Revision techniques - what really works?

A study into revision methods

So what revision techniques are out there and which ones are the most effective? There’s no easy answer to that second question, but there are studies which give us some clues.

Back in 2013 Prof John Dunlovsky of Kent State University in the United States reviewed 1,000 scientific studies, looking at the ten most popular revision methods.

The most effective techniques

The study looked at ten different revision methods such as highlighting and underlining, re-reading notes and writing summaries. Prof Dunlovsky and his team concluded that two of the methods tested came out on top.

Spreading study out over time

Spreading your revision out over a longer period of time proved to be very effective. So get started as early as you can with revision and avoid cramming in the days before an exam.


According to Prof Dunlovsky, "students who can test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material better in the long run".

“Start by reading the text book, then make flash cards of the critical concepts and test yourself. A century of research has shown that repeated testing works.”

Prof Dunlovsky

The study rated the following three revision techniques as 'moderately effective'.

  • Explaining a point or fact you are learning to another person.
  • Explaining to yourself, without prompts, how a problem is solved or how facts relate to each other.
  • Switching between different subjects and/or types of questions.

Methods such as highlighting text and re-reading notes were found to be less effective. But remember, this is just one research project. There are other studies out there, so it’s not the final word.

A guide to using past papers and self-testing