Whenever I open the fridge, I'm faced with a maths formula. Now, I'm not a maths person (English is more my thing), but my daughter bravely (or stupidly?) chose to study maths for one of her A Levels and is now in the thick of revising. Apparently decorating various parts of the house with revision aids is helping her fill her head with various mathematical and historical facts. She's also studying art, but you can't really revise art, although the results would probably be far more pleasing to the eye than going for a shower only to find 'Stalin sent 14 million people to the gulags' stuck to the bathroom door. I'm not much of a history buff, either, but I can tell you that my knowledge of British and Russian history in the early 20th century has improved vastly during the last few weeks. Apparently I am history, seeing as I was around during the Winter of Discontent (and this is not Shakespeare we're talking about, but the period during 1978-9 when the binmen went on strike) and when the Bank of England lost £2 billion per hour during Black Wednesday in 1992. Niamh was also quite entranced by the idea that her grandmother was a teenager during the 1950s and obviously went around looking like Sandy out of Grease, complete with ponytail and circular skirt. Actually, I think she did. Hopefully she was more Sandy than Rizzo anyway.
But to return to the point (always difficult when you're revising), revision - as most teenagers will agree - is a necessary evil. Unless you're some sort of genius, or have a photographic memory, or won't actually have to work for a living, you need to revise for exams. It's just how it works. It's not much fun, but it's got to be done. There's a poem there - somewhere.
So how do you stop yourself watching trashy television and tune into statistics instead? How can you focus on the delights of the digestive system rather than what's for dinner? Good question. It helps to actually enjoy the subject, but that's not always possible. After all, while you might have found GCSE geography quite fun (especially the day trip to Lyme Regis to look for icecream - sorry, fossils), A Level geography and its tendency to focus on international trade might not be quite so absorbing.
OK then. You might not be enjoying the subject as much as you thought, but there's still an exam to be passed, so you have to find some way of making it enjoyable. Transferring a mass of information - especially in the form of words - is a big ask and - let's face it - likely to be mind-numbingly boring. And boring stuff is what makes your mind wander. Having to concentrate on several A4 sheets of type is enough to make even the most dedicated of students run screaming from the room and straight into the garden for a sneaky sprawl on a sun lounger. So reading lots of words is obviously not the way to do it. It just won't work, unless you're really, really interested.
All right - enough of the 'how not to do it' and more of the 'how do I do it?'
Colour. Cartoon pictures. Little diagrams. Phrases that mean absolutely nothing at all but help you remember dates or how to read a graph - did you know that Fish Make Xylophones? No, neither did I. Revision is all about memory, and the brain remembers better if it's routinely battered with the same information. So if you have something to look at that you can take in all at the same time and at regular intervals, instead of having to leaf through lots of pages, you might find you retain it better. So, when you're trying to recall that information in the exam, you can conjure it up in your mind's eye as part of a picture - a mindmap, a flowchart or a simple diagram - and 'see' that the Great Fire of London (writ large in orange and red) started in Pudding Lane (drawing of your mum's bread and butter pudding here) in 1666 (cartoon of a devil to help you remember the '666' bit).
All you need are a few blank index cards, some sheets of A4, or - even better - A3 paper, some colouring pens, a highlighter or two, the odd fineliner and a pencil. STABILO have long been school stationery specialists, and - as you might expect - they have all the means necessary to create as many mindmaps as you might need and a whole host of flowcharts. What you don't need, necessarily, is any skill in art. All you're doing is turning information into a visual form, not aiming to display at the Tate Gallery. You're creating pictures that mean something to you.
You could create a flowchart to remember the water cycle, but with drawings rather than just words. Point 88 fineliners and Sensors would be perfect for this. You could use a series of index cards to summarise the plots of English literature texts, using colour to separate them: red could be Macbeth (for the blood, obviously), while pink could be Animal Farm (for the pig!) 'Seeing' Napoleon in STABILO's pink pastel highlighter should make you remember that he's part of George Orwell's novel and not one of Shakespeare's characters.
Even maths - as Niamh has found - can be mind-mapped. What she really likes doing is art, so she's used her skills to make differentiation and integration - and all the rest of those terms that I can't actually remember (sorry, but I'm not the one that's revising) visually pleasing and memorable, rather than a confusing swimmy mass of numbers. She's working really hard at it, because it's either that or a maths tutor…
9 May 2018