The food of revision

Last summer, along with thousands of teenagers and adults across the UK, I took my GCSE examinations. With 12 subjects and 20 examinations, it’s fair to assume that revision would have started pretty much at the beginning of the school year.

But, like any pre-determined scheme, external factors influence it, and when I contracted a series of influenzas and glandular fever throughout the year, I thought my chances of cramming in enough revision in addition to catching up work were pretty slim, especially considering in one subject I hadn’t done around 55% of the course by March prior to the June examinations.

Concerning; worrying; stressful – perhaps, but the knowledge that I had limited time when it came down to serious revision actually helped me in the end.

Being musical, the extra stress caused in those weeks led me to go and tinker on the pianoforte, or listen to certain pieces of music over and over whilst I tried to learn some Classical Greek literature, or biological processes of bodily transportation. It was during this action, originally and ostensibly for stress-busting, that I discovered the ultimate revision tool: music.

Our brains memorise musical patterns more quickly and more naturally than they do chunks of information or visual detail. If you give a teenager a popular song to listen to, chances are they’ll be able to sing back the lyrics back after a few hearings, whereas a passage from Romeo and Juliet of comparable length would probably require tens of hearings.

This is to do, as I believe, with the marriage of words and melody. Particularly when one likes a certain harmony in a song, or a particular bass line, one’ll pay attention to the structure of that song and try to emulate it in our brains; indeed, songs with especially striking lyrical or melodic features often replay in our brains as perfect as the originals, despite our attempts to reproduce them aloud.

This easy memorability is, so I’ve found, the perfect style of revision, the optimum style of remembering information, regardless of most learning styles. Try fitting Latin vocabulary , composed into sentences, to Take That; kinematic equations and their derivations to Sir Tom Jones or German verbs to songs from the musicals. Take advantage of YouTube; of Horrible Histories, or the calorimetry song.

The lineage of English monarchs seems long and, much to the chagrin of elementary history students, hard to memorise. To prove my point, take this Horrible Histories song and see how long it takes you to learn at least most of the order.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/clips/p00h9nqb

[Song courtesy of BBC]

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