Take your revision scientifically

Stop panicking and start repeating. gives you the run down on revision

By the time you’re at university, you may expect to have mastered the art of revising; however, for many this is not the case. With exam season creeping up on us, we begin begging our brains to improve their memorising capacity.  Successful revision technique depends on personal preference, type of exam and the subject you are studying. Here, the latter is important.

For factual recall, you rely on one particular neurological function above the rest: memory. It can be frustrating when you endlessly attempt to memorise a topic, perhaps the many complex stages in photosynthesis or nutrient cycles, yet the information just will not stick. Physiologically, it is approximately one billion out of one hundred billion neurons in the brain, called pyramidal cells, that account for long term memory. They form a tangled, interconnected web, allowing access to memories.

In simple terms, memory is the product of many impulses sent along neurons within the brain that activate a further group of neurons within the hippocampus. Your hippocampus is bombarded with new pathways every day, and, with the right trigger, the hippocampus should be able to retrieve any pattern. However, your brain becomes over-worked on receiving too much information when we cram. The product of this is that a fact you believe to have committed to memory, is forgotten within 10 minutes. Here are a few tips to help improve your memory while revising a plethora of information:

Repeat. Repeating information, whether that be speaking, reading, writing or listening, will consolidate a particular pattern between neurons. The spaced repetition technique will help improve your memory further. This theory suggests you revise something just as you are about to forget it: repeat after a few minutes, after an hour, after a day and then after every couple of days.

Take regular breaks. When your hippocampus receives lots of new information, some of it can get jumbled up, especially when the patterns are similar.

Image: Alan Cleaver

Image: Alan Cleaver

Avoid distractions. This may be difficult with YikYak and Twitter within arm’s reach, but if you cut out any form of distraction until you have a break and devote all your attention to your work, less of your brain’s attention capacity will be used.

Sleep well. Again, as a university student, it may be difficult to train yourself into a sensible sleeping pattern. However, brain regions ‘talk’ to each other during sleep, and it is believed that this conversation plays a critical role in memory consolidation.

If you’re panicking about revision, just remember, in 2005, a 24-year-old graduate Chao Lu of China recited 67,980 digits of pi in the space of 24 hours so don’t worry, it’s all possible.

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