A digital native's guide to revision

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Revision is the most dreaded part of my academic year: wading through stacks of lecture handouts and seminar notes is no-one’s idea of fun.

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But with so many digital tools at your fingertips, it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Review the revision pain-points below to see:

  • Which online revision aids my friends and I use
  • Why we use them
  • How they could help you

Getting an overview of a topic

I study...

... Spanish and Politics, which means lots of heavy reading and summarising needs to happen before I sit an exam.

There's a chance that the topic I'll choose to write on in the exam was covered in week 2. It's week 11 now.

How am I supposed to recall all that information easily?

For that first dip back into 'old' content, I might take a look at Wikipedia as a refresher. By no means is it the basis of my reading or future revision, but having an overview of a topic can really help.

This is especially useful...

... when I'm referring to notes from a lecturer who didn't explain the basics before they launched into a profound and complex analysis of Neorealism.

I'd hazard a guess you've found yourself in this situation at some point too.

If I'm analysing an established political theory text...

... I use online encyclopaedias and sites such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which give you the foundations in simple terms and also explain the longer definitions you may have forgotten along the way.

Focus

Over to my STEM friends for this one! A friend who studies Maths shared his secrets for success with me. His main concern with using online tools was that they would ‘miss the mark’ on what his lecturers were actually going to assess him on.

The trick is to find tools which:

  • Develop your understanding of the formulae. You might find it helpful to recap topics by watching MIT’s video lectures, or working through a Khan Academy course.
  • Give you fresh questions to tackle. Once you have a firm grasp of the theory, have a go at applying it to problem sets or past papers.
  • Explain the workings. When my friend took a closer look at the areas that he found himself weaker in, he found Wolfram|Alpha, ‘a computational knowledge engine.’ What he appreciated most about this website is that while it gave you the answers to the more difficult, complex questions, it also ‘showed its working, which gave me the confidence to look back through my work and verify my calculations and methods were correct – or if they needed work.’

Editor’s note: With every online tool, there’s the temptation to skip to the solution. Consider these two scenarios:

  • Student A enters their problem into Wolfram|Alpha and clicks straight through to the answer. They don’t understand how to get from the problem to the solution, and hope that by seeing the answers the steps involved will, at some point, sink in.
  • Student B resists the temptation to skip to the solution. They know that making mistakes is part of the learning process: they have to make a few, or they’ll never know where their weaknesses lie and be able to address them before the exam. Once they’ve had a stab at the problem sets, they can check the answer on Wolfram|Alpha and verify their working.

Which student do you think will be better placed to succeed in their exam?

Focus
Characters climbing from a clock with Spanish text on either side

Since sixth form, I have had to retain new words and phrases for weekly vocabulary tests and oral exams.

Skimming a list of vocabulary half an hour – or even the night – before a test will only get you so far.

If you want new words and concepts to stick, you need to actively encode the information by categorising it, repeating it or attaching meaning to it.  

Throughout my language studies, Quizlet has been a trusty friend - whether it be for a module on Latin American democratisation strategy, an evening Portuguese class or even just words I’ve found in a book I read over summer. How I always advertised this app (I've been a wannabe sponsor for the website since before I knew what that was) was that as the user, you can either find vocab sets people have already made or make them yourself. I always felt it made more sense to do the latter: you’ll absorb the words more quickly as you are manually typing them out each time.

Focus

This is more for the humanities lot. A friend who studies Philosophy found the online visual arts platform Kanopy helped them put a name to a face when it comes to the long -isms they are taught about in class. Whether that be a French arthouse interpretation of existentialism or seeing a power conflict in non-war terms through a 19th century Russian silent film, Kanopy has it all.

What’s even better is that most universities with an arts department give you student access upon arrival. If not, platforms like MUBI, which has a similar pool of films and documentaries, are available for a 1 week free trial when you get Amazon Prime (which is, at the time of writing, half price for students).

Over to you

Which of these tools could you usefully incorporate into your revision? Do you know of any other apps or websites which could aid your revision? Jot your thoughts down in the box alongside.

*References to other products in this blog are made to ensure proper contextualisation of the information and for the convenience of the reader. References are not an endorsement from Macmillan International Higher Education. Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the writer.

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