Although revision techniques are many and varied one of my favourite techniques is based on keywords because it’s so highly-adaptable; it’s equally suited to on-course as it is to post-course revision (although I actually believe the former is both more effective and encourages a greater depth of revision).
In basic terms keyword revision simply involves identifying and recording the most important (or key) ideas you encounter on the course. In this respect – and to use a currently-fashionable concept – keywords represent a form of metadata; ideas that provide an underlying structure to further ideas by describing how and why such ideas relate to one another.
To use a simple example, at the end of teaching a family module it should be possible to write the word “FAMILY” at the centre of a whiteboard and expect students to generate masses of relevant data simply by focusing on the keyword and using it (and their underlying knowledge of the topic) to produce further, linked, information. This, in turn, generates further keywords, further data and so forth.
In this respect data generation might proceed along the lines of students suggesting a definition of “a family” which, in turn, gets them thinking about linked information (family structures, types of family, family functions and so on).
For me, therefore, the use of keywords has some significant advantages:
- It encourages active revision – students may, for example, search actively through their notes to find key ideas rather than passively read through them trying to memorise sections.
- They provide a reflective focus for student knowledge – in order to identify a significant keyword the student has to understand why one idea is more important than another.
- It encourages the linking of ideas: as I’ve suggested, the identification of a powerful keyword can be used to unlock further information the student has already stored.
- They provide a structure to the revision process that can be carried-over into an exam – an idea we can illustrate in a couple of ways:
The first is a simple “bare bones” approach that’s similar to a Mind Map or Spider diagram: significant keywords are identified and radiate out from a central idea. This type of keyword mapping is more-suited to post-course revision and a worked example (based on Haralambos et. al’s “Sociology in Focus” textbook) we could use here is based on Sociology and Science.
The second approach is more-involved in that while it’s based on keyword identification the map itself is much more extensive; it can include brief examples, explicatory text and the like.
This type of mapping is much more suited to on-course revision because it involves more time, thought and construction. An added benefit of using it on-course is that it becomes a very powerful form of note-taking as well as a revision device because it is so highly-structured. We can look at this technique using a worked example based on sociological perspectives.