It’s easy to get caught up in myths of study techniques that you’ve been told by friends, parents and even teachers. With so many people swearing by so many different methods, it’s hard to know what will and won’t work. Rest assured, this is the only guide you’ll need, completely backed by science.
1. Spread out study
It may not be what you want to hear, but cramming does not work. This is because the information you’re trying to absorb doesn’t have time to transfer into your long-term memory. It’s best to spread out your study in small chunks, allowing greater time for your brain to process information and commit it to memory, while also allowing for repeated exposure every time you revise it. These benefits simply cannot be obtained when cramming over limited periods. Instead of pulling an all-nighter staring blankly at a textbook, try 2-3 short study bursts of 30 minutes per day weeks before an exam.
2. Revise content soon after you’ve just learnt it
A sub-point of spreading out study is to revise concepts soon after you’re first exposed to them. Our brains need re-exposure to material in order to commit it properly to memory. Attending a class at the beginning of the year and completely forgetting about the content until a week before the exam is almost guaranteed to get you nowhere. Revise content every single week to allow time to commit it to memory. The upside of this is that you will have much less on your plate approaching exams as you will be up to date on content and won’t have to study too much.
3. Prepare for what’s to come
While it seems like common sense, a lot of students tend to miss out on this one. Anxiety about an exam increases significantly if you do not know what to expect. Hence, it is very well worth your time to understand everything you can in preparation; the exam format, the types of questions asked, mark allocation, time management, recurring topics/questions throughout past years etc. Doing a lot of past papers helps with familiarising yourself with what’s to come and can lessen the anxiety and stress of the unknown.
4. Engage in active studying
Perhaps the most critical thing you can do to really improve the effectiveness of your study and make good use of your time. Active studying is the key component of the phrase “study smart not hard”. This means not just reading over notes or skimming through a textbook. While you may think it’s helpful, your brain is barely absorbing anything. The most effective way to study is to engage with it actively. This can be done in several ways depending on how you prefer to study best. Write notes out in your own words in a way you clearly understand, complete practice questions, make flashcards and quiz yourself, make flowcharts, etc. This does a world of good in allowing your brain to make solid connections in a way that you can recall easily.
5. Try teaching the things you’ve learnt
Teaching a concept to others is one of the most effective techniques you can use. Along with active studying, teaching or explaining concepts is proven to solidify understanding and commit things to memory. The ability to explain (accurately and in detail) what you’ve learnt means you have a true grasp on it. It is also handy for identifying holes in your learning, allowing you to revise anything you’re not too confident on. Gather a study group with peers and try to explain concepts to them, teach a family member something new or even chat to your pet about it (I’m sure they won’t mind!)
6. Do practice exams
Mostly covered in point 3, practice exams are a vital tool if you have them at your disposal. Nothing can prepare you better for an exam than practising those exams! Be sure to undertake them in timed exam conditions to replicate the conditions you will face on the day. The more you’re able to do, the more questions you will be exposed to and hence more prepared you will be to ace your exam.
7. And all the classic self-care you’ve heard before
Everyone’s rolling their eyes at the idea of eating healthy, getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night and exercising regularly when it’s 4 days before exams and going for a run is the last thing you want to think about. But there’s a reason it’s so widely preached – it really helps. Of course you may not be able to meet every single requirement when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle around the exam period, however everything counts. Instead of spending another hour re-highlighting lines in a textbook, get some extra sleep. Take a break every hour or two of studying to walk the dog around the block or sit in the sun or spend time with family. It is the best possible thing you can do around exam period. If you don’t care for your brain and body, your performance in the exam will suffer as a result.