Revision can be something IB students do very well and in advance OR can be left until the very last minute. Tim Williams, an OSC author and IB expert, has written a four-part series on what you can still do to prepare for the exams.

Magical Revision Tip 4: ‘How the heck do I remember it all?’ You don’t. Don’t even try.

Remember the first step? You don’t need to remember everything, but here are some excellent ways to remember what you do need. Some of it might stick in your memory for decades.

Part 4: Remembering big wodges of stuff.

Imagine you made a tower of all the textbooks and texts you’ve studied over the last two years, and then you piled up around it all the notes you’ve made… a big sprawling mess maybe a metre high? (Not George of course – he has only 20 sheets of hand-outs and he lost the texts last year). That’s a good metaphor for your memory. If you wanted to find something in that mound, you’d find it much easier if you’d organised it logically (by folders for different subjects, for example) and if there were colours/shapes involved (all the Language notes were on green paper, maths on yellow, that chunky copy of Hamlet …)

Here’s big, good news  – you don’t need to remember/find everything in that pile. Don’t even try. After all, just remembering is not understanding. But you may need some facts… Spend one of your 20-minute sessions working out if they are any topics for which you really need to remember a lot of facts and information. And now you use organisation and colours to recall them…

Sick lady on a bike. I call it this because I created an image on a visit to a school of a shopping list which started with a sick lady on a bike and a year later a student greeted me on my return with ‘Hey – it’s the sick lady man…’ This works really well for up to 15 items, like a shopping list (but you now have no time to shop…) More usefully for you – 15 main ideas/headings/facts in a sequence/terms.

You create an image in your mind of e.g. Economics – development strategies? Mr Harod and Mrs Domar hold up posters of saying AID with two hands or many hands, there’s ugly investors from MCNs or TNCs creeping up behind, a young guy in front is shouting ‘Fair Trade’, and has a tiny note saying ‘Microcredit’ in his ear, etc…

Solids in chemistry? On one side of a road are GIANTS, the other wimpy little Molecules. Weaving around them are three saucy young ladies called Ionic (big eyes), Metallic (with a metal wig) and Covalent (who’s bi…lingual…). Etc.

Memory mansions. Rightly famous, a developed version of the above. Make a pile of the information you need to remember. Think of a friend’s flat (not your own – too confusing). Start putting that information round the flat, different information for different topics in each room. Let your imagination run wild (nobody will see inside your head). In the hall there’s a carpet saying one thing, graffiti on the back wall saying another, your friend’s mother whispers another, the parrot in the corner squawks another… paintings, mats, windows, notes, people, boxes, melting radiators, speaking flowers, multi-coloured dogs…

Quotations. Lots of students stress about this, though remember (ho ho) you can get a 7 in Language A without any quotations, just close reference. But still and all, they can help, and choosing them is a useful way to revise anyway. So choose your dozen quotations and write them on big post-its (a different colour for each different text). Write the first three words, or maybe the three most significant words, in CAPITALS and bright colours. Then stick them round your house, different texts or poems in different rooms. This way you have three cues to memory – the words in writing, the colours, and the places.

Alternatively, write the quotations on file cards rather than post its, and put a stack in your pocket when you go to school. Get a friend to do the same. Then when you pass each other in the corridor, meet on the bus, have lunch together, choose a card at random and give your friend the first half of the quotation to complete. Repeat occasionally till they/you only need a key word…

HINT: A lot of examiners get disproportionately twitchy if you ever write ‘A quote…’ The Chief Examiner even wrote irritatedly about it in the Subject Report. The word you want, the noun, is ‘quotation’. Nobody needs a twitchy examiner…

That last idea, using your friends? There’s a lot of ways to use friends, to cut the workload by half. 




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Tim Williams began IB teaching more than 30 years ago as Head of Languages at International College Spain in Madrid, and has since taught English, TOK, Psychology and other subjects in diverse roles around the world. His broad-ranging experience as teacher, administrator, department head, senior examiner, examiner trainer, and workshop leader, positions him perfectly to provide real-world advice to IB students.