Taught how to revise.

Today has been a bit trying.

Basically, a lecturer took it upon himself to decide how we were all going to revise. He has a policy of not giving out the answers to past exam papers.

To be fair, I understood most of his reasoning.

He made the points:

1) In the real world, you won’t get the answers for everything.

2) You need to learn how to be assured that the answer you have put is the right one, just by understanding the material.

3) There are enough fully worked through answers in the notes so you can use those as references.

Which all make sense. But I have a few counterpoints for them:

1) In the real world, you are very rarely made to memorise formulas and methods and re write them in exam conditions in a given limited amount of time.

2) I can do that, and I do learn by that in all of my subjects. However, there is always that nagging doubt in your mind that you are wrong. Checking your answers reassures you that you are right in your thinking. Also, checking my answers has allowed me to learn what common silly mistakes I do in certain questions which I can see and then fix.

3) You can easily get the wrong idea from only one method of working through, which I have done multiple times, and so have a big error in your working. Also, the exam questions are quite a bit different to his examples.

On the bright side, he has eventually decided to give us the answers, but this was only due to him going on holiday over the exam period so he would not be available to go to for help. Thank you to a friend of mine for pointing out that ‘If we don’t have the answers, can we at least have some office hours where we can go to check our working with you?’.

But there has been a pattern recently of people trying to lead us into a certain way of revising. This is an issue for the people that have spent the years learning a method which works for you and then suddenly having that method made unavailable to you.

Even through school, quite often we are taught to learn toward exams. This lends itself to repeating exam questions over and over, as given by the large number of past exams always given to you in A-Levels. This pushes us towards using past exams and checking the answers as our form of revision.

This is further reinforced by, as I saw mainly in my biology exams, that the marks can be given for very specific sentences. This makes us memorise chunks of answers from past exams and just learn them by rote to paste into our exams. This is the only way you can get the marks. Even the teacher was frustrated by this, but she didn’t control the exam board.

Also, the pure amount of knowledge we are expected to cram into our brains lends itself to memorisation and short term memory techniques, only to jettison the knowledge after one exam to make room for the next. This stops us from being able to fully delve into and understand what we are meant to be learning.

I know, in my case, that I don’t remember half of the things I supposedly ‘learned’ in my first or second years. The only things I know I have remembered are the things that we have kept on using or have built on. This is a bad technique for creating fully knowledgable and well-rounded people for the real world. We’re putting graduates out there unprepared for what is expected of them.

I am a believer of making every resource you can available to the student, and letting them decide how and what to use to best revise for them.

In the end, the only people affected by what we learn and how we learn it, are ourselves.


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