Class Action: organising your revision notes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 10:25am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 10:25am

I am taking public exams this year. I have piles of revision notes and don't know where to start. Any advice?

In a previous article, I wrote about creating a revision timetable based on breaking down your courses into topics. Once this process has been completed, you need to assemble your course notes, study guides and textbooks.

Traditional note taking consists of creating pages of liner summaries of your work. There is a value to this technique, but we are going to enhance it. Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, the chances are that you remember the colours and images you have seen in your textbooks rather than the lines of text.

Having a topic overview which is clearly visible is much less daunting than a stack of A4 notes

The right side of the brain processes visual memories, and by engaging this capacity we can improve the efficiency of your revision.

Although it may seem like stating the obvious, before you do any work you need to make sure that you are in a quiet, clutter-free space.

Some people are inspired by seeing others working, so their study zone may be in a library surrounded by other students. If you are distracted by those around you, find a quiet space at home.

Remove temptations by turning off your phone and disable internet access on your computer. Equip yourself with pens, pencils, highlighters, and A3 and A4 paper and index cards.

The first thing we need to do is to move past the feeling that there is too much work to manage.

Start by taking one topic at a time and clear all other books from your desk. Remind yourself of the learning outcomes for the subject by referring to your syllabus. Highlight each main point as it will become a sub-topic which you can use to break down the course. Once you have done this, flick through your lesson notes and the relevant chapters in your course book to give yourself an overview of the information you will need to process.

We are going to use your notes to create a map for your topic which will act as a revision guide and an aide-memoire. Get a clean piece of A3 paper and, using a coloured pen, draw a box in the centre of the page in which you can write the name of the topic. From this centre, use another colour to draw a line to a box which will contain one of the sub-topics you took from your syllabus. Continue this process until you have added in all your topics and have created something which looks like a multicoloured spider.

Now take your course notes and, using the same colour, add in details and connect them with lines to the sub-topic box. The details may be facts, quotations, statistics, dates, formulae or quick notes. Once you have finished each section, use the colour to draw an enclosing shape which indicates to you that this area is completed. This technique will give you an instant overview of areas in which you might lack knowledge and those in which you are confident you have mastered.

The first time you create a revision map, the temptation is to include too much information. Try to resist by using key words, brief quotations and reducing long paragraphs to summaries. Your map can be redrawn and added to as you move through different topics. Add in cartoons, images and different shaped boxes to make your map more memorable.

Test the efficiency of your map by using the information to answer past exam questions. You may need to add in more key facts after this test but this is part of your revision process. In the past, my students have created maps for French verb tenses which they stuck on their bathroom mirrors, turning brushing their teeth into a revision exercise.

Once you have created your map, you can break it down onto index cards. The more familiar you are with them, the greater the chance you will recall the information in your exam.

This visual technique has served me well for the last 30 years. Having a topic overview is much less daunting that a stack of A4 notes and the colours and images add another dimension.

Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is director of the Brandon Learning Centre