This is a continuation of the previous posts, essentially collecting thoughts for first year students. I am asking you, the reader to suggest what might be wrong, or missing from this, and anything else which will be helpful for a new first year who is just arriving at university to study maths…
The following sections in the resource book are about mentors and the whiteboard workshop. They are really quite specific to the course, and more about the details than the philosophy of it, so I am not including them here.
The next section on the other hand is vital, as most students are never given much guidance in how best to revise, and it is one of the most important skills they can gain. I have written my thoughts from my own experience, but I am not trained specifically in education, so I am grateful for any additional thoughts.
How to revise
Revision is a bit like comedy: Timing is everything! If you get the timing wrong your exams will fall as flat as if you were doing a stand-up show and told the punch-line at the beginning of a joke. Plan your timing, and make sure that you hit the exam when you’re at the peak of your understanding.
The other thing that is really important when you’re revising is to be in the right environment for optimum concentration. For some this may be the library, for some it may be at a cafe, for some it may be in your bedroom. What I can virtually promise you is that it won’t include having Facebook on in the background and Whatsapp by your side. Try to turn off as many devices as possible and work with just pen and paper as your only study materials. It may be that some people are able to revise in very different conditions, so it’s worth experimenting with what works best for you.
While you should be doing your tutorials as you go through the course, the tutorial sheets can also make for the bulk of your revision material. If you understand every question from every tutorial, then you should be able to score very very highly in the final exam.
When it comes to test revision, as well as exam revision, you have to balance the fact that you have to keep up with the new stuff you are learning, while also revising the material which is specifically for the test you are about to take. This isn’t an easy balance, but it is possible, especially if you’ve kept good notes of your tutorial solutions as you’ve been going through them the first time.
By the time you get to the decant test you will have done at least five tutorials. My advice would be to start ramping up to serious revision two weeks before this test. That means going back to the first tutorial and making sure that you still understand it. That means actually sitting down and doing it again, without the answers you wrote before, writing notes about anything which you don’t quite remember, and, if you feel completely comfortable with it, running through any extra questions you can find on the topic. Read through the notes on that section and make sure that everything makes sense – you are looking for mastery, not just a basic knowledge. Then go through the second tutorial a day later, then the third a day later, etc. By the time you’re a few days from the test, you have been through all the past tutorials, and feel comfortable with them. Now look through the past papers. Sit down with them as if you were sitting a real test and time yourself. Work out which areas are still difficult and go back and revise these, then do the tests again. Find more questions on these areas. I am happy to send you more if you have run out of material. 24 hours before the test you should have to do any revision at all, but just to make yourself comfortable, you can sit down and reread your notes to make sure it’s all fresh. Really this time should be a day of reasonable relaxation, letting your mind mull over what it’s taken in over the last two weeks. It’s important that you have timed yourself going through past tests so that you feel confident that you will have enough time when the pressure is on.
The revision for the other tests should be pretty similar.
The revision for the exams is different because you have a lot more material to get through. In fact you have a whole year’s worth of material to revise which is a daunting task! I would recommend starting at least a month before the exams. This sounds a lot, but it means that it’s not a rush. Go back to the very beginning and revise the previous tutorials just as you did for the tests, but now you’ve been through each tutorial at least twice before, and so it should be much faster. You should be able to get through several tutorials a week. Try and make sure that you’ve been through all the tutorials at least a week before the exams so that you can sit down with past exam papers and go through them just as you did for the tests.
Integrated into this revision should be discussions with classmates to talk about tricky problems you’ve found and to teach other people what you’ve learnt. Teaching really is the best way to learn this stuff!