How to use Generation and Elaboration to Make your Revision more Effective

Exam season is around the corner and we want to ensure that you can revise in the most effective way possible. Understanding how to revise and the science behind how we learn was something I started to get interested in during Year 11. However, when I got to sixth-form, the workload was a shock. I remember my first History lesson- we’d been given a task to write an introductory essay over the summer- and I remember how enjoyable and calm our discussion was. This gave me the impression that all of History would be like this- wrong! That same lesson, we were given our homework task- to read 30 pages of historical material due for the next day!

I quickly realised in Year 12 that as well as working hard, I’d need to learn how to work smart (and read smart). I’m very grateful to my history teachers because the amount of independent work they encouraged us to do allowed me to develop my revision practices. You might not be studying History or at sixth-form yet but as you know, at Doceo we believe in constant growth and development. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the revision techniques I’ve picked up as well as some lessons from ‘Make It Stick’ by Peter Brown. This week, we’ll look at two specific study techniques: generation and elaboration. If you’re ready to learn, grab a notepad and let’s go!

1: Generation.

According to Brown, generation is ‘an attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution.” In other words, it involves trying to ‘generate’ an answer or solution to a problem from your mind. A key component of generation in my opinion is not being afraid of getting it wrong- at all. It’s likely that if you’re dealing with a new concept, you might get it wrong but doing do actually benefits your revision in this instance. For example, when I came across a new word in French, I would sometimes try to guess the meaning based on the other words around it or the word’s sound or appearance. Sometimes, my guess would be close to the right answer and sometimes it would be very wrong but each time I did this with new terminology, I better recognised the word. The simple act of engaging with the material more actively even if you get some parts wrong helps you remember the experience with that material and makes you more likely to recall it.

If you’d like to try this out, the next time you come across a new Maths problem, try to solve it before you look at the method. Doing a gap fill exercise is also a really good way of making reading more active as trying to generate some of the words yourself can help you remember a text.

2: Elaboration.

This technique is useful to build on and improve your understanding of new material by ‘finding additional layers of meaning in new material’. (Make It Stick) A good way to practice this would be to relate the information you’re trying to learn to something you already know. For example, some people use ‘memory palaces’ to associate various elements of a historical event or a biological concept to different elements in their room. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of a mnemonic device! We made up lots of these to help us remember the sequence of events in History for example. (Yes, even at A-Level!)

Implementing these techniques and trying to improve your revision methods in any way is a process that might take some time to get used to. I remember that almost every time I tried a new revision method, I’d be worried about what would happen if it turned out that I’d revised in the wrong way or if everyone else had this secret intelligent formula that I didn’t.

To help with this, it’s good to review your revision practices quite often and ask yourself if you’re enjoying how you revise or think it’s effective. In addition, test yourself on the material you’ve been learning to see how much you have understood or retained. Yet, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that revision (and doing so effectively) is a process and might take some time.

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