Revision can be something IB students do very well and in advance OR can be left until the very last minute. Tim Williams, an IB expert and teacher for OSC, has written a four part series on what you can still do to prepare for the exams.

Magical Revision Tip 3: ‘Now I know what, I know when – so how do I do revision?’ For you, less will have to be more.

Believe me – the worst thing you can do is start just re-reading your notes. The best is to do something with them and then start throwing them away.

Part 3: So how do I, like, do revision?

Most students just re-read their huge (or tiny) pile of notes. This makes you feel better – hey, look, I’m at my desk I am, I’m working!  But. Sorry. It’s pretty much useless. You’d be better spending the time getting some sleep. You’re just recognising stuff, and it has almost no effect on your ability to recall information. Don’t do it. Do these three things:

Change it. You know those loooong lessons when your teacher talked and talked at you and you tried oh so hard but eventually it all just started fading… and it was gone…. It was gone because if you don’t process information, turn it from one form to another, then it  hardly gets into your day long memory, let alone your long term memory (you know you have many kinds of memory? Ah. But that’s another post one day, and too late for you – sorry…). So if you just listen, or just read, or just watch, then it … goes away. You have to make notes, or turn it into pictures, or tell someone else what you’ve heard, or argue about it and re-phrase it, or something, so it gets processed. Then you have a much better chance of recalling it when needed – like in, say, two weeks’ time?

So, in those precious 20 minute sessions –  turn those eight pages of notes about the causes of WW2 into mind maps. Or spider diagrams. Or rude pictures. Or a single A4 page.

And then throw the original notes and handouts away. Really. Because that will stop you thinking you can revise it all again someday. It will make you get the important information into the new format. And you’ll get this really satisfying pile of paper to dump.


Picture it. You know you remember people’s faces, but not their names; what the picture in the Biology textbook looks like but not what the writing says; where the turning is but not the name of the street? That’s because your long term memory works by visual imagery. The adolescent’s memory for rude pictures is incredibly high. So turning your written notes into pictures is very effective. The picture doesn’t have to contain all the information – it mostly acts as a hook to bring connected memories to the surface.

In those 20 minute bursts – write the equations in lots of colours. Reduce notes to coloured post-its and put them round your house. Make rude pictures. Make acrostics with coloured capital letters.

Reduce it. Your memory works a bit like a net – lots of information is connected to other information, and if you get one knot or node, you remember lots of connected information. And approximately everything you really learnt is somewhere in your long term memory – you just can’t always find it. So you really don’t need to actually have all the information on a piece of paper – just enough to connect with other stuff in your head and help pull that up.

It’s a happy paradox – just the effort of thinking about what you don’t need to remember helps you remember it despite yourself!

In 20 minutes – work out what the five important facts are in that pile of ten pages of notes – put on a notecard. Actually take scissors to sheets of notes and cut out the redundant stuff. Put a big marker pen through pages. Reduce a whole unit to a single A3 page of notes. A single screenshot on your smartphone to send to your friend.

Hint: That hi-liting thing? Where you go through your notes marking ‘important stuff’ with a hi-liter? Pretty much a waste of time. Very slightly better than nothing maybe, but all those fluorescent yellow streaks just blend after a while. Basically it’s just re-reading with slightly more attention.

Hint: Use several different working methods in each 80 minute session. It’s more interesting so you can concentrate longer, and you’ll remember varied activities much better, with less effort.

Okay, so sometimes you really do just have to remember a hunk of important information (though actually the IB is very rarely testing how much you know / remember) . The next post is about three miracle ways to do that, if you must. And after that? How to use your friends’ minds for exams.