Joe’s Jotter: How Summaries and Self-Testing will Prove Worthwhile

As students adjust to the reality that they must now try to find the best ways to study at home that suit them, the two main pieces of advice I have for you this week are timely. These are the benefits of re-writing your own key notes and testing yourself at home.

Just reading through your textbook is not an effective form of revision; we need to be clear on this. I strongly believe you need to actively engage with a piece of text, and this involves making some notes at the side, underlining in red or green, highlighting or maybe even just making markings on the page to signify whats Important. Successful students constantly summarise notes into something manageable and run little tests at home to monitor their progress. I will now detail the reasons why I believe having your own summaries and self-testing will improve grades. I also will discuss the importance of adding variety in your revision. This is definitely more in focus now due to the current ‘home constraints’.

Re-write your own key notes

Re-writing your notes is a study method that has been tried and tested over many years and I feel it is one of the best. To recall information later, it is vital that you make good notes and highlight core Information, both in class and during home revision. Re-writing these initial notes later copper fastens what you think are they key elements of what you have flagged. Doing this is a really good way of getting facts to ‘stick’ and will help you learn faster. Rewriting notes in your own words is a short cut to understanding material on your course; as writing something down forces one to think more about the subject matter, thereby increasing retention of that information.

The key to doing well in exams is adaptability and being able to think critically about topics in the exam hall. If you can adjust to change, cope with the unseen poem or unusual Maths diagram, the examiner will view you as standing apart from the rest. Your key notes should reflect you viewing a topic from all angles; finding holes in it, praising it, picking out the main points from it, seeing where it links with other topics and most importantly, evaluating its usefulness. An insightful set of key notes have delivered excellent grades for my students over many years.

How to Self-Test

We are never sure we understand something until we are properly tested on it. Am I correct? You don’t need to wait for class tests or mock exams to see how you are progressing in each subject; you can examine yourself at home. You can start off by testing yourself on one full exam question, ensuring you follow the time allowed. Eventually you can build up to sitting a full past exam paper under the time pressure of a real exam.

There is no substitute for doing past exam questions within an allocated time. The students who do one exam question a day (no matter how small it is) are very tuned in to whats required once exam day arrives. At this point, ask your class teacher to give you some extra class tests or unusual past exam questions so that you can try them under these conditions.

During exam revision times, it can be difficult to find a friend or family member to quiz you, which is why you may need to do it yourself. Learn how to test yourself and do it in as many ways that you can. These include setting questions, answering revision questions at the end of each chapter in your textbook or practising do-able past exam questions.

Quizzes are a brilliant way of making sure that all the information you need for your exams has been completely covered. Ask your friend to write you a quiz; they may think of an angle on a topic that you won’t. Re-do last years’ class tests that your teacher set for you. Your parents can help too by examining you on material you need to remember i.e. facts or bullet points. My own mother was extremely good at this; helping me improve in subjects I wasn’t amazing at, namely History and Irish.

Use Variety in your Revision

Ongoing creation of revision cards in your subject will greatly enhance your learning. This type of revision is now very popular with students. Make revision posters, laminate them, and stick them in the shower, the bathroom, the kitchen; everywhere. When writing revision cards, split the card in two and write short phrases on one side and its explanation in your own words on the other. Colour code your quotes, dates, names, and theories. Keep the colours consistent so that you will recognise them easily. Developing your own colour coding system for topics will help you recall information quicker. Find out what works for you and repeat the trick. Every year, I see former leaving certs passing on notes to their friends. This has some obvious advantages, but there is no substitute for writing your own set of notes. Writing a summary of existing information switches your brain into content analysis mode and you will remember much more of the notes you write, compared to reading and trying to understand someone else’s.

Surround yourself with positive people in exam year. Without sounding harsh, sometimes you are better off without ‘friends’ that let you down. To quote the author Hans F. Hanson:

“People inspire you, or they drain you – pick them wisely”.

Friends who are always in good form can really give you a lift. If your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend aren’t supportive of your work and aren’t giving you room to prepare properly for your exams, it may be a warning sign of where the relationship is going down the line. The opposite can also be true. In this regard, every day is a school day. Joe

To view last weeks feature on ‘The ACE Guide to Exam Prep from Home (Part 3)’,  click here.

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W: acesolutionbooks.com
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© Joe McCormack 2021