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Are students revising wrong?

Are students revising wrong?

3 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep

As exam season draws closer, many students are frantically searching for the most efficient revision techniques that will maximise their learning and bring them success. Frustratingly, many students still don’t know what the best way to revise is and do revising wrong. Research suggests that, when asked, many students are unable to assess which revision techniques are the most effective.

What does the research say?

One fascinating study examined how students felt about their revision techniques. To assess this, students were told to learn lists of words. They had the choice to study the pairs several times or to look at each pair less but do lots of practice tests. They then had to make a judgement on how effective their revision technique was before doing their final test.

The researchers found that students wrongly believed that simply re-studying the list of pairs would be more effective than testing themselves. This chimes with other research that found that students preferred to re-read their study material, but that this technique actually led to lower exam results.

Re-reading vs testing results graphic, based on Roediger and Karpicke (2006)

What do these findings mean for student revision techniques?

These findings show that it is of paramount importance that, before starting their revision, students are educated about which techniques to use. Teachers should look to deter their students from simply re-reading information, as when doing so students often skim read the text and therefore fail to really process the information.

Instead, we should encourage students to do as much Retrieval Practice as possible. Testing yourself, where students answer questions on previously studied information, is one of the most effective ways to revise. Testing yourself can take many forms, including answering past papers, multiple choice quizzes and using flashcards. It is effective because requiring students to recall previously learnt information helps create stronger memory traces. This in turn increases the likelihood that information will be accurately recalled at a later date.

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Lesser-known (but still effective) revision techniques


Research has shown that drawing and sketching the answer to a question is an effective revision technique. This is because it requires students to translate a word into a new form, which encourages them to interact with the information. By deciding how best to represent it, it cements the knowledge in their mind. This makes the content more likely to be retrievable at a later date. Click here to find out more about using drawing as a revision technique.


This revision technique requires students to ask themselves questions that prompt them to explain to themselves the information they have learnt. By explaining the information to themselves, students are able to integrate new knowledge they have just learnt with their pre-existing knowledge, which embeds it into their long term memory. More information about self-explanation can be found on this blog.

Reading aloud

recent study demonstrated that reading information aloud is superior to reading it silently. This is thought to have occurred because translating content from one modality to another (from visual to auditory form) helps increase the likelihood of the information being successfully transferred to the long-term memory store. This is known as ‘The Production Effect’, which you can read more about here.

Final thought

As students enter exam season, it is important that they recognise and utilise the most effective revision techniques to avoid revising wrong. Testing yourself is one of the most efficient and best ways to learn. By doing what we know works, students give themselves the best chance of success as it means they are making good use of the precious time left before their exams.

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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