From a young age, children need opportunities to learn about applying the right learning strategy for the right task. These are teachable, learnable skills. Research suggests that learning these skills can even make up for IQ and lack of prior knowledge. In educational circles, this model of learning is known as a skill of “meta-cognition”, learning to learn.
We need to be more proactive in involving our young people in conversations about how they can approach learning. I teach at Harrow School, where in our Learning Support Department we work with boys to help them plan their study goals and break these down into small manageable steps. We talk about how they can monitor their progress and we work together to review how things have gone. So where to begin? Here are ten tips to get started.
1. Get into the mindset
Start by considering your work environment. Declutter. Bin random papers in your files and have a dedicated spot for all your basic work materials including highlighters, Post-its and files neatly labelled. Dedicate a notice board space for Post-it notes, schedules and a motivational quote or two.
2. Honestly reflect
What went well and importantly, not so well in previous years? What were the strengths of your approach? What could have been improved? Were there gaps in your knowledge? Did you leave the revision until too late? It is only by engaging in honest assessment that you can make the necessary changes.
3. Plan a consistent approach
Use a consistent colour system to highlight dates so you can easily lift the information you may need to learn by rote later. Cue cards can be a very useful way to learn key facts. A useful website for producing interactive cue cards is:cram.com
4. Monitor your starting point
Audit your current level of knowledge by rag-rating your existing notes – highlighting green what you know, amber what you know a little and red what you don’t know at all. Fill in your knowledge gaps by revisiting topics and then check your understanding by talking it over with your teacher.
5. Be proactive, not passive
Be aware that re-reading copious notes can be very time consuming with little pay-off. Work for short bursts on this activity, up to 40 minutes at a time. Make it an interactive rather than passive process by indicating in the margin where you are unsure.
6. Add tools to your learning kit
Don’t get too hung upon what type of learner you are but consider how you might use this information to maximise your learning. For example, if you have inclination towards being an auditory learner, a dictaphone may be useful to record information to replay before you fall asleep.
7. Timing is key
Calculate – realistically – the time required for each task to be done and stick to the plan. Think carefully about what needs to be done in what order, numbering the tasks and ticking them off as you achieve them. Also, don’t peak too early: you may devise cue cards during the Easter break but you will not want to expend effort learning these until nearer the exam.
8. Master your schedule
Refer frequently to your revision schedule, keeping on top of what has been done and what is left to be completed.
9. Be kind to yourself
Revision cannot and should not take 12 hours a day. Decide when would be the best time for you to work. Plot time into your day for exercise and seeing friends but do not deviate from achieving your goals.
10. Evaluate progress towards goals
Keep a reflection journal – it takes five minutes to complete once a week, honestly! Use simple headers such as: What do I want to achieve? How am I going to do it? How did it go?