Last time you met ‘The Big Three’ techniques for exam revision. This time I give you The Little Three! The Big Three are great for recall and retrieval. The Little Three are great for turning facts into understanding.
Revising the Big Three
But first, can you recall (retrieve) the Big Three? Unless you implemented them then, likely not. So here they are again:
- Retrieve, and don’t just re-read and highlight.
- Space your retrieval, and don’t cram.
- Interleave your study, and avoid long blocks of study on one subject or topic.
Now, can you recall their content? For a clear, eight-minute revision video on the Big Three and their content, try this.
And now for The Little Three:
Don’t learn by rote. Rather, explain it to yourself. Or think: How would I explain this to an interested friend who is unfamiliar with it? Forcing yourself to explain will force you to understand. It will also show where you need to understand it better.
Create images, examples, analogies and metaphors – push yourself to develop new ways to expand and explain it. Come up with likely exam questions, and answer them. This is where old exam papers and study questions in textbooks can be helpful – systematically review with those.
Stop. Ponder. Think. Apply. Ask yourself how this applies in your life, in your spirituality, in your future ministry. How would you apply it to your people? Consider how it relates to other subjects, or to other topics in that subject. In upper years, consider where a particular position is strong and weak. That critical thought will take you to a better level of thinking.
And to all this, I add a little fourth –
Check your answers. If you don’t check it, then you are liable fix the wrong answers in your head and to make a sticky mess. Wrong answers memorised are hard to unlearn.
Just as meditation turns Scripture memorisation to great profit, so too, the Little Three will turn the facts memorised through the Big Three into wisdom worthy of a servant of God.
Study notes: Study the page and recall the pages
Let me suggest a way to make study notes building on the Big Three and the Little Three:
- First, revise your semester of notes once – highlight, write notes, list your questions, note your confusions. Keep using the Big Three as you read your notes to help fix them in your mind and to check your knowledge.
- Then summarise all those notes into a few pages for each examinable topic. These will of course be the main points, with details omitted. (And do this by hand – handwriting is more effective for learning.) Study these outlines with the Big Three and the Little Three.
- Finally, come StuVac or a couple days before your exam, distil those few pages per topic into a single page per topic. Revise from that page, recalling the detailed material behind that bare outline.
Thus you can study the page and recall the pages.
A few final words
- When you start to revise, a great place to start can be a semester outline, or blank lecture outlines. Use your Big Three retrieval. Strive to recall a couple key ideas from each lecture at the start.
- Big ideas, not details – If I had to explain the doctrine of God in, say, five key points, what would they be? Your details and nuance can come under those key points.
- What’s it worth? – A 20% exam is worth less than an 80% exam. Apportion your time proportionally.
- The ideal, of course, is to solidly revise every topic, but that is often beyond us mere mortals. So revise everything in a basic way, but revise a selection of topics in depth. Then hopefully you can answer anything the exam throws at you.
- A bit every day. Several different bits a day.
- Starting now, even in small ways, so you get it into long-term memory. Besides, the gain from starting now on all your exams is worth more than the gain from working solely on that final assessment or two. These are the exams!
- Avoid study papers and mere lists of Bible verses. Think. Apply. Don’t regurgitate.
- Work together – Iron sharpens iron. Quiz a friend. Extend each other. Have fun. Set regular goals and times.
Big Three will fix information in your mind. The Little Three will develop understanding and application. And that is where real knowing begins.
Again, this material is taken from:
- The eminently readable book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, available as an e-book in our Library. To get the heart of it, just read pp. 200-218, ‘Tips for students’. (Trivia: Roediger and McDaniel are cognitive psychologists, and they were smart enough to know they couldn’t write an easy-to-read book. So they hired Peter Brown, a novelist, to write it for them. And it worked a treat.)
- And a fine blog-post summary of the whole book is here – for students and for teachers.