Exam revision tips from brain scientist help pupils

By Seonag MacKinnon
BBC Scotland education correspondent

Image caption,
The fourth year pupils were all ears when it came to help from the brain scientist

Families with teenagers in the house will need no reminders that the SQA exams begin in less than a month.

The angst. The fevered brows. And perhaps, for once, a legitimate excuse for not helping out with household chores.

I went to Tynecastle High in Edinburgh to find out about revision myths and effective tips on how best to prepare for the big tests.

Professor Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, has been visiting the school to advise students on the best way to revise.

Based in a shiny new building in the capital's inner city, the school has strategies of its own with mentors, pep talks and revision classes during the Easter holidays.

But the fourth year pupils are all ears when it comes to further guidance from the brain scientist.

His first lesson: if you want to do well in exams you've got to embrace testing.

The professor told students: "The only way to really learn is to put the book away and test yourself, or test your buddy, or better yet, explain what you have just learnt to somebody else - a victim - younger brother, sister, your granny."

He added: "Total time studied is important, but you need to pace the time so rather than mass studying four hours per day, you study one hour per day the same topic."

Tom Rae, Tynecastle High School's head teacher, has a word for parents too.

"Help the students keep things in perspective, help them with the planning advice and provide them with structure, the quiet places to learn.

"Also ask questions, become the critical friend they can test themselves against, but without trying to get too involved in actually the teaching of it, or constantly trying to remind them that they've got to study all the time.

"I think it is more about the support and the calming."

Some top tips for revision:

  • Avoid just reading revision notes over and over again - it has limited impact
  • Explain your revision topic to a friend or family member
  • Ask yourself questions on what you've revised
  • Ask friends and family to question you
  • Summarise the main points of an issue on flashcards or a jotter. Whip these out in spare moments, such as while waiting at a bus stop
  • Stagger it - better to do a subject for one hour a day for four days rather than four hours in one day
  • Draw up a daily timetable with a total number of hours and a set time for each subject
  • Don't kid yourself you can learn effectively with one eye on the TV
  • Playing Mozart and taking fish oil tablets are very unlikely to help
  • Make up a rhyme to help remember information, such as In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue
  • Copy advertisers and radio stations by reciting key numbers in a sing song voice

BBC Learning has more tips for Scottish pupils and students on the Bitesize and Brainsmart sites.

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