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Revision techniques

There are many revision techniques to choose from. You may feel that one technique may be more suitable to your natural learning style but using a variety of techniques helps your brain learn in different ways. In addition, some techniques may match the subject matter you are learning better than others (for example, line diagrams are useful to display complex processes). However, it's probably better to avoid new techniques too close to the exam.

In the following video, two OU students explain their different approaches to revision.

Matthew and Katherine's advice on taking notes

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Matthew (student): I think everyone probably has their own system. My system is to read through the chapter and on reading through just make a note of the things I think are the important points. And then I can go back and look at that, condensing it down into the more salient points of what they want you to learn, I think.

But people have different ways of doing it. I know a lot of people do draw diagrams and all that sort of stuff. I don't do that myself.

Katherine (student): When I'm doing my note-taking or the underlining, it is very much a way of interacting with the text as I go through it. I think it helps focus my attention so that going through it that first time is more productive. It sometimes means that I'll highlight things I later realise well they weren't as important. But I don't generally read the text more than once because I tend to take in a lot just from reading.

And the note-taking is really a physical anchor to help focus my attention while I'm reading and a mnemonic device to come back into it later. And I will re-read sections later when I'm doing research for an assignment or revising. But when I'm just trying to absorb the text I tend to just go through once.

Matthew: It's important to take a break every now and again. And refresh your mind. Go and look out the window or something like that. Not keep staring at the page because sometimes that can make it worse to try and take in what's on it. There were bits in the short course that didn't immediately make sense to me because my brain isn't a very sciencey brain. It's more artistic. So I had to make myself understand some of the things.

Learning Consultant, Anna, describes some note-taking techniques and encourages students to choose one that suits their particular module.

Strategies for note-taking

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Anna (Learning Consultant): There are quite a number of different strategies for note-taking, and you'll find the one that helps you the most, because people learn in different ways.

This can depend both on you, but also on the subject you're studying, or indeed on the particular section that you're at in that subject, because you could find for a part of the text includes a lot of description, it might be better to do one form of note-taking, but maybe if you're looking at interpreting data, you need another form of note-taking.

So a good idea is to try each of the types of note-taking out first and find out which one's the best one for you. And to do this, if you maybe find a long and fairly complex article in a broadsheet newspaper, and work through that trying different methods for note-taking, that'll tell you which one's best for you in different situations.

With all the forms of note-taking, it's important that you stop regularly to review what you're doing and to write your notes, and just to keep an eye on how you're doing. Otherwise you could find you could read a whole load of text, and then notice that you haven't really taken the right notes, or that you actually don't understand the subject as a whole.

The mindmap strategy for note-taking is extremely useful if you can remember charts in your head, which a lot of students can. Now these could be in the form of maybe spider diagrams, where you've got a central box and then you've got all the linking concepts coming off from that. Or it could be more complicated. But it is an extremely good way of just looking at how things are connected, and this is particularly useful when you're getting an overview of a particular block, because it's showing how all the different themes link together.

Linear note-taking is very good for descriptive text. Generally it means that you're writing quite a lot of words, but often not in full sentences - maybe bullet points. You're underlining, and you're using abbreviations.

I think, like all forms of note-taking, it's a method of bringing out the main points and concepts, or themes and it’s a particularly good way of using your notes for revision, because you can then précis the notes onto index cards, and file them under particular themes or particular concept areas. And that'll help you enormously when you revise for your exam.

The tabular form of note-taking I suppose in a way is a combination of both the linear form and also the flowchart, because you're writing it in words, so you're using quite a lot of words, but you're putting it within a chart to characterise the ideas - and that'll help you to organise your thoughts as well.

Another method for note-taking is using images or other visual representations. This could perhaps range from using formulae, maybe if you're studying maths or science, to maybe using a picture which embodies a concept that you would find difficult to describe in words. For an example, if you're looking at a subject like globalisation, you could see in your mind's eye a picture of a third world village, and then perhaps a television in the centre of the shack, and that image in itself will probably help you to remember what globalisation is.

Here's a summary list of Revision techniques (DOCX, 72 KB) - print it out and hang it on your wall near your study area. There's more detail about these techniques within this section.

Last updated 1 month ago