Coming to university, I was expecting a HUGE change in teaching style and therefore, my methods of revision would also change. Although the different wasn’t as drastic as I was expecting, there are certainly many ways in which my methods of revision have changed in order to keep up with the huge amounts of information being thrown at us. NOTE: since I study Medicine, which is based on a large quantity of information rather than conceptually difficult concepts, some of these techniques many not apply to more quantitative subjects like Maths, Physics and Engineering – some will though!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting at medical school is that my methods of revision at school were extremely inefficient and I wasted a lot of time on passive note-taking or reading/highlighting my textbooks. My university is great in that it offers a course on ‘How to Study’, which teaches us about the value of active recall and spaced repetition. Ali Abdaal’s videos are a great place to start if you’ve never heard of these two concepts.
Essentially, active recall refers to the idea that you are not trying to put information into your brain, but rather that you are trying to retrieve (or ‘recall’) it. This is usually in the form of testing yourself, however it can also be through other methods, including:
- Using flashcards – in a question-answer format
- Using apps such as ANKI, Brainscape or Quizlet
- Asking yourself the question ‘Why is this the case?’ while reading notes or textbook pages
- If possible, trying to guess what could happen next in a process using logic and then checking
- Blurting out everything you know about a topic onto a piece of paper or Word document and then checking against your notes
- Writing your notes in a question and answer format
This technique has completely changed my life. At school, I had never heard of spaced repetition. I always believed that you should study a topic until you knew it perfectly, but I didn’t consider the fact that even after this point, you are likely to forget a lot over time. Spaced repetition uses this idea that we forget information and acts to prolong the time before we forget something. This means reviewing a topic 1 day after learning it, then 3 days, then 1 week, then 1 month and so on. My only problem with this technique is that it can be hard to implement without being extremely organised with your revision or using an app. For me, the ways I’ve been able to integrate it into my regular study routine are:
- Using ANKI and Brainscape – these are flashcards apps that use an algorithm to show you cards when you are about to forget them. Also, if you find a card hard, then you will see it more often than those you find easy.
- Using a printable which incorporates the curve of forgetting i.e. you note down the date when you started revising a topic and then fill in the dates for 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and so on – you could also use a spreadsheet for this
- Using your planner/calendar to fill in future dates when you will want to review topics again
- Note-taking and highlighting are almost always useless techniques
- Active recall methods are the BEST ways to revise efficiently
- Spaced repetition will help you to remember things for longer periods of time