The revision power hour

Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons is an academic coach who equips 15-18 year olds with the study skills necessary to get the top grades and into their dream universities. Lucy is a qualified and experienced teacher. Her book, The Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take (John Catt, February 2017) is available to order now. Lucy is available to speak in schools; her Revision Masterclass is very popular as a way to quickly give students the independent study skills they need in order to succeed in their exams.

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Image credit: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe // Group W Productions // Originally published on 10th March 2017. Image credit: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe // Group W Productions // Originally published on 10th March 2017.

Too much to do and too little time. That’s what I hear from both teachers and students. Students of the new two-year A Level specifications are stressed out about having to know two years’ worth of content all at once. Teachers are trying to cram revising the whole syllabus into a few short weeks of contact time.

 What both students and teachers need is an incredibly efficient and effective revision activity that not only aids with memorising content but actually helps to boost exam technique. The answer is the revision power hour.

The Revision Power Hour

The revision power hour combines the content, skills and feedback which Martin Griffin and Steve Oakes wrote about in their book, The A-level Mindset. It is this combination that makes it so powerful.

So, how does it work?

1. Choose a past paper question

Either you, as the teacher, or your students revising independently at home, choose a past paper question on which you’re going to focus. Ideally this question will cover a known weakness in the students’ understanding and knowledge. This could be a longer answer question or a series of short answer questions which take about twenty minutes to answer.

2. Revise the content

The next step is for either you as the teacher or your students at home to lead some revision activities focused on the content in this question. It’s up to you what you do here - but it’s all about understanding and memorising the content needed to answer the question.

3. Answer the question

In exam conditions students should answer the question. Set a timer and let them do their best stuff.

This is an opportunity for the students not only to test their recall of what they’ve just been learning, but also to practice their exam skills. Therefore, they’ve so far covered both content and skills techniques in their power hour.

4. Students mark their own question

This is where the power hour most often goes wrong. I get many students coming to me saying that they’ve done dozens of past papers but they’re not seeing any improvement in their marks.

When questioned they usually reveal that they’ve been answering the questions but they haven’t been marking their own work.

Students marking their own work is the crucial step here. Students need to be able to critically evaluate their own answers, the way an examiner would, and apply the mark scheme to their own work. Without the chance to do this they won’t gain the full benefit of doing the past paper.

I call this learning ‘to think like an examiner’. If a student can think like an examiner they know what the examiner is looking for, and are therefore much better placed to give it to them. I know from experience how uncomfortable it is marking your own work for the first time. However, you need to coax your students through the first few difficult sets of marking until they reach a new comfort zone and become confident in their marking. This is when you know they’re beginning to think like an examiner.

5. Feedback

This is the last step - and it’s what quickly builds your students’ level of comfort with marking their own work and gives rapid pay-back in terms of increasing marks.

You need to check the accuracy of your students’ self-marking and give them feedback about where they can more accurately interpret the mark scheme, as well as giving them ideas about how to improve their actual answers.

Over time the level of detail you need to provide in feedback will decrease as your students’ confidence improves.

What if we run out of past papers?

This is a real worry with many of the brand new specifications which have a very limited number of sample exam papers available to practice on.

When I was at university I used to write my own essay questions to practice on. It made me start to think about the range of questions that I could be asked and the ways in which questions were typically phrased.

This technique is just as valid at school level as it is at university. The beautiful thing about doing this is that it not only trains students to think like an examiner, but to think like the chief examiner in terms of understanding the scope of questions they could be asked, based on the syllabus, as well as the way that questions could be phrased. It’s quite comforting to know that the range of questions is finite.

The true power of the Revision Power Hour

The true power of the power hour comes in two forms:

  • Repetition of content in different ways: through learning the content initially, repeating it to answer the questions and put it into words, to reading back the answers and analysing them in conjunction with the mark scheme students will repeat what they’ve learned at least three times in an hour to firmly fix what they’ve learned in their heads.
  • Immediate understanding of how to improve: students gain this through their own marking and the marking their teachers give.

In conclusion

I know from my own days at school that being drilled in precisely what examiners are looking for in the way that you answer questions pays dividends. It’s not enough to know your stuff - you have to communicate it correctly. Done frequently enough, the power hour efficiently and effectively gets students to the position where they can do this confidently, every time.

How do you enhance revision in your classroom? Let us know below.

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