It’s not enough to reread your notes for the module.

It’s not enough to make a few flashcards and read them once or twice.

During your exam revision you must revise your course material more than once. You need to test yourself multiple times if you want high exam grades.

To explain why, let me introduce you to The Forgetting Curve.

The Forgetting Curve and its impact on your exam revision

Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist born in 1850. He spent his entire life studying how our memory works...and how we can improve it.

He recorded EVERYTHING - how many he got right, how long it took, the time between tests. He was able to chart his results and this led to the discovery of The Forgetting Curve.

exam revision-the-forgetting-curve

Image from 'Growth Engineering'

The second you learn something; your retention is 100%. But this information disappears exponentially from your memory over the next few days. This is why we often feel like we can’t remember what we studied a few days or weeks ago.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

The Forgetting Curve changes as you revise your material again and again.

exam revision-forgetting-curve-reviewed

Image from 'Education Corner'

With every review your retention goes back up to 100% - because it’s super fresh in your brain – but the curve is different. The decrease is A LOT shallower and you end up remembering more.

With each review of the material your memory becomes stronger and you can recall more.

And this is why it is SO important we review our course material more than once during revision.

Let me use an example to help.

How exam revision is like learning the words to a song

It’s Monday and you hear a new song on the radio. By the end you can almost sing along to parts of the chorus.

On Tuesday you hear the song again. You can sing along to those catchy lines like before but you can also get a few of the more memorable lines right. You decide to look up the lyrics and sing along with the track a few times.

On Wednesday you listen a few more times and you’re almost getting there – just the trickier too-quick parts left.

You wait a few days until Saturday where you play the song two or three times and you think you’ve got it down. With each new listen you pick up the nuances of the song – that high note, the difference in timing, the repeated part by the backing singer.

Through reviewing the song multiple times over multiple days in multiple ways (singing along and reading the lyrics) you’ve strengthened your memory of the song until you can recall it perfectly.

This is what you want to aim for in your revision. This is what’s possible.

3 ways to remember what you learn during your exam revision

1. Use spaced repetition
Spaced repetition is the process of testing your knowledge multiple times, at intervals dependent on how well you know the concept. This works on the premise that the best time to review a concept is right before you forget it.

For example, on a Monday you test your knowledge on topic X and then topic Y. You feel pretty confident with topic X so you don’t review this again until Friday. But you’re struggling to grasp topic Y so you review this on Tuesday.

As you review your material, make note of how confident you feel about each topic. Review your least confident material sooner and more often than the material you understand well.

This will GREATLY improve your exam revision and the amount you can recall in your exams.

2. Improve your encoding
It’s possible to boost your memory by 55% by including images with text in your exam revision material. This phenomenon is called the Pictorial Superiority Effect and I talk about it a bit more in another blog post you can check out here.

Basically, you will be able to recall more information if you add images to your flashcards, mindmaps and posters. Don’t worry if you’re no artist (me neither!) – try stick figures, charts, maps, doodles or flowcharts.


Image from 'Cool Infographics' by Randy Krum

3. Use mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices are memory tools to help you remember larger pieces of information from your exam revision. You probably use them in your day to day life without even knowing.

The colours of the rainbow = Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain = red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

If you’re struggling to remember a list or group on information, try to create your own mnemonic to help you.


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