Revision can seem like a difficult task. Taking everything that you’ve learned over the course of your studies with ABE, then breaking it down, memorising it, and making it useable in an exam situation is certainly a lot of work. But there’s no reason for it to be impossible, and as an ABE student you’re more than likely up to the challenge!
Everyone has different ways of learning that work for them, and so the techniques explored here might not be the right ones for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment – do some of your own research into learning styles and revision techniques, and find out which work best for you. A helpful quiz, What is your learning style?, can be found in the August 2010 issue of Student Focus, which is available online in the Members Area of the ABE website (www.abeuk.com).
Be careful to avoid practicing only rote learning, or learning by repetition. Whilst this method can be useful for memorising simple facts, it will not help you understand material or how to apply what you have learnt to different contexts. A lot of what goes on in exams is about applying your knowledge to the specific situation presented to you by the question. Think of it as a way of showing off to the examiner, and exhibiting your business ingenuity!
If you find that you lack focus when it comes to revising, a particularly structured method of study known as PQRST (Preview, Question, Read, Self-recite, Test) has been developed over decades of research by psychologists Thomas and Robinson (1982), Spache and Berg (1978), and Robinson (1970). The research may seem dated, but it’s a method still used widely today, and it’s easy to see why. You can apply the framework to a chapter of your Study Manual, recommended reading, or even an excerpt from your own notes (for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to use the word ‘chapter’ from this point onward to refer to any excerpt, section, or body of writing that you can apply the method to). Here’s an outline of what to do at each of the five stages of the PQRST method:
At this stage, you need to make yourself aware of the basics of the material you’ll be covering.
The best way to do this is to ‘skim’, or quickly glance through, the chapter that you’ll be looking at, taking into special account any lists of contents, the introduction, headings, and diagrams. These will give you a quick, brief overview of what the chapter is about.
When you have done this, it’s a good idea to read the summary of the chapter you are focusing on (usually located at the chapter’s end), which should briefly lay out everything that has been covered in that chapter.
Once you have skimmed through the chapter and are broadly aware of what it concerns, you should formulate a list of questions relating to the major points in the chapter that you would hope to be able to answer after reading the chapter more thoroughly.
Usually, chapters will be split into sections or topics, each concerning a different aspect of the same area of subject matter. These sections are denoted by headings, and sometimes broken down further into subheadings. You can use these headings to formulate your questions.
For example, in the ABE Human Resource Development Study Manual the second topic is entitled ‘What is Human Resource Development?’ Here, the question has already been made up for you. But the subheadings for this topic – ‘Defining Human Resources’, ‘Defining Human Resource Development’, ‘Different approaches to HRD: some key concepts’ and so on, can be turned into questions like this: ‘How do you define Human Resources?’, ‘What are the key concepts of the different approaches to HRD?’ etc.
You can then go on to think about how to answer these questions in the next stage of the process, which will engage your brain more fully than if you were simply reading with no concrete goal. If there are no obvious headings or sections to the material that you’re reading your job will be slightly harder, but don’t worry, it should still be possible for you to invent a number of questions based on your knowledge of the material.
Time to get properly stuck into the material itself! Read the chapter carefully, doing your best to fully understand the information presented, and seeing how it can be used to answer those questions that you’ve come up with. Try to create a meaningful link in your head between the different points that you come across, seeing how they all fit together.
After you’ve read the chapter through once, go through it again and highlight any key points, or parts you find difficult to remember.
Making notes the second time around is also a good idea, but it’s recommended that you keep them to the absolute essentials at this stage, and also that you phrase any notes you take in your own words, since this forces you to reinterpret and understand the material rather than just memorising it.
This is where you’ll really start to learn the material that you’ve been revising, both understanding it and committing it to memory. Take short sections of the chapter at a time – perhaps a page or two, or the points that come under one of your questions – and after reviewing the information, cover up the section and try to recall (aloud, if possible) the main points it presents.
Write what you can remember down (in your own words – you don’t want to just memorise information, you want to understand it), and then go back to the material and check what you have missed. Only move to your next section when you can remember all the information, including the details, from the section that you are concentrating on.
It can be useful to concentrate at first on just remembering the main ideas in each section, to then being able to ‘fill in the blanks’ and recall the detail from this more basic information.
Everybody’s different, so find your own ways to memorise the information. If you thank that you learn better through visuals, for example, draw diagrams to help you remember details connected to main points.
This is where being able to build up detail from simply remembering the main ideas becomes important. After you’re able to recall and understand pieces of information and how they fit together, test yourself at regular intervals, going through the same process as the self-recitation stage.
Give yourself hours, days, and then weeks (if you have time) to ‘forget’ the information. After whichever time period you’re using, give the section a brief skim again, then see how much you can remember. When you can build up detailed notes from just the main points, you’ll have completed the process!
Above all, don’t panic! Working too hard can be almost as damaging as doing no work at all, so don’t forget to take a step back. Take 5 or 10 minute breaks from revision every 40 minutes or so, preferably away from your study area. If you are able to go outside and do some light exercise, so much the better. Similarly, staying hydrated is important for your memory and focus, so drink plenty of water if you can. For further advice on how to prepare for revision and how to follow it up in your exams, we recommend reading the Student Focus articles listed below. Good luck from all the staff and examiners at ABE!
(All these articles can be found in the back issues of Student Focus on the Members Area of the ABE website, www.abeuk.com)
Study tips: Effective Examination Technique, Student Focus, November ’09 (pp14-15),
Quiz: What is your learning style?, Student Focus, August ’10 (pp18-19)
Special feature: 6 easy steps to exam success, Student Focus, Nov ’10 (pp7-8).
Robinson, F.P. Effective Study. 4th ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.
Spache, G., Berg, P. The Art of Effective Reading. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1978.
Thomas, E.L., Robinson H.A. Improving Reading in Every Class. Boston: Alyn and Bacon, 1982.