As students across Hong Kong continue to crack the books during the exam season we look at the science behind revision, exploring what actually has an impact on attention spans, information retention and results. It is believed that in the UK, around 27% of boys and 39% of girls regularly skip breakfast (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/aug/16/third-pupils-skip-breakfast). Not only does this imply an inherent and troubling dissatisfaction with physical appearance, or time constraints that are so severe students don’t even have time to eat, it is also a disaster for those trying to revise. Research indicates that skipping breakfast significantly reduces attention spans (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666303001314). The work also suggested that having a “proper” breakfast was the best approach, and that simply replacing the meal with a sugary drink wasn’t sufficient.
This next tip should be obvious: put your phone away. A 2015 study of US college students revealed that students who spent more time texting and using social media got lower grades (http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/1/2158244015573169). One study suggested that the mere sight of a phone was enough to reduce attention spans (http://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/abs/10.1027/1864-9335/a000216). This was linked to “fear of missing out. Neither study noted whether being online while you’re trying to study had the same impact as being constantly connected to your phone, but it is reasonable to guess that using your laptop for Facebook rather than BBC Bitesize is likely to have similar effects. If you are studying online and lack the ability to resist, consider blocking websites like Youtube during certain hours of the day. You can also give your phone to someone else while you study if you think you will be tempted.
It should also seem obvious that those who start their revision early and spread it out do better than those that try to cram (http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-Makes-Great-Teaching-REPORT.pdf). This method, sometimes referred to as “spacing” allows the brain to forget and re-learn things for greater fact retention. This method can be effectively supplemented with self-testing (http://psi.sagepub.com/content/14/1/4.full.pdf+html?ijkey=Z10jaVH/60XQM&keytype=ref&siteid=sppsi), which researchers consider one of the most helpful ways to improve memory. This can take the shape of practice papers or quizzes at the end of your revision session. This may be the last thing you feel like doing, but the science shows that you’re doing yourself a big favour.
Lastly, we’d like to introduce you to the “Protégé Effect” (http://ideas.time.com/2011/11/30/the-protege-effect/). This involves teaching what you have learned to others, once you are sure of the information yourself. This is one of the reasons why study groups can be so effective. Teaching others requires you to become confident with your material, before organising it and explaining it to others in a structured manner. So now we’ve done all we can to make it a little easier for you, it’s time to go and do some of the work for yourself.
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