Top 10 Tips by Mary Gould - originally
published byHistory Review
The way to
do well at History is to know which study techniques work best for you
as an individual. Nevertheless here are some sensible guidelines that
are worth following.
study skills from the beginning of your course, rather than seek magical
solutions a few weeks before the exam. Ideally you should read every
evening through the notes you made that day, improving them and making
sure they are useful. Then, every few months, go through all your notes
– this will make your final revision much easier. In this way,
essential information will be committed to your long-term memory and
will be readily recalled, even under stressful exam conditions. You will
also avoid last-minute cramming, which is seldom useful.
that you have a copy of the syllabus or course handbook. Check the
format of your exam. How many papers? How many questions must be
answered? Are there any compulsory sections? Sort out any external or
personal problems that might hamper your progress. If necessary talk
with your tutor, student counselling service or doctor. From Easter cut
out, or cut down, your part-time employment until after the exams.
Work out what to revise
your teacher’s advice on important areas or likely questions. Do not
rely on question spotting – this is a gamble and there is too much to
lose if your hunches are horribly wrong. It is, however, appropriate to
select topics for revision. Decide what number you need to know about:
for example if you are required to answer 4 questions go through the
papers of the last few years and make sure that you can answer 5 or 6 of
them. If you can answer them all, take care – you are probably
spreading yourself too thinly or working too hard.
If you have
followed point 1, your work should be complete and accurate; but do not
work from poor material. Improve your notes by comparison with a
friend’s or read them alongside a textbook, making any additions and
modifications needed. Make sure that you understand them before you try
to commit them to memory – if you don’t the ideas simply will not
stick. Underline, colour or highlight headings and key points.
your notes are re-written the better you will remember them. Summarise
key information on each topic on one A4 page. Abbreviate again on small
index cards (swot cards): carry them round with you and learn them
whenever you have a few spare minutes. If you are having difficulty
remembering key quotes or dates, write them out and put them in places
around the house where you will see them frequently. Perhaps record them
on tape. But remember to think actively about key issues as well as
memorising information. Your aim should be to look at old, familiar
material in a new way.
you finish with your textbooks? Arguably, re-reading textbooks is too
time consuming, and anyway they may not be focused on the issues you are
most concerned with. On the other hand, if you are getting bored with
re-reading the same notes it can relieve the tedium to look at the work
or topic from a different angle. Try a different textbook from the one
you used during the course.
7 Work with a group
a group (the right group for you) will enable you to share ideas, notes
and books and can help alleviate boredom and stress. Revising in pairs
is good, but working in groups of three or four is better. The ideal is
to meet for 2-3 hour sessions two or three times a week at home, school
or college – look for a working environment with minimum distractions.
Discuss questions or problems, do timed questions, read out answers for
group criticism, test each other, prepare outline answers.
Use past papers
papers, usually available from your tutor or library, are vital for
revision. But don’t just read them, use them. There’s no point
believing that you could answer the questions – you can only be sure
by doing them.
Take mock exams seriously
these wholeheartedly. They will help you assess your progress and
familiarise you with working under strict exam conditions. Afterwards,
take note of the feedback you receive. Pinpoint the errors you made. Did
you include too little information, misread the questions, run out of
time? What does your mark tell you about your revision techniques?
Know when to stop
exams are failed because of too little work than too much. But often the
brightest students work too hard at revision and worry unnecessarily. So
take regular exercise, get plenty of sleep, maintain a sensible social
life. If you are an arch-worrier, then by all means carry on gentle
revision until the last moment: you can’t worry if your mind is
occupied with something else. But remember that the aim is to reach your
peak at the right time, so be sure not to go into the exam room
exhausted from over-work. Frenetic late-night cramming can be easily
avoided by the sort of revision techniques outlined above.
Mary Gould teaches
history at St Martin’s College, Lancaster