Struggling to remember? Why it could be your revision technique, not your memory

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I’ve always been fascinated with my memory.  Why is it, I asked, that I can remember every lyric from some 90s RnB tune (my karaoke performance of sugar hill gang is legendary I’ll have you know..) but yet I cannot remember anything from the zoom webinar I attended three days ago?

I wonder if you feel the same.  Could you name every person who has ever appeared on your favourite reality show, but when it comes to revision struggle to even remember the theorists name?  I had a student tell me last week that she struggles with revision as she has a bad memory.  Whenever anyone tells me this I have a couple of responses.

Firstly did you know that memory is not a fixed thing?  The brain is always adapting and changing.  This is known as neuroplasticity.  I like to think of it as the brain is like plasticine – within reason it can be changed and amended, and we can rewrite how we think about certain things and improve others.  You should workout your brain just like you workout your body.  But this point is another post for another time.

The second response is tell me how you revise?  The general response that I get from this, is that they spend a lot of time reading.  They read the book, they read my revision sheets or they read my slides.  This tells me all I need to know.  Now let’s be clear, I am not against my students reading, neither do I hate reading.  It is one of my favourite activities.  What they are engaging in though is passive learning.

When I was a student I used to set myself the task of reading the book from cover to cover, and deadlines for when I had to read a particular chapter.  This was not a great idea.  Often it meant I would be reading the book in bed as I often had to work late.  Many times I woke in a fright as I had fallen asleep with the book falling on my face so I couldn’t see (well can you blame me the books aren’t always the most exciting!) I found that the next day I could barely remember what the chapter was about, let alone remember the content.

It was then I became fascinated with what I now know is called Active learning.  Now comes the sexy part.  Let’s talk about the brain.  There is not one single area in the brain that is required for us to use to pass our exams.  We need a few different areas.   Functions such as remembering and understanding are linked to the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.  However other functions we require such as evaluating and analysing we need to use the neocortex.

Using more complex functions like evaluating and analysing are better for learning because they create more cross-talk within the brain, as they involve a greater number of neural connections.  Active learning involves techniques such as applying and analysing which creates the cross-talk.  The cross-talk in turn is what stimulates our memory.

Therefore my recommendation when studying any exams, but particularly CIPS is to engage in active learning, and because I am nice to you I am going to share three tips to individually active learn.

Tip 1: Create application cards.  When learning a new model or theory take time to write down how it can be applied to real life, in particular your organisation.  This will create a mental hook and also aid depth of understanding.  In a constructive response exam you will need that depth to score higher marks

Tip 2: Direct Paraphrasing.  When making your notes be careful not to simply copy out the text.  Instead paraphrase and make sure the notes are in your own words and make sense to you.

Tip 3: Talking someone through the information you’re learning. Use your own words to discuss it with other students, friends or your family.  When I was revising for my CIPS my family never saw me so much.  I would turn up with my notes and ask to be tested in exchange for whatever treats I had brought them.

 

I hope you find these tips useful and put them into practice.  Best of luck with your revision and next exam.  For more revision and exam techniques you can see our exam technique article here and our revision webinars are available to purchase here.

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Level 3 Diamond Timetable

Exam Series Module No. of sessions Dates
March 2024
M2 & M3
6
15th Jan, 29th Jan, 5th Feb, 19th Feb, 26th Feb, 4th Mar
May 2024
M4
3
15th Apr, 22nd Apr, 29th Apr
July 2024
M5
3
3rd June, 10th June, 24th June
Nov 2024
M1
3
7th Oct, 21st Oct, 4th November
Mar 2025
M2&M3
6
13th Jan, 20th Jan, 27th Jan, 10th Feb, 24th Feb, 3rd March
May 2025
M4
3
7th Apr, 14th Apr, 28th Apr
July 2025
M5
3
2nd June, 16th June, 30th June

Level 6 Diamond Timetable

Exam Series Module No. of sessions Dates
March 2024
M2 & M5
5
25th Jan, 1st Feb, 8th Feb, 22nd Feb, 29th Feb
May 2024
M4 & M7
4
18th April, 25th April, 2nd May, 9th May
July 2024
M3 & M8
5
30th May, 20th June, 27th June, 4th July, 11th July
November 2024
M1
3
10th Oct, 24th Oct, 7th Nov
Mar 2025
M2 & M5
5
30th Jan, 6th Feb, 13th Feb, 27th Feb, 6th Mar
May 2025
M4 & M7
4
3rd April, 10th April, 1st May, 8th May
July 2025
M3 & M8
5
5th June, 12th June, 19th June, 26th June, 3rd July

Level 5 Diamond Timetable

Exam Series Module No. of sessions Dates
March 2024
M5, M15 & M9
4
31st Jan, 7th Feb, 21st Feb, 28th Feb, 6th March
May 2024
M3 & M8
4
10th April, 17th April, 24th April, 1st May
July 2024
M4
3
5th June, 11th June, 26th June
November 2024
M1 & M2
5
9th Oct, 16th Oct, 23rd Oct, 30th Oct, 6th Nov
Mar 2025
M15, M5, M9
5
29th Jan, 5th Feb, 12th Feb, 26th Feb, 5th March
May 2025
M3 & M8
4
9th April, 16th April, 30th April, 7th June
July 2025
M4
3
4th June, 18th June, 2nd July

Level 4 Diamond Timetable

Exam Series Module No. of sessions Dates
March 2024
M3, M5, M7
6
23rd Jan, 30th Jan, 6th Feb, 20th Feb, 27th Feb, 5th March
May 2024
M4 & M6
4
9th April, 16th April, 23rd April, 30th April
July 2024
M8
3
4th June, 18th June, 3rd July
November 2024
M1 & M2
5
8th Oct, 15th Oct, 22nd Oct, 29th Oct, 5th Nov
March 2025
M3, M5, M7
5
29th Jan, 5th Feb, 12th Feb, 26th Feb, 5th March
May 2025
M4 & M6
4
8th April, 15th April, 29th April, 6th June
July 2025
M8
3
10th June, 24th June, 8th July