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Revision techniques

Summarising your work

Creating a cogent précis of your studies does two useful things: it forces you to understand the subject matter you are summarising and it creates condensed versions of the subject matter that you can then review repeatedly before your exam.

Summary tables

Use tabular summaries to gather various pieces of information. Summary tables are an effective revision technique and a great way to compare or evaluate competing theories, grammatical rules or examples of themes in different parts of your study material. You can use a table like the ones shown below. Change the number of columns or rows for your own work, but keep them fairly simple so you can remember them in the exam.

Tabular summaries are extremely valuable because they convert broad themes and the detailed discussions into a more manageable form.

Example 1, a tabular summary grid
Block 1 Block 2
Theme 1
Theme 2
Example 2 of a tabular summary grid
Strengths Weaknesses Comments
Theory 1
Theory 2
Theory 3

Reviewing your study notes and working out which topics might require more detailed revision work is an important part of the the revision process.

To get started with revision I normally revisit my notes, from the course. I'll check if there's any area that I haven't made a lot of notes, if any perhaps. Or the areas where I have got copious notes I'll start to cut them down, and so you end up with a smaller volume of the more specific points.

Student, Ged's, advice for revising

Try creating a tabular summary of an overarching topic by following these steps.

  1. Summarise your notes on the topic from the various sources you have collected together.
  2. Draw together the main points from these notes, using headings and key points.
  3. Try to reduce these notes further to one side of A4 paper, using only the main headings and a few associated key words.

Index cards

Notes on index cards are particularly handy as you can carry them with you and review them in odd moments or for testing yourself - perhaps on a train or bus, or while waiting in a queue in the supermarket.

Summarise your topic in a few words. Using your own words means you process the information, which improves your understanding and your memory. Keep the notes brief to act as prompts.

Organise your notes in new ways on the cards - perhaps providing an overview of a topic on one, and then notes around sub-topics on others. Try using colour as an aid to memory.

In this video, Lynn, an OU student, discusses which techniques she uses during her revision. She uses reminder cards (or 'index cards') and makes sure she attends the study day.

Lynn's advice on revision techniques

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Revision is very hard I've found. And I just read my notes. All the notes that I'd written throughout the year. And I made notes on cards too. So I had these reminder cards that I could just go through. And I went to the Study Day. The Study Day that the Social Sciences tutors run is very good. And I went on that. And that was two hours on each book which was really good. But it's just really constantly going over it. And talking about it with friends and family if they've got the patience to listen to you.

Use your assignments

Assignments can be a very useful starting point for producing summaries. Look through them and reduce the assignment by making summary sheets or cards for use in your revision. As you do so, compare exam and assignment questions on the same topic. How do the questions differ? What would the differences be (if any) between an assignment and exam answer on the same topic?

You might find that 'Outline view', if you use Microsoft Word, helps you to quickly scan through Word documents and find useful material. Using styles, outlines and table of contents in Microsoft Word.

Last updated 3 months ago