How should students revise? A brief guide

One of the biggest lessons from research is that many students don’t really know how to study. Various studies have shown that students rate re-reading and highlighting as the most effective ways of revising when in reality they are often a waste of time giving an illusion of competence in the short term at the expense of long term gains.

Students may spend large amounts of additional time studying despite no gain in later memory for the items, a phenomenon called ‘‘labour-in-vain’’ during learning (Nelson & Leonesio,1988). Recent research with educationally relevant materials has shown that repeatedly reading prose passages produces limited benefits beyond a single reading. (Karpicke, Roediger, Butler, 2009)

In contrast, retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving are some of the most productive ways of revising material but how many students are familiar with this? I think there is often a tendency to focus too much on what teachers are doing and less on what students are doing.

Recently I got the chance to talk to some year 10 students from across our partnership of schools about study skills and I put together a brief guide to help them. The idea was to introduce them to five powerful approaches to studying in a language they can understand with the opportunity to apply them to a period of revision designed by them. All materials are below.

Thanks to the brilliant Olivier Cavigioli for the illustrations and design.

Wellington College Study Guide-page-002
Wellington College Study Guide-page-003
Wellington College Study Guide-page-004
Wellington College Study Guide-page-005
Wellington College Study Guide-page-006 (2)

Once you talk students through these key principles, you can get them to plan their revision using a revision planner like this depending on how much time they have left:

study timetable template pdf-page-001

You can download all materials here:

Study Guide

study timetable template

Further reading:

Dunlosky et al, ‘Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology’ 2013

Karpicke, Roediger, Butler ‘Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?’ 2009

Koriat, Bjork ‘Illusions of Competence in Monitoring One’s Knowledge During Study’ 2005


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  9. Nicky Hawkins

    We would love to adapt the Wellington Study Guide for use this within our own organisation.
    Are you happy for it to be used as is? Or can we credit you somehow?


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