The Science of Revision

Brain in Lightbulb

To do the most efficient and productive revision, it helps to know a little about the science of revision. In this post, we take a look at two key theories behind brain-based learning to give you an insight into how your brain learns and stores information.

Sleep and Memory

Have you ever noticed that you perform better in class when you’ve had a good amount of sleep? It’s not just a case of being well rested. Not being tired will help, of course, but studies have also shown that getting enough sleep can improve your memory.

Sleeping Person

Memory consists of 3 distinct processes:

When the new information enters your brain. In the case of studying, this would be when you learn or revise information for your exams or practise exam skills.

When the new information is transferred to your long-term memory.

When you recall the information. In the case of studying, this would be when you learn or revise information for your exams or practise exam skills.

Sleep is believed by scientists to play a role in that middle stage, consolidation.1 While you are sleeping, your brain is moving memories from your short-term to your long-term memory. This is why it is so important to get a good night’s sleep while you are revising for your exams! To ensure that all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste, you need to give your brain a chance to transfer your studying to long term storage.

So, you need to get enough sleep. How else can science help with us with revision?



To learn and revise most effectively, it also helps to know about how the brain learns. Our brains are hard-wired to create patterns in information. As Geoffrey Caine and Renate Nummela Caine of the ‘Learning to Learn’ initiative put it:

'In a way, the brain is both scientist and artist, attempting to discern and understand patterns as they occur and giving expression to unique and creative patterns of its own'2

In terms of learning, patterns are ‘observations organized into meaningful categories by the observer’.3

You will be able to remember information better if you categorise it in ways that make sense to you. By doing this you can understand and develop connections between pieces of information.

Here are few different revision techniques you can use to categorise information and recognise patterns:

  • Mind mapping: an ideal way of sorting information and building visual connections.
  • Writing out your notes in different formats, e.g. as a newspaper report or a letter. When you restructure and repurpose your notes in this way, patterns can emerge.
  • Practising essay questions: by doing different questions, you can practise linking together ideas and theories in different ways.

That was a small glimpse into the science behind revision. The brain is an amazing organ – make sure you are taking care of yours during revision time and using its capabilities in the best way possible, with the help of science.

1 DP Sarode et al., ‘A sleep to remember: The effects of sleep on memory’, Res Medica: Journal of the Royal Medical Society, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 23–34 (2013).

2 Geoffrey Caine and Renate Nummela Caine, ‘Understanding a Brain-based Approach to Learning and Teaching’, Educational Leadership, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 66–70 (1990).

3 Robert C Barkman, ‘Patterns, the Brain, and Learning, The Science of Learning, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2000).

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