What is the best way to revise?
Flavia Belham
Chief Scientist @ Seneca Learning
February 20, 2018

What is the best way to revise?

Using Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences to discover the best revision techniques

Neuroscientists are always discovering more about how we learn. We can use some of their research to revise and learn more effectively before our exams:

1. Testing

Retrieval practice (or testing) is more effective than just making or re-reading your notes. When you are being tested you have to pay more attention and you normally stop daydreaming. This is helpful, but testing also has other benefits!

An easy way of thinking about retrieval practice is to imagine that the exam is a maze. The correct answer to a question is the exit of the maze. Every time you remember some material via testing, you create a new route that helps you escape the maze. The more routes you have to escape the maze, the more likely it is that you will reach the right answer in an exam!

It is important to change the types of questions (tests) that you do. Doing multiple choice questions, longer answer questions, comparisons and more increases the likelihood that you will remember something. You can do this yourself or, perhaps more easily, using Seneca’s Accelerated Learning System.

If you want to learn more about how retrieval practice can enhance learning, we suggest the works by Jeffrey Karpicke (1) and by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork (2).

2. Spacing and Interleaving

A very well-known phenomenon in Cognitive Science is the Spacing Effect. Spacing means that learning small chunks of information over longer periods of time is more effective than learning it all in a single block. Leaving a gap between learning stuff means that you can forget the irrelevant bits of content and focus on the important parts. Spacing improves memory, but also your ability to apply information to new and different contexts. This means you can answer a greater variety of question types more easily! (3)

To make revision even more effective, Spacing can be combined with Interleaving. In other words, the time gap between revising content A should be used to revise content B. This forms a better simulation of exams, where all the topics tend to be mixed up together, and so is a good way to prepare for this. Additionally, interleaving improves the ability to understand what a new question is asking (4).

3. Imagery

As well as making things more interesting and fun, imagery can aid memory. If the place (and environment) where you learn something is similar to the place (and environment) where you remember it, you will find it easier to remember. This was initially shown in 1975. Godden & Baddeley (5) asked people to memorize a list of words standing on the beach and another list when diving in the ocean. Later, these people were asked to repeat the words learned. The findings showed that words studied on the beach were better repeated on the beach and words learned under water were more remembered under water.

Last year, Bramão and colleagues (6) showed that the effect is practically the same if the student uses their imagination. That is, memory is better if students imagine themselves in places (library, cinema, etc) when studying and when sitting an exam.

Connected to that idea of imagery, the Dual Coding Theory (7) suggests that linking verbal and non-verbal information is an effective learning strategy. In other words, the use of diagrams, arrows, images and drawings during revision creates stronger memory traces.

4. Accelerated Learning System

Seneca’s Accelerated Learning System includes Retrieval Practice, Spacing, Interleaving and Imagery in mind. Working with leading researchers in the field, our evidence-informed platform allows you to learn 2x faster than your friends (as published next week in IMPACT). The system is free and will cover all GCSE subjects.


  1. http://learninglab.psych.purdue.edu/
  2. https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/research/#tte
  3. Vlach and Sandhofer, 2012: http://babytalk.psych.ucla.edu/documents/Vlach_Sandhofer%20CD%202012.pdf
  4. Rohrer et al., 2015: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED557355.pdf
  5. http://www.niu.edu/user/tj0dgw1/classes/411/GoddenBaddeley1975.pdf
  6. https://ac.els-cdn.com/S001094521730196X/1-s2.0-S001094521730196X-main.pdf?_tid=09be2242-159d-11e8-8759-00000aacb35e&acdnat=1519062665_835bc6b4c9d573b72e4e5ed80aa2f1e7
  7. Paivio, 2014: https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0160289614001305/1-s2.0-S0160289614001305-main.pdf?_tid=spdf-d6d902ef-1476-439d-b870-842570d174b8&acdnat=1519063079_d004e4a83ff60c5f06cd3da82e5f0348
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