For the record....
Record cards; small lifesavers for revision
When I was doing my GCSEs a very, very long time ago, I had to take three papers in science. "Co-Ordinated Science" was the misleading title given to this subject, which counted as two whole GCSEs.
My notes amounted to three... yes, three... level arch files. I looked at those files come revision time in abject horror. I was 16. How was I going to learn ALL OF THAT MATERIAL??
Then a friendly teacher told me that what I needed to do was "synthesise" the information. As a child of the 1980s, this confused me. What, was I meant to feed it into a computer, and then, like a brilliant Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys song, something beautiful yet logical and precise would come out?
The sympathetic teacher then explained; by reducing the information to essentials, summarising, and removing verbiage, I would have a far more simple and manageable amount of material to learn. The teacher suggested small record cards.
Knowing that 3 level arch files would be the death of me, I was willing to try anything. With six weeks to go before the exams I asked my parents to buy some record cards... I remember the trip to WHSmith on Hounslow High Street... Thankfully nobody else had taken our kindly teacher's advice and the record card packs were there for me to purchase!
I wrote cards out, where necessary I drew diagrams. Where the diagrams were too complex, I photocopied them from books, cut them out, pasted them to the cards and annotated them....
Slowly I found myself learning the material. Probably more from the actual process of sifting and really thinking about the information to make the cards more so than the revision from the cards once they were made.
I found a technique which worked. I got AA in Co-ordinated science. Just don't ask me anything about science now. I don't have the faintest idea. My box of record cards is at my mum and dad's house where I left it...
I hear my BPTC students ask "Wow, Snigdha, thanks for the trip down memory lane. But how does this help us?"
This method can be used by ANYONE for ANY SUBJECT.
Let's have a look at a couple of civil litigation revision cards by Zara McGlone:
Note the unifying features:
- A lack of unnecessary words
- Bullet point expression
- Use of colour coding
- Underlining of key information
- Use of indentation to show internal structure - topic, subtopic and relative ranking of information
- Clear hierarchy and relationship to the syllabus
I asked Zara to explain her technique. Here is what she told me:
"I've used various revision methods in the past, but when it comes to exams where there's a lot of material to learn, rather than necessarily lots of detailed analysis, I find note cards really useful. I think that I learn through a combination of lists and visual aids; using note cards means that I both number the things I have to learn (e.g. for Civil Lit, the seven different types of service in the jurisdiction), and picture them on the card when I come to test myself on them.
I also think that the physical act of writing out note cards helps to start fixing the facts in my head. I use colours to try and highlight certain things or key words, such as the necessary statutes or provisions of the CPR, which assists on a visual level. In addition to all that, the portable size makes learning seem more manageable and makes it easier to try and use tube journeys to revise - or at least harder to avoid using that time!"
Research has proven that "self testing" is the most effective form of studying for information retention, so Zara's method is in line with current thinking on maximising learning and memory.
I would also advocate her "multi-source" approach; record cards, lists, self tests, other visual aids. The more multi sensory and immersive your revision, the more effective it will be.
I would also say that my experience tells me I remember more of what I write or draw than I type. I will remember more about the diagram of the eye in cross section that I drew up when I was 16 in a couple of months time than this blog post after I upload it.
Finally, the portability and manageability of revision cards make them ideal. They can be tucked into a bag, referred to on a bus, tube or train journey. They don't take up space or weigh too much, so you can carry them everywhere. The very fact they are small means they are not daunting. Much better to have some small cards than 3 lever arch files, right?
That's exactly what I thought!
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Zara McGlone for her help and assistance with this blog post. Without her, it would never have been possible. Thank you very much.