Revision and the Three 'Rs'
Tim Wilbur at Gabbitas highlights how sport can teach us a thing or two about revision
For some twenty years, before becoming an educational manager, I spent my time at the chalk-face. In this time I prepared literally thousands of youngsters for GCSEs and A Levels. From the early 1980s onwards, I began to deliver homilies on revision technique. Interestingly, these were drawn more from theories related to coaching rather than teaching itself. I had the great good fortune of coaching school sport to the very highest level and have long believed in the crucial interconnect, for many young people, between the playing field and the classroom.
My favourite sporting adage was that to be ‘good’ one needed physical ability, high levels of relevant skill and the correct temperament. To be better than good, one needed to have these three facets perfectly balanced. If this is transferred to revision, the skill in question is the revision process, and in modern parlance, the other two might constitute ‘well-being’. The truth remains, however, that to revise successfully requires far more than cramming knowledge for the fateful day. It requires a lifestyle and commitment. Another adage taken from sport would be that one must train much harder than one may ever need to play the game. Only by doing this can one conquer the unknowns. And possibly reduce the inevitable stress. Therefore, revision needs to be far more directed, applied and energised.
It is the ‘strategy’ of revision being discussed here rather than the tactics of the process itself. Most good revision guides will suggest a variety of ways for knowing and understanding the material; two very different concepts. The strategy is to ‘balance’ the competing and individually vital calls on an individual’s time in the period before a major exam. The vital interests to be balanced are: Revision, Relaxation and Rest – the three ‘Rs’. In sporting terms this translates to: skill, temperament and physical well-being. Reward may constitute a fourth ‘R’, if you desperately need motivation. The feel-good factor is of vital importance to the ‘temperament’ side of most people. The other core concept, which we will take as read, is being so convincing an advocate of the ‘balance’, that the youngsters buy into the process. Perhaps we shouldn’t take this as read but again, it points to coaching or mentoring, rather than teaching, being involved.
The good news for those revising is that the actual process is limited to the finite and is achievable. There is absolutely no way the average student can concentrate for more than the five teaching hours that constitute a normal day. I would suggest further that this should be broken down into three sessions of 90 minutes, with a 10 minute break mid-way. The average attention span is allegedly 15 minutes and therefore a 45-minute stint is already pushing the learning envelope.
As in sport, it is crucial to practise in the same hours as the match or exam takes place. Therefore, some revision must be achieved covering the hours 9-10:30am and 1:30-3:00pm. At this point I apologise if your child is a ‘night-owl’, but if they are, they should do the other session to suit their body rhythms. However, as stated this is only a third of the story. The concept of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ has, as always, a lot to recommend it. Thus, the relaxation component does not mean one should be supine; that is the ‘R’ for rest. Physical activity of any sort, even a brisk 10-minute walk, will suffice to increase stimulation. There is also no reason for an adolescent to compromise on a much needed 8+ hours of sleep. In fact, if the candidate plans their revision well, every other aspect of their normal life should find room for itself. There is room to find time to eat healthily, meet up with friends, visit the dreaded internet, etc. If the person can ‘balance’ they can succeed. The other good news is that successful revision does not have to be a 7 day a week endeavour; plan days off.
It goes without saying that the process needs to start early. If the student has all the materials necessary for revision, the process can be narrowed to six weeks. The plan may be compromised by some students still spending some time in the classroom during these weeks, therefore the trick is to incorporate whatever time is given to revision in school into the process.
At the end of my examination coaching spiel, I liked to ruin the moment by asking the immortal question ‘Is that not how you live your life anyway?’ The quality and quantity of the derisory scowls used to tell me whether I had hit the nail!
Tim Wilbur is Director of School Consultancy at Gabbitas Education
Gabbitas Education has launched a week-long summer holiday 11+ preparation course which will be held in and around their new Westminster offices. Running from Monday 23rd to Friday 27th July, it will offer a combination of academic and extra-curricular activities with testing, interview practice and a tailored assessment report with age-related, standardised scores. Lessons will be active and fun utilising local parks and cultural experiences where possible. Breakfast and supper clubs available. Price £695 including VAT.