“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” - Albert Einstein
Our brain learns by making mistakes. If you’re at secondary school and studying for your GCSEs, you don’t need to worry about making mistakes while you study as they’ll help you to learn.
However, you won't want to make too many mistakes on your exams so we’re here to show you how to learn from your mistakes and effectively study. We’ve got some advice on how to get the most out of the time you spend doing your homework so that you’ll effectively learn and do better on your exams.
You need to be focused on your homework. Homework starts before you get home as the learning process begins in your lessons and you need to listen to your teachers. Your academic success will hinge on whether you listen to your teachers during class so don’t wait until you get home to start thinking about what your teacher was saying.
If you’re paying attention in class during the week, you’ll find your homework easier when you sit down to do it.
Active engagement also begins in class and continues when the student gets home.
You need to do more than focus during your lessons. You need to practise active listening. Learn to separate the essential and non-essential when taking notes. Prioritise what you really need to write down.
Taking notes isn’t just about noting what your maths, English, or science teacher has to say. It’s about putting the concepts into your own words or a notetaking system that you can understand. This is an essential part of learning and consolidating knowledge so don’t hesitate to learn new notetaking techniques. You can also make notes on the mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re aware of them.
If the teacher gives you an exercise to do, don’t wait for them to correct it. Really think about what you’re doing, go back over your answers, and try to understand why you put each answer. Don't forget to make sure that you ask questions and get clarification on concepts that you feel you haven’t clearly understood.
Engagement at Home
Once you sit down to do your homework, you’ll also need to actively engage. Train yourself to look at corrections, too. You don’t need to fill the page with them, but rather focus on quality corrections rather than a large quantity of them. Practise being involved during the correction process and compare the answers you gave to the correct ones and see where you went wrong. Go over the key steps that led to your errors and learn not to reproduce them.
If you need to learn something, don’t passively read or skim, but focus on the learning objectives, highlight the essential information, and go back over these parts for the key topics, concepts, etc.
If you want to memorise part of your lesson, see if you remember parts of it before reading it again. Test your memory before you read something a second time.
We often think that when we learn, we record information like a photograph. However, learning is more like archery:
- We try.
- We miss.
- We adjust our aim.
- We try again.
Bit by bit, you’ll get closer to the target.
When it comes to homework, we don't recommend skipping over any of the steps. Be methodical in your approach and go back over your final answers one last time. It’s very easy to slip up and make silly mistakes so always give every answer a second look, especially if the homework counts towards your final grade in some way. You might also want to put together sheets explaining processes and systems that you can refer to.
To improve your academic performance, you need to make sure that what you’re learning stays in your head.
Consolidate Your Knowledge
Research has shown that rats that solve mazes during the day will dream about them at night. During their sleep, they go through the maze again in their mind. This replay effect helps us learn new skills, develop muscle memory, and remember parts of songs or even mathematical equations. Once this becomes second nature to us, we can carry out the processes without feeling the need to think about them.
You effectively get the equivalent of half an hour of revision just by going to sleep. This is why it’s recommended to study something four times for 15 minutes rather than once for an hour. It’s more effective to have studied for three hours across several sessions than for one five-hour session.
Spaced repetition across several days allows you to also enjoy the benefits that sleep offers memory. During your sleep, your brain will reorganise what you’ve studied and store it. When you try the task again the following day, you’ll be better at it. This is good advice to take with you throughout your entire education.
Learning Dates and Facts
If you need to learn dates and facts like when the plague happened or when a certain king was crowned, studying the night before can be effective. If you just need these facts for a short amount of time, this is a good way to do it. Something you learn quickly is also forgotten fairly quickly.
If you need to remember facts, dates, or quotes for a long time, however, you should use the previous approach.
Adapt to Each Subject
Homework can differ according to the subject and level. There are three key factors you need to consider when doing homework.
#1 - Does this new topic require new technical knowledge?
- Maths, science: Yes.
- Languages, economics, geography: Sometimes.
- History, philosophy: Rarely.
Generally speaking, some subjects require you to learn new techniques and approaches before you can broach new topics. In these cases, you’ll need to go back over the new processes and techniques. Make sure that you understand the new techniques before you attempt to do your homework.
#2 - Will I need to edit or proofread my homework?
- Languages, philosophy, history, etc.: Yes.
- Geography, physics, maths: Sometimes.
Generally, the humanities involve a lot more writing and it’s important to go back over what you’re written and edit and proofread it. Even if you’ve got everything write, you won’t get a good grade if it’s poorly written. The answers in science and maths are often more black and white.
If you’re not getting good grades in the humanities, it may be down to how you present your answers rather than the answers themselves. Make sure to ask your teacher for further clarification on where you went wrong.
Regularly reading can drastically improve your writing. When you write anything, make sure to go back over it.
#3 - Is past knowledge important?
- Languages, maths: Yes.
- Sciences: Sometimes.
- History, geography: No.
In general, some subjects build upon past knowledge and others introduce entirely new things with each passing chapter. With languages, for example, you slowly build upon the knowledge you gain as you approach fluency.
Similarly, maths starts with simple sums but you still need to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide when you’re looking at more advanced concepts. You can’t just forget about what you’ve learnt from the previous chapter. When you start learning about the Vikings, you don’t necessarily need to remember everything you learnt about the Romans, for example. That said, make sure you consolidate as much knowledge as possible before moving onto new topics.
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Online tutorials are usually cheaper than face-to-face tutorials as the tutor doesn't need to factor in travel costs and time and can schedule more tutorials every week. While these tutorials mightn't be as effective for hands-on subjects, they're just as effective for academic subjects and very useful if you can't find any suitable local tutors or can't afford face-to-face tutoring.
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