# Is there a better way of guiding people who need help with revision? Tag + guidance?

This time of year large numbers of revision type questions which aren't quite homework pop up, and each year there tend to be common themes. There have been comments on managing the flow of questions, and it struck me that there were some options with revision - which inevitably generates a range of exact and abstract duplicates.

For example, there could be a [revision] tag (which would necessarily take time to get off the ground, or some major retagging required), and some accessible guidance on how people coming to the site for help with revision could best find what they are looking for. In fact that is what I would suggest, in the hope that people will find answers more quickly, and that the amount of redundant material will be easier to control.

Although it is not the prime purpose of the site, the resource here is a natural and interesting place for those revising a topic to look.

As with all my suggestions, I am happy with views both ways.

• What do you mean by revision? Do you mean "please revise my proof," or something else? – apnorton May 30 '13 at 21:08
• @anorton Apologies, I mean problems which arise as people are revising for exams and realise there are bits of the course they haven't fully understood, or old exam questions they can't quite solve. – Mark Bennet May 30 '13 at 21:11
• Ok that makes sense. I, for one, had never heard the term revision used in that manner before! (I learn something new every day.) I typically hear reviewing instead. – apnorton May 30 '13 at 21:13
• @anorton That's why we have these conversations - so we understand each other, and don't spread confusion - thanks for your comment. – Mark Bennet May 30 '13 at 21:16
• @anorton revision is commonly used in this sense in Europe, and I think in India as well. Not in the U.S.... As for the proposal, the tag would not be helpful to me. My interest in a question is a function of its topic and (upon closer inspection) content, not of a setting in which the question arose. – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 May 30 '13 at 23:32

I don't think a tag will help -- at least, not enough to merit the creation of a meta-tag.

It is laudable to strive for "some accessible guidance on how people coming to the site for help with revision could best find what they are looking for".

It is similarly laudable to strive towards people including all relevant information on questions they ask (particularly, their own work). It is reasonable to expect some effort from newcomers in making them blend in well with accepted practice.

However, in spite of many contributors' extended time investment in these latter points, there is only a limited amount of success. All too often, no response to their suggestions is recorded. (This eventually leads to frustration, unfriendly comments and meta fireworks about PSQs (problem statement questions, consisting of only a problem statement).)

I thus have no reason to believe that a tag will somehow tread a different trail compared to these other suggestions of similar positive intent. I think it will just hit the wall of internet reality (a nice oxymoron, by the way). That's sad, but it's also true. We won't win anything by being oblivious to it.

I wish there were a more positive story to tell, but I'm afraid this is it. Any proposed resolution of the above problems will have to start right at the bottom with a well thought out contemplation of what Mathematics.SE is, and even then the conclusion may be that there is nothing to do about it.

Addendum as the comments by Tom Oldfield suggest that my point may not have been completely clear.

I have interpreted the intent of the tag as being two-fold:

• Firstly, and primarily, it should help find others revising for their exams to find the issues they are working with;
• Secondly, it should help answerers provide a clue of what type of answer is requested.

Since MSE is not, and does not want to be, a course reference, we are to expect that these questions in fact aren't intrinsically very different from ordinary questions ("What is the definition of X", "How to apply Theorem Y in case X", etc.) except maybe that they are more appreciative of universal solutions.

But since there isn't a lot separating normal questions (which regularly get general answers too) from revision questions, it may actually have an adverse effect on revising students finding the information they seek (misconceptions along the lines of "I'm revising, so my answer will be tagged with ." lurk).

To have a meta-tag that is bound to be very localized, especially when compared to the prospected universality of the answers, seems to be superfluous. Since the first point isn't properly served by it, and the second can be adequately dealt with in the body of the question (as user79365 suggests). The fact that the questions and answers will be generally of higher quality can be reflected by the vote counts -- and it would be wrong to have a "revision" tag when its best purpose would be to indicate a prospected higher quality, which is a different matter altogether.

In conclusion, the tag is of positive intent, but it will not have the desired effect. It is in this aspect that it compares to the other initiatives referenced above.

