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  • Dr Kate Nickson

Effective Learning Strategies: Active Learning

When my students do not do as well as hoped for in an exam and I ask them how they revised, they often tell me that they read through their notes, or perhaps watched a YouTube video. If they have done a bit more, then they might have attempted some past paper questions. The latter is good, but they have still missed out a step, which is memorising the content through active learning techniques, before doing exam questions. Memorising is hard and time consuming but there is no short cut. Different methods will suit different people and to some extent they need to use trial and error to find which methods are effective for them and which are suited to specific subjects, as it is not a case of one size fits all. The more they must use their brain and think, the more connections they will make in their brain and thus the easier they find it to recall the material.

Active learning techniques that suit Chemistry

· Writing brief  notes – not simply rewriting everything. e.g. bullet points or annotated diagrams

· Mind maps are even better than notes. They should make connections between different components of a topic and even between different topics.

· Put a piece of paper over answers to calculations and try them again.

· Write out key definitions or make flashcards or use a site like quizlet.

· Answer or even make quizzes for a friend.

· Ask someone to test you and make a note of anything you need to review.

· Teach a friend. Try pairing up and each pick a different topic or subject to become a specialist in and teach to the other.

· Try exam style questions and past papers without looking at the mark schemes once basic memorising has been done. Review the relevant section in their notes if they find questions that they cannot answer. Then mark their answers strictly after each set, noting how answers could be improved.


Key steps in revision

1. Recall what is covered in the topic in order to identify the specific aspects on which they should focus e.g. by reading through notes or watching YouTube videos.

2. Use active learning techniques to memorise content.

3. Practise calculations and exam style questions and mark them.


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Chemistry mind map

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