Active vs Passive revision – picking the right methods!

Active vs Passive revision – picking the right methods!

Active revision is much more effective than passive revision.

Passive revision is stuff like reading notes, and copying things from a textbook. Active revision is all about using and organising information.

Most students tend to end up doing this kind of revision because they don’t know a better way to do it. It’s also the simplest and least scary method.

Trouble is, that kind of revision leads more to recognition than to recall. They will probably feel like they ‘know’ stuff, because their notes are getting familiar, and they recognise it, but when you ask them to cover up their notes and tell you all about a topic… uh-oh.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for revising like this, but I am saying it SHOULD NOT be the only method they use.

Ways to be more active when revising:

  1. Looking for underlying themes or principles.
  2. Thinking about inter-relationships. How do things link together?
  3. Relating what you are learning to ‘real-life’ situations.
  4. Thinking how the solution to one problem may help you solve others.
  5. Organising material into a hierarchical structure.
  6. Creating a diagram or chart to represent a topic.
  7. Looking for similarities or differences.
  8. Looking for points for and against an argument.
  9. Trying to really understand how formulae work.
  10. Critically evaluating what you are learning.
  11. Discussing topics with a friend.
  12. Testing your knowledge with flashcards
  13. Creating quizzes to test yourself
  14. Answering past paper questions
  15. Making a mindmap
  16. Teach someone, or get them to quiz you.

So, as a parent, the best thing you can do is ask questions. Get your child to explain a topic to you – play dumb, so it feels like interest rather than interrogation!

I’ve made a printable poster for revision method ideas if it’d help – encourage your child to at least try everything on the list once. The more methods they use, the more likely they are to find what really works. Mixing up a few methods is always a better plan than doing the same (boring) thing every time… ?

Picking what works

Here are some good questions to ask when your child is trying to work out which revision techniques work best for them.

  1. Write down three times where your learning has worked particularly well. They could be something you learned at school or when you’ve been studying independently at home.
  2. Why did these learning methods work so well for you? What activities did you do to help you learn?
  3. What kind of environment do you need to be in to make your learning effective? Do you need absolute quiet, gentle background noise, or to be with other people who are studying?