I have been asked many times about the amount of revision boys in Years 11, 12 and 13 should do before their GCSE and A Level exams. There is no easy answer, because boys’ need and capacity for revision vary significantly. A young man who has worked consistently hard week by week throughout the Sixth Form is unlikely to need to spend as much time revising this Christmas holiday as someone who has struggled to keep on top of his motivation and workload. Similarly, some of our boys have the powers of concentration to do 8 hours’ revision a day, whereas two to three hours of good revision may be a more realistic target for others for whom academic study comes less easily. I urge you to be pragmatic about your son’s capacity for revision: trying to force him into unlikely feats of endurance will lead to conflict, inefficiency and a negativity towards learning that may persist.
Why do we revise?
Because we forget. Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885 posited the hypothesis of the Forgetting Curve which shows the decline of memory retention over time. He had noted from his own learning that information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it, and subsequent studies have confirmed the general trend below. (You may wish to show it to your son if he is not convinced by the value of revising.)
This shows that a week after learning something, we remember about 50% of it. However, each time we review (or revise) the information, our memory retention improves, so that after the fourth attempt at revision, we remember about 80%. The dotted lines show what would happen over time if we made no attempt to revise. The ideal student (do you know him?) revises material one week, one month, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year after learning it, so that he remembers virtually everything he has learned.
Planning revision: the two-thirds rule
Since we retain more information each time we revise it, those taking GCSEs and A Levels in Summer 2017 need to engage with serious revision during both the Christmas and Easter holidays. I have developed ‘the two-thirds rule’ to describe the amount of revision that a pupil with academic ambitions should do during the Easter holiday (the amount should be somewhat less at Christmas as there is a danger of a boy peaking too early with his revision).
The principle is relatively simple:
The revision planner may be useful in helping your son plan his revision. It is not intended to be printed: in Excel format it will count up the hours he is devoting to each subject.
Some key revision principles
How should he revise?
What works differs from person to person. Each boy must explore different revision methods before working out what works for him. Revision techniques include: