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Can drawing boost student revision?

Can drawing boost student revision?

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep
  • The science of learning

We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” – and it seems as though this may even be true for student revision.

Recent research has shown that the simple act of drawing can not only enhance students’ memory of individual words but also textbook definitions. This subsequently leads to improved academic performance. So how can drawing boost student revision?

Why students should draw their revision

Research has shown that, in order to create a drawing from a word, students have to elaborate on its meaning. They have to really consider the word to decipher how best to represent it, create the necessary motor movements with a pencil and use pictorial processing to inspect their drawing once it’s finished. All of these actions allow for the creation of stronger memory traces, which makes retrieval at a later stage much easier. Therefore, when revising, students should be looking to interact with the material in as many different ways as possible.

Which revision technique can drawing replace?

Students often just sit and copy their notes from their textbook word for word. However, this strategy is one of the worst revision techniques, as it does not require students to elaborate on the information, unlike drawing. This reduces the likelihood that they can retrieve the material later.  

Drawing has also been proven to be a much more effective revision technique than visualisation. In one particular study, participants were asked to either visualise or draw a picture of a study word, before having their ability to recall the information tested. The researchers found that drawing led to much higher levels of recall than visualisation alone.

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How else can students maximise revision time?

Use Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a technique that requires students to generate an answer to a question. This can take many forms, including past papers, multiple choice questions and flashcardsRetrieval practice has consistently been proven to be an effective technique, as encouraging students to recall previously learnt information regularly allows stronger memory traces to be created. This strategy can also help reduce the debilitating effects of test anxiety.

Space out their learning

Spacing, where students spread out their revision over a period of time, has been proven to be a much more effective technique than cramming. Some studies have found that this strategy makes a difference of 10 to 30% in their final exam. If students want to reap the rewards that spacing brings, they need to ensure that they start their revision early enough and plan exactly when they are going to learn the necessary information (bearing in mind that it is likely that they will underestimate the time taken to complete tasks).

Put their phones away

Many young people believe that they can effectively multi-task, revising and using their phone at the same time. However, research has proven multi-tasking to be impossible. Doing so causes them to make errors, as well as reducing their productivity, because time and energy is wasted switching from one task to another.

In order to improve the efficiency of their revision, students could leave their phone in another room or give it to a trusted adult to look after. Even if it is on standby next to them, its mere presence is enough to cause a 20% decrease in performance.

Get enough sleep

When revising, it is very important that students get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep, as sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on memory. Research has shown that sleep gives the brain the opportunity to form new connections between brain cells, as well as prioritise the most important information, increasing the likelihood that students will be able to retrieve the necessary material in the exam. Sleep deprivation can also have a negative impact on concentration – students are more easily distracted or absent-minded when tired.

Final thought

Drawing is a relatively underused revision technique that many students would never consider. However, recent research suggests that all students should experiment with drawing – through the integration of several modes of representation, this technique facilitates the creation of stronger memory traces. However, like all revision techniques, drawing should not be used in isolation despite its effectiveness, and students should consider using Retrieval Practice and spacing alongside it.

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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