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Y11 revision advice – How students can harness their driving force

If your students are struggling to maintain effective revision habits at home, try pointing them towards Natasha Devon’s study tips…

Natasha Devon MBE
by Natasha Devon MBE
FREE, BITE-SIZED CPD Speedy Assessment CPD for secondary teachers

Your driving force is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It’s the thing that puts fire in your belly and makes life worth living.

People who know what their driving force is will tend to give their work their full attention, and are also generally happier. If you allow your environment to dictate your motivations, you’ll inevitably end up resenting working because your life doesn’t really inspire you.

Say, for example, your driving force is freedom, but you haven’t taken the trouble to work that out. You’re offered a job with a high salary and long hours and you think, ‘This is what success looks like, I should take it’.

After a few months of never seeing daylight because you’re trapped in the office, you’re going to end up very dissatisfied, no matter how many zeros are in your pay packet.

Find your driving force

Think of the last time you were incandescent with rage over something which was, objectively, not that important. Chances are, whatever happened violated your biggest value. Incidents which breach our values don’t have to be objectively significant in order to have a profound psychological impact on us.

I was once talking about this to a group of Y10s and asked if anyone could tell me about a time they overreacted to something, and heard what’s still my favourite anecdote about value violation. A student told me that she’d walked into town after school with her best friend, feeling excited because she had some cash on her, having been given £5 in lunch money and spending only half. After some deliberation, she decided to spend the remaining £2.50 on a giant soft cookie and hurried off towards a park bench.

At this point, for no reason she could fathom, her friend stuck out her leg out and deliberately tripped her up, so that she fell over and dropped her cookie in a puddle. The friend then apologised and claimed she didn’t know why she did it – all while helpless with laughter. Our heroine was so upset that she turned her back on her friend and ‘marched’ home in a fit of strop.

The next day, her friend brought in a replacement cookie, which the student threw it in the bin. Finally, the student told me she blanked the friend, remarking “I don’t really understand why, because at the end of the day – it was a biscuit.”

It wasn’t ‘just a biscuit’, though; it was what the biscuit represented. The incident had made our heroine feel daft and broke a bond of trust. Above all, it was unfair. Fairness is a key value for some people, and in this instance, the student in question was a keen campaigner, vocal member of the student council and frequently motivated by wanting to make the world a fairer place.

Another way of identifying your driving force is to imagine being stranded on a desert island. If could pick only three objects to take with you, what would they be? Consider what each object represents and chances are, it will be a key motivator for you.

You can also call to mind your happiest memory – when did you feel most contented? From what was happening, and by identifying significant details about the memory – Were you alone? With friends? Perhaps performing onstage? – you may be able to identify your unique driving force, to which you can then try to tailor your study time (see ‘Driving forces and study habits’).

Make studying interesting

Beyond being sensitive to your driving force, there are some general steps you can take to revise more effectively – beginning with incorporating as many of the five senses into your routines as you can.

Mind maps These involve arranging combinations of images and words in a colourful spider diagram format to summarise key information. They work because when you read a word, your brain ‘hears it’.

Words are therefore an audio, as opposed to a visual, cue. By using images and colours, we give the brain more than one metaphorical ‘peg’ on which to hang the information, and can therefore recall it more easily.

Some people swear by using smell to similar effect. Try applying a distinct brand of body spray or perfume whilst studying, or apply a few drops of essential oil to a piece of toilet roll or hanky; use a different one for each subject.

Tell Stories The human brain loves a narrative. Throughout our evolution, this was how tribal elders passed down vital information to their children and grandchildren, thus helping them survive and flourish. We’re therefore wired to remember information much more easily if it’s conveyed in the form of a story.

Sing! Ever noticed how you can remember the lyrics to songs you don’t particularly like, while mathematical formulas simply won’t stay in your head, however hard you try? It’s because tunes help us remember words.

Put a melody to whatever it is you’re studying. Use a song you already know well, and that way, if you find yourself going blank, humming the tune can help you remind yourself what you were doing previously.

Plant reminders Write notes or copy images from your mind maps onto Post-it notes and place them in locations your brain doesn’t usually associate with studying, such as the bathroom mirror or the fridge door.

Your mind’s capacity for thought is 90% unconscious, which means that even if you don’t actively register them, you’ll still absorb what’s written on your reminders almost instinctually as you pass by them each day.

Schedule your study ‘like boobs’ Your recall is at its highest at the beginning and end of a single period of concentration. Let’s say you have an hour to study – this means your ability to focus will peak during the first and last few minutes of that hour. If rendered visually, it would look like a ‘U’ shape.

If, however, you divide your hour into two shorter periods of 25 minutes with a 10-minute break between them, you’ll double the amount of times your recall peaks, allowing you to recall more information. In this instance, your concentration would look more like a ‘UU’ – or a pair of boobs.

There’s a balance to be struck, however, since we know that constant interruptions can interfere with your ability to focus. The ultimate aim is to spend those breaks on endorphin- releasing activities that release cortisol and adrenaline from your system and restore its chemical balance, such as physical exercise, stretching, laughing, listening to music or performing a mindfulness activity. That way, you’ll optimise both your ability to study and overall level of mental fitness.

Driving forces and study habits

I’m a people person If your driving force is being sociable, it makes sense to study in groups. Social distancing makes this harder, but not impossible. Get everyone on a digital platform, or email each other quizzes you’ve designed on the subject material.

I want to make a difference Is there someone in your friendship group who struggles with a subject you enjoy? Help them with their revision. There’s a good chance you’ll be going over the same material yourself, and explaining it to someone else is a great way of helping you remember it.

Look at me, please Teaching is a type of performance, so prepare a ‘class’ on your chosen topic and present it to your friends via a digital platform. Make it funny and entertaining, as this will help both them and you retain the information.

I’m competitive Start a competition with yourself. Get hold of a mock or past paper and time yourself answering the questions. Log your times and see if you can beat them. You could even grade yourself and track your improvements over time on a chart (because competitive people tend to love charts)…

Natasha Devon MBE is a campaigner who has spent the past decade visiting an average of three schools per week throughout the world, delivering talks and conducting research on mental health and related issues. To find out more, visit or follow @_NatashaDevon

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