High Performance Revision – How to deliver your best results the easy way

High performance revision is a skill that anyone can learn.

High performance revision is a skill that anyone can learn.

Or how students can boost their performance by doing less work.

Yes we really mean it, revision doesn’t always mean more and more hard work. Most of the students that come to us for coaching are in fact ‘overworking’. For some, the idea that it is possible to ‘over-work’ in the run up to exams makes no sense whatsoever. However, many students are doing just this and bringing down their overall exam performances as a result.

Overworking and poor results:

Research has shown that it is surprisingly easy to put huge amounts of effort into revision using ineffective study techniques and therefore deliver very little in results (Professor John Dunlosky et al 2013  http://psi.sagepub.com/content/14/1/4.full.pdf%20html?ijkey=Z10jaVH/60XQM&keytype=ref&siteid=sppsi

If students are doing this they may all too easily believe that their poor results are the result of their mental capabilities rather than their approach to revision and exams. They tell themselves that they aren’t bright enough or  (even worse) that they aren’t working hard enough. As a result, they work harder and harder, doing more and more of what isn’t working rather than looking at their approach and methods.

For example, in the meta analysis referred to above carried out by Professor Dunlosky et al 2013 only 2 of the top 10 revision techniques were shown to be effective’ that is testing yourself and spacing out your learning over time . Sounds simple, however, we can be highly resistant to changing our study habits and as a result we can waste a great deal of our valuable time and energy.

The Law of Diminishing Returns:

When we have become used to pushing ourselves we can forget about the Law of Diminishing Returns.  This Law recognises that when we go into a poor performance cycle and we keep pushing through the returns on our efforts gradually diminish. We get less and less done whilst working harder and harder to achieve it. Our resources and capacity are being drained by our own efforts. We are driven by the belief  that we ‘just need to do more’ without questioning the way we are going about things. We certainly don’t look at just how tired we are becoming and question whether this may be impacting our performance. Many students we work with are pushing themselves hard within this cycle, driven by feelings of guilt and doubt.

Ask yourself – is this you? Do you constantly feel like there isn’t enough time? Do you always feel like you are catching up? Do you feel that there is no end to how hard you are prepared to push yourself? If so it might be worth stopping for a few minutes and thinking about how effective you are being. §

Where does the real problem lie?

The problem often lies in a combination of the way that we are working and the beliefs that we hold.

  1. Things need to feel difficult in order for us to know we are ‘working hard’.
  2. I am not a human being, I am a study machine and the human being only detracts from my possible results.
  3. What other people are doing affects me and what I should be doing.
  4. I need to be seen to be ‘beating’ everyone else’ efforts.

Basic Assumptions about revision:

There are however some basic assumptions that underlie these ways of thinking. Assumptions that are fundamentally inaccurate. For instance:

  1. By working hard I can ignore my human needs.
  2. If I feel OK about my work it means it is good work.
  3. Feeling ‘OK’ = not feeling guilty.
  4. My body and my mind don’t need to rest.
  5. Rest is ‘dead time’ and not good for anything, particularly exam preparation.

Students are like athletes:

So many of these assumptions do not get tested or questioned.  In fact research shows that all of them are unhelpful and inaccurate.

It helps students to think of themselves like athletes and this is a great analogy for parents to use with their children when providing help and support.

Like athletes students need to:

  • Prepare for big events weeks in advance.
  • Practice again and again to be sure they’re ready.
  • Practice with other people to make sure they can react quickly and think on their feet.
  • Get lots of rest and relaxation to help build their muscles (the brain).
  • Have fun so they don’t stagnate and lose their motivation.
  • Eat well and be in good condition.
  • Sleep well so they can be alert and focused at the big events.
  • Be flexible and try different approaches to improve their performance.
  • Learn stress management strategies to manage the big events.

In all of this there is no mention of pushing one-self beyond what is effective. Top flight athletes take their bodies and minds to the limit but they spend much time and money ensuring that this limit is effective.

Athletes build rest and recovery into their high performance plans:

Students need to be able to judge what is safely their limits and to know how long they can carry this on for. Athletes get a lot of help in terms of pushing themselves hard and then properly recovering ready for the next training session or competition. Their recovery, rest and recuperation IS BUILT IN to the high performance plan. So many times students completely miss this out of their revision planning and lifestyle management.

We cannot produce top class performance without top class rest and recuperation. In our coaching sessions we find that many students do not know how to rest. They haven’t developed a guilt free relationship to relaxing and unwinding. It is vitally important that students understand that their ‘go-to’ activities such as video games, films and TV, dancing, football etc are all ESSENTIAL parts of their overall performance plan. Knowing how to wind down and being able to reach for this at need is as essential as being able to gear up and push yourself to study.

How To Work Out Your Own Top Performance Plan:

There are three steps-

  1. When did you last work in a relaxed, effective way?
  2. What conditions helped you do this?
  • Had you slept well?
  • We’re you in your room alone/ studying with another/ in a library/ cafe?
  • How long did you study for?
  • What did you start with? Was it fun? Small? Easy? Book or internet?
  • Did you have a plan?
  • Did you take breaks?
  • Did you have all day or was it a tight schedule?
  • Did you write on paper? White board? Talk it out? Listen to audio? Draw pictures?

3. How can you use these conditions to help you study better in other situations? How can you set them up again?

If you start to think about the conditions in which you study, as well as the techniques you use and your rest and recovery periods this will enhance your results tremendously. Non of this is about putting in more effort – it is about working smarter and easier.

Feeling that your revision and work is easier can in fact be an indicator that you are being more effective rather than less.