What Does Revision Really Mean?

“Revision is considered as ‘revision’ by teachers and lecturers, when a lot of the time it is ‘learning for the first time and desperately trying to remember’ for students.” – Rebecca Pickavance [Source]

This is a great insight into what many students don’t understand about revision.

Revision isn’t cramming. Revision isn’t learning new stuff a night or two before a test. Revision isn’t picking up a few essentials so you can pass.

The main purpose of swotting up before exams is to remind yourself of what has gone before. You should already be familiar with the content. As you learn over time, links are made and learning takes place gradually. But some of your knowledge fades away as you spend time on other things.

Revision doesn't have to be stressful.

Revision doesn’t have to be stressful.

To get back to optimum understanding, you revise.

Revision is refreshment. You go over the learning you’ve already done and bring it back to the front of your thinking. You may not have mastered the subject back to front, but you have enough understanding to have clarity and confidence when you need to use what you have learned.

Think of it as switching on a set of lights. You don’t install the wiring and fit the bulbs every time. You’ve done the hard work once and you’re left with the simple task of switching the lights back on. You still have to get out of your seat and press the button, but that’s all. And with enough connections, you’ll only need one switch to turn all the lights on at once.

When you revise, how much is new to you? How much are you properly learning for the first time here? The less it is, the better.

Why proving what you can do is better than improving your qualifications

Scott Young is taking a 4-year MIT course in Computer Science. But he’s taking it in just one year. And for less than $2000.

Scott says the future of learning will be personal, rather than steeped in official qualifications. The Internet already provides learning for everyone, which is exactly how Scott is taking the MIT course himself, at his own (faster) pace.

Many top universities provide lectures and course content free online. And now startups like Udacity, Coursera, and Khan Academy have come along to provide even more academic classes for free. You can learn at no cost in the comfort of your own home, room, library, garden…whatever!

Scott won’t receive a formal degree award from MIT when he completes his class, but he doesn’t mind:

“Our society incorrectly equates knowledge with accreditation. Getting a piece of paper is great, and for many lines of work, it’s completely necessary. But the equation is made so strongly that people forget the two things are different.
“I have nothing against college. University was an amazing and worthwhile experience for me, and it could be for you as well. All I hope is that by showing an alternative, people who feel the current system doesn’t work for them can find another path.”

You have a chance to find your own route, whatever your current situation is.

Once you take this route, the key is to prove your worth in ways that don’t rely solely on the degree you’ve been awarded. Traditional methods of bettering yourself for career and job purposes rely heavily on improving your qualifications.

But that’s because many people are used to those methods. It’s ‘normal’. It’s ‘what everyone does’.

And, of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking your own route can be so valuable. For a start, you automatically stand out. Hopefully for all the right reasons!

Formal routes are sometimes necessary for legal purposes or compliance reasons. Not everything can be bypassed without another thought. And that’s fine. Make it part of your route and do your own thing where you can.

Like Scott, I also have a lot of time for university. I’m sure you guessed that. The name of this blog is a clue… And if you need further proof, I’m called @universityboy on Twitter. I’m not about to give up on the wonders of university.

With all this in mind, what is more valuable: experience or a degree?

This question was asked over at The Student Room. My take is that both experience and degree are useful for different reasons and in different circumstances. A direct comparison is unhelpful.

One person gave a good explanation to the comparison problem:

“…it’s like saying which is more valuable, lungs or a stomach.”

Think of your experience and your degree as a set of situations about YOU. Translate these situations into what you’ve managed to get out of them. Sell yourself, not your grades. Talk about a range of experiences with purpose, so you can include what happened at university alongside everything else.

When you take this view, remember these two things:

  1. Tailor your approach each time you reach out to others – Why? Because perspective changes. Both yours and theirs. Consider things like this: Why are you reaching out to them? What are they looking for? How can you help them? What are the variables in this situation?
  2. Embrace failure – Why? Because no matter how much you prove what you can do, the context is taken out of your hands every time you interact with someone else. There are numerous stories of now famous authors who struggled to find a publisher. They had to submit their first book to many different publishers before one of them said ‘yes’. Imagine if all those authors had given up after the first try.

