There’s not much left to do in the last days before the PSLE, or is there? Can any effort at this point make a significant difference? What do scientists feel are the most effective study methods?
To help you resolve your last-minute revision dilemmas, we’ve turned to the book Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning (available at the NLB) for some evidence-based advice.
Should my child review notes or work on practice questions?
There’s no doubt about this one: you should skip the re-reading, note taking, and highlighting, and focus all remaining study time on quizzing oneself or attempting more practice questions! Why? Well, answering a question requires one to put effort into retrieving information from one’s memory — research has found that the very act of doing this will change the memory and make it easier to retrieve again later.
Does rereading one’s notes or model answers not help at all? According to Make It Stick, research has indicated that compared to reading, testing “can facilitate better transfer of knowledge to new contexts and problems, and… improves one’s ability to retain and retrieve material that is related but not tested.” Given that this is the eleventh hour, it’s better to pick the science-backed option, rather than one that may only give the illusion of knowledge.
Should my child skip MCQs entirely and focus on practising open-ended questions?
Empirical evidence from studies has suggested that working harder to retrieve information results in greater retention of that information. This means that practising open-ended questions or more challenging questions should result in greater brain gains than merely answering MCQs or True/False questions.
That said, you will also need to consider other factors such as your child’s morale and motivation levels. Working on easier questions such as MCQs can still help your child to retain information. If you sense your child may be losing steam at this stage, it’s wiser to keep things light so that your child doesn’t feel burned out and demoralised.
Should my child work on topical exercises or exam papers?
Unless your child is struggling with basic concepts, you should go with exam papers. Working on exam papers would count as “interleaved practice,” involving the mastery of two or more skills at a time. Research has found that being tasked to solve problems in a mixed sequence — as opposed to working on sets of similar problems — results in improved performance over time. Why? The main justification for interleaved practice is that it improves the brain’s ability to distinguish between concepts, because one isn’t relying on a rote response. The other explanation is that interleaved practice continually engages your brain into making connections, and this enhances learning.
At home, your child can attempt interleaved practice by working on exam papers or even switching between subjects, e.g. 15 minutes of math practice, followed by 15 minutes of science revision.
Should my child work extra hard during this last week?
You may not like this answer, but it’s a firm “no.” Here’s what Making It Stick has to say:
“Cramming, a form of massed practice, has been likened to binge-and-purge eating. A lot goes in, but most of it comes right back out in short order. The simple act of spacing out study and practice in installments and allowing time to elapse between them makes both the learning and the memory stronger, in effect building habit strength.”
If your child is already working on practice papers in school, you may want to keep home revision sessions short and sweet — one strategy for the final week could be to look at your child’s work from a week or even a month ago, and pick out a few questions each day for your child to reattempt. Giving a child an old problem to solve requires him or her to work harder to retrieve the necessary information, and as mentioned previously, the harder you work, the better it is for future retention.
But above all, your priority in this final week should be on making sure that your child is well-rested — it can boost your child’s grades! In fact, if your child is not getting an average of 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, do see how you can tweak his or her routine to incorporate more time for rest.
What if there’s crucial information that my child keeps forgetting?
The first and easiest thing you can do is have your child read the information out loud — the dual action of speaking and reading makes the information more memorable for the brain and increases the likelihood of retention.
Another common memory hack for students is the use of mnemonics, such as the name “ROY G. BIV” to represent the colour spectrum, or “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles” for the order of the planets.
You don’t want to introduce overly complicated memory techniques at this point, so a final memory hack that your child could try is visualisation, or linking an image to a word or concept — using creativity to make it distinctive. For instance, when trying to remember the meaning of the word “ameliorate,” one could imagine a nurse named Amelia who always makes others feel better.