(Thanks to Tom Oldfield for making me realise the incompleteness of my answer.)

• I'm not sure why the things you say imply that a revision tag would be unsuccessful. Certainly there is an issue with problem statement questions, but there is a much lesser issue with the "homework" tag. Certainly some questions should be tagged homework that aren't, but it is still the most used tag on the entire site, around $14000$ questions with the homework tag compared to about $10000$ for the next highest tagged question. As well as this, the motivations for homework questions and revision questions are, in my opinion, completly different $\dots$ – Tom Oldfield May 31 '13 at 14:29
• Many people asking homework questions (particularly those who are less likely to respond to comments on how to improve their questions for the benefit of the site) seem to just want an answer to hand in for their homework. Revision questions have rarely been "set" by anyone and people asking these want to improve their understanding of the topic. It would make sense that these people would be more willing to comply with site standards to improve their questions and get the best possible answers for themselves, rather than for whoever marks their homework. – Tom Oldfield May 31 '13 at 14:31
• @Tom I have edited my answer in response to your -- valued -- comments. – Lord_Farin May 31 '13 at 14:56
• Thanks for the clarification, I realise that I misunderstood your original point, and after reading your addendum, now agree with you that a revision tag is not something we should make. – Tom Oldfield Jun 2 '13 at 13:05

I support the idea of a revision tag, for much the same reason that I like the homework tag. The context in which a question is asked can be very important information when writing an answer.

Seeing that something is a homework question makes me much more likely to give hints, and encourage the asker to try and think about the problem in a way that they may not have seen before due to being new to the material, and it may make me include a few remarks on how topics related to the question are important in the subject being studied. Similarly, if I knew that some questions were being asked for the purpose of revision, I would again prefer providing hints to full solutions, but would also try and to point out the ideas motivating the question and provide some sort of guidance to how to answer similar questions in the future.

As to the name of the tag, if neither "revision" or "reviewing" are unambiguous enough (Though I have heard of reviewing as a synonym for revision, I know that if I saw a "reviewing" tag then I would first suspect that it was to do with the reviewing in the sense of checking something e.g. "please review my proof" but can see that revision may be misinterpreted similarly.) then perhaps something along the lines of "exam-preparation" may be better. This has problems, for example it may be interpreted as a soft tag and encourage "What can I do to prepare for my exam in "X"" questions which is not the desired outcome. I would encourage someone to come up with a better solution!

• Here's a better solution, in my opinion: if a user wishes to disclose the fact that they are studying for an exam, they can write "I am studying for an exam". – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 May 31 '13 at 11:44
• @user79365 and next year the same question will be asked by someone else studying for the same exam ... or is that a small price to pay? – Mark Bennet May 31 '13 at 12:51
• @MarkBennet There are two aspects of proposed revision tag: (1) organization of material and (2) information for potential answerers. Tom Oldfield's answer speaks to (2), and my comment reflects my opinion that information on desirability of particular answers can be better conveyed within a question body than within tags. As for (1), I doubt that such a general tag will make it easier to find information. Consider the (homework) tag: does it actually help users with homework questions find the existing answers? There are 14349 questions under that tag... There are lots of exams too. – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 May 31 '13 at 13:07
• @MarkBennet What I can imagine being helpful is providing the source of exam question. E.g., "from PDE qual at Purdue University". That can be searched for, either with Google or with the built-in SE search. ... But there's another thing to consider: is it even desirable to point a person studying for an exam to a pre-written solution? It's quite possible for students A and B to get stuck on the same problem for different reasons. Customized answers that dispel the particular misconceptions of A and B may be of independent value, even when the questions are exact duplicates. – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 May 31 '13 at 13:15
• @user79365 Some people do write in the question that they are studying for exams, others don't. Having a relevant tag would show people that this information is beneficial to answerers, which they may not otherwise think about. What you mention about the homework tag is right, it doesn't help users find existing answers. Why then, do we still have it? One reason is to allow people to filter out homework questions, but I think that the most important reason is to provide information that people reading the question might not otherwise know. – Tom Oldfield May 31 '13 at 14:35