Jane Artess is director of research for the Higher Education Careers Services Unit. Speaking in the Guardian, she said:

“…one student’s stretch is another student’s yawn; one employer’s view of what constitutes talent may be written off as simply average by another.”

Put simply, no specific route is guaranteed. That’s why your own route is valid and why you must be careful before comparing things that don’t need a comparison.

Your route should include a mixture of traditional methods and unique ones. Find what works for you and not what seemed to work for someone else. Do take their advice and find clues, but don’t bother emulating the same successes, because it’s already been done.

You may or may not have aced a whole bunch of exams and studied to within an inch of your life. What does it truly make you? Shape your qualifications around your own narrative and unlock the story of you.

It’s not the grades that stand out, it’s the individual.

photo by HikingArtist.com

photo by HikingArtist.com

Expansive Learning Is Your Friend

You live and learn. Or so the saying goes.

When you finish a course module, do you put it behind you, or do you keep hold of the ideas, knowledge and possibilities that you built up over that time?

Unlike at school, your degree gives you more opportunity to take a holistic approach to learning. A discovery in one area of work can change your perceptions in other areas.

Make use of multiple connections as you learn (photo by identity chris is)

Make use of multiple connections as you learn (photo by identity chris is)

At university, you must take knowledge as a whole. The bigger picture matters. What you learn in one class may be relevant to another class. What you discovered in the first year is still often relevant in the second year and beyond.

Joelle Fanghanel quoted an academic in her book, Being An Academic, suggesting that compartments of learning are worryingly favoured over the expansion of knowledge as a whole:

“If you ask [students] a question which perhaps involves some knowledge that they have learnt in some other part of the course, they get indignant with us saying ‘well we haven’t done that with you, we have done that with somebody else in a different course’…There is very much this feeling that you do the work, you are tested, and that’s the end of it, you close the door on that piece of work.” [p.56]

Rather than close doors, make your bigger picture even bigger:

  • Use links to your advantage – The academic above stated that students can get annoyed when they find or discuss a link between one course and another. Instead, see it as a gift. Links like this help you not only strengthen the bonds between different strands of knowledge, but also build upon what you already knew in one easy step.
  • Keep your notes and quotes – Over the years, you’re expected to search deeper in your field of study. By ignoring your past work, you risk having to remind yourself further down the line. Worse, you may even be starting from scratch for no reason. I used to resent the need to study Milton’s Paradise Lost on about four occasions at school and uni, because I didn’t enjoy it much. But by the final time I was working on it, I realised how much reading and research I had already done on it. As a consequence, I made much better use of my time and past work than before. It saved me a lot of time and bother.
  • Take your own initiative – So what if you weren’t told about something in class itself? If you’ve stumbled across it in a different tutor’s lecture, let it add to your overall learning. Use your initiative and make the reference where you see fit. It’s no different to doing your own research in books. Treat all your discoveries as equally relevant, however you found them.

There will be times when you spot links that make you shout “Of course!” (not always literally…) and realise that your life has been made so much easier because of it.

Keep your mind open to expansive learning and you should get many more of these “Of course!” moments coming your way.

original photo by farleyj

original photo by farleyj

Lessons You Learn At University Go Way Beyond the Academic

If you need any further explanation that university can help you experience all sorts of things beyond your degree study, a University of Glamorgan student gives a bit more perspective in a list.

Student Ambassador, Aisling Galligan, has listed just some of the things she has been learning so far at university.

Aisling is currently in her second year at Glamorgan

Aisling is currently in her second year, studying Drama at Glamorgan

First on the list, Aisling now knows how to make ‘a wicked chilli-con-carne’. Her list is clearly not limited to academic learning.

Finding good deals, designing and painting, presenting videos, harmonising in a choir, effective reading of academic journals, and smiling more… the list covers all sorts. I’m sure it is just the tip of the iceberg, since Aisling calls her list a ‘selection’. And given she’s only in her second year, there will be many more learning opportunities to come.

That’s how it should be. A wealth of new discoveries is a big part of why you’re at uni. It’s hard to work out a true value to higher education because it’s an individual thing and it’s not entirely visible without hindsight. However, a simple list like Aisling has produced can help uncover the diversity of what’s available.

If you could list the things you’ve learned at uni, what things have (so far) been most valuable to you?