neglect their sleep schedule, oblivious to the influence it has on their cognitive capabilities. While students are usually recommended to get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep a night, one survey found that students on average are only getting less than 6h45. This means most students are sleep-deprived.

Sleep deprivation can undermine cognitive functions including attention, memory, and decision making processes. Further studies have demonstrated how it affects almost all cognitive capacities. Certain aspects of cognition are more susceptible to the effects of sleep loss, which notably includes executive function. Research suggests that there is a difference of half a grade between students who have slept well and those who haven’t.

Students’ hard work won’t pay off if they are not sufficiently rested. Students who sleep the required amount in a night are more likely to have:

  1. Better concentration – Research has found that it is easier to be distracted and absent-minded when we are tired.
  2. Better memory – When we sleep, we form new connections between our brain cells. Therefore the information we learn gets consolidated whilst we sleep.
  3. Higher creativity – Getting a good night’s sleep can aid creativity and improve insightfulness.

If you would like to find out more ways sleep can help revision, have a read of our blog, 5 ways sleep helps revision.

Final thoughts

By acknowledging the potential pitfalls of distractions, cognitive load, revision strategies and well-being, we can proactively guide our students toward effective study habits.

By educating your students about the things to avoid when revising, you can promote effective revision. By doing so, you can equip your students with a vital tool for academic success: the ability to work independently

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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