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Reviewing class material

Six easy steps to review class material:

1. Original learning must take place.

  • You have to learn the material before you can review it.

2. Early review is most efficient and most productive.

Before you attempt to learn new material in class or through reading:

  • Glance over previous chapters or notes.
  • Run through your mind what you know already.

Since memorization of new material is most effective when it is associated with the material already known, this process brings all available mental ‘hooks’ to the surface.

Immediately after learning:

  • Rework your notes, adding material that comes to mind. Don't just re-copy; this is a waste of time.
  • Order and organize what was learned (highlight, use arrows, add additional comments).
  • Integrate new material with what you already know.

Forgetting is most rapid right after learning; review helps combat this forgetting. Re-learning is easier if it is done quickly, so do it right after your lecture. Don't wait until your brain is drained.

3. Space out learning.

Several brief periods spread over five or 10 days is usually enough to ensure good recall for intermediate review.

4. Intermediate review is important when work is spread out over several weeks or months.

For example, when the final exam is four months away, follow this schedule:

  • Original learning.
  • Immediate review of new material later the same day (15 to 30 minutes).
  • Intermediate review of material covered so far, every two to three weeks (one to two hours).
  • Final review before exam, spread over a couple of days and in one hour blocks of time.

5. Final review is a REVIEW, not cramming of unlearned material.

No new learning takes place except to unite the main currents of thought. Therefore:

  • Be brief. Review the entire semester's work in four to six hours spread over a few days.
  • Outline and organize from memory. Don't waste your time copying.
  • Recite by writing or orally to a friend or yourself. Speaking enhances your memory for the material.

6. Use spaced review rather than massed practice.

  • One hour spent in three, 20-minute sessions is more effective than 60 minutes used all at once.
  • Break up the learning period for any one subject.
  • Avoid fatigue by taking breaks and getting proper nutrition.
  • Review and strengthen previous learning.
  • Spacing = Increased motivation = better concentration = greater retention.


©Adapted from Academic Skills Center, Dartmouth College 2001

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