How to train your brain


'...when my students struggled with retaining the large amounts of key quotations they needed to support their responses to RE recall questions, I wasn’t having any of it.'

In order to ensure that students reach middle and high bands of their GCSE mark schemes, memory recall for RE is essential. With the new RE GCSE, there is a great deal more content and in order to respond appropriately to the exam questions, students must use suitable evidence. This is where my version of “brain training” comes in.


We all know young people can have amazing memory retention - just look at all those song lyrics they are able to pick up so easily…


In my school, a large proportion of students are from a Muslim background and have a particularly remarkable ability to memorise sections of the Quran, in a language they don’t understand for the most part (Arabic) - and this is the case for my own children! So when my students struggled with retaining the large amounts of key quotations they needed to support their responses to RE recall questions, I wasn’t having any of it. I grew up experiencing ‘old school’ memorisation of the Quran (literally recall and repeat, recall and repeat, over and over again!) and I knew this technique was still being used in mosque classes on many of my students. I knew it worked. And so I decided to implement the technique in RE.


Here’s how I do it in RE:


Step one: Have an image on the board that students will immediately associate with ‘brain training’.



Repeated exposure to this image means now my students know that when they see the image, they need to immediately write the sub-heading “Brain Training” and then close their books. It is a brilliant example of Pavlov’s classical conditioning in action.


The image prompts them into position - ready to concentrate, ready to beat their best score, ready to recall.


Step 2: Display the quotes on the board.

Instruct the students that they have 1 minute (or more, depending on ability) to memorise as many quotes as possible.


In silence.


Make the expectations clear.


Set individual or class targets: ‘Adam you must memorise a minimum of 4’, ‘8E you must memorise a minimum of 3 quotes for a whole class merit’, ‘beat your previous score’ and so on.


Step 3: Display this screen again

The image prompts students to now open their books and write as many quotes as they can, from memory, in silence.


Give students approximately 2 minutes (depending on ability).



Step 4: Display the answers.

'Spaced repetition and interweaving the recall over the year has shown excellent retention over time.'

Show the quotes again. They peer or self assess.


The quotes that students memorise each lesson is linked directly to the topic they are covering from any of the three GCSE components.


Spaced repetition and interweaving the recall over the year has shown excellent retention over time.




The RE department went from 77% to 84% grade 5-9 in 2017 with old spec, in 2018 and last year, 81% grades 5-9 with new specification. On average, all students of RE last year achieved one grade higher than students of similar starting points nationally.


A number of teachers from across subjects have since tried it and swear by it. Try it for yourself!

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