Condense & Expand


Before you start trying to learn stuff, make sure you understand it.  It will make life a lot easier. I always liken this to a jigsaw puzzle. If you had to memorise a jigsaw puzzle and then go away and redraw it you wouldn’t learn each piece individually, it would be impossible (I’m talking 500 piece puzzle here).  You would put the puzzle together so it makes sense, then draw it.  Learning course information is the same: if you make sense of it learning the details is much easier.

If you don’t understand ask.  A teacher’s job it to ensure you understand, some concepts are tricky and after having heard it explained once you may not understand and that is fine. There are now so many resources you can use to help, so use them.  Get on the internet, read a book, ask a friend and if you still don’t get it ask you teacher, never ever be afraid to ask.


This is quite a simple 4 step revision technique.


Choose a sub-topic. Start by reading through the topic and make sure you understand. You are then going to simplify this on to a single page. Use sub-headings and numbered bullet points to help you organise the information. Use diagrams to help you simplify if you need to. Any word you don’t know or understand – look it up and put the definition at the bottom of the page.

The really important thing is not to copy. If you copy the information you will not process it and you are not going to remember it.  The way we process information affects how well we remember it, the deeper the understanding the better you will remember it.

When you’ve finished, test yourself. Cover up your notes, write everything you can remember down on a clean sheet of paper, then use your simplified notes to add or correct yourself.*


Now you need to condense your simplified notes down to key words.  Pick out headings and sub-headings. You could then reduce this into numbers (learn how many sub-headings under a heading); letters (use the first letter of each sub-heading and then make a mnemonic e.g. colours of the rainbow: Richard of York gave battle in vain); spider diagrams. Examples of all of these are below.


You now have lots of prompts, or what psychologists would call retrieval cues. Take a new piece of paper and write the topic name in the middle of the paper and draw branches out with all your prompts on them. Don’t use your notes until you have got as much down as you can, then check and add in anything you have forgotten. Do the whole topic here not just sub topics and don’t worry if it is really messy. Add in silly diagrams if it helps.

Now you can add in the details or (and even better) explain them out loud. Or do both. This is about recall, don’t copy. You need to look at each sub-topic, in any order, and add in the detail.  When you have done all the sub-topics, check and correct any.  Then give yourself a score out of 5 (0 – You can’t remember anything, 5 – didn’t need to make any corrections).  When you get 5 out of 5 all on the sub-topics you know you are there.

Make connections: once you have created a mind map look at all the different ideas and concepts and see how many links you can find between them. Draw in the links with a different coloured pen. This will get messy but that is fine, your brain is working hard and is likely to remember more.  Again this is about the level of processing, the more you have to think about the different topics the better you understanding and knowledge will become.


Using a similar technique as step 3 you are now going to do the whole subject.  Using a pencil in the middle write the subject title, draw a branch for each topic, then sub-topic branches, don’t use the prompts but do use pictures.  Then using a pen go over everything that you can remember saying it out loud, holding the picture prompt in your head as you do this.

This is a speed exercise 30mins max and it will be very messy!  Once you have done this you can pick a sub-topic and expand it again on a new piece of paper, use your cues this time.

If you can find someone to explain it to, who can also hold the notes in their hand and correct you – even better.

Good Luck!

Contact Us

Bluecoat Wollaton Academy
Sutton Passeys Crescent
Wollaton Park

Tel: 0115 900 72 10

© 2024 Archway Learning Trust Privacy Policies Made by CODA Education

Bluecoat Wollaton Academy