One common myth when it comes to education and exams is that some people are just naturally capable of being high achievers and that it’s completely out of the question for others. This isn’t the case, excelling academically is possible for more than just a small pool of students. Below are some of the most effective tips for revising.
Don’t Just Memorize the Content, Understand It
Rote learning specification off by heart rather than understanding what it actually means is a big downfall for many students. Exams also test the ability of students to apply the knowledge they’ve been taught and so it’s vital to know how different aspects of the curriculum link into each other and what each section means. For example in science-based subjects like biology, if I’m doing a practical experiment I always make a point of understanding the purpose of each step and reflecting on the different ways it could be examined.
Revise in Chunks
It’s not productive or effective to sit at your desk for hours at a time without a break. Your brain will inevitably get tired and wander and you’ll probably end up wasting more time. As reported by BBC, studies from the 1990s show that because of natural changes in our cycle of being altered, we can’t concentrate for longer than 90 minutes before needing a break of roughly 15 minutes. Other studies conducted by JoeDeggutis and Mike Esterman, which used brain imaging experiments, found that the most successful technique for remaining on task was to focus for some time and then take a brief break before going back to concentrating once more.
Once you have learned and understood all the relevant content, blurting is a very useful method to identify gaps in your knowledge. This technique is a flexible one depending on how you prefer to revise. Some students enjoy writing down everything they can remember about a certain topic and then using a textbook (or other resources) to identify areas they misremembered or forgot about. Personally, I find it easier to say it out loud (almost as if I’m teaching someone) since I can also hear and sometimes visualize what I’m talking about.
Use Active Recall
Active recall is a vital method that involves retrieving information from the brain and consequently strengthening our memory of it. One way of doing this is to create questions on the topic you want to learn and then test yourself on this. By making your brain retrieve knowledge, you make sure that you actively learn and remember the knowledge rather than just passively reading it. It’s a technique that is also strongly championed by studytuber Ali Abdaal (who studied medicine at Cambridge). On his blog, he shared a study from 2011 that displayed the effects of active recall. Researchers split students into four groups and tasked each student to learn the same material before being tested. Each group was given different instructions for learning the content.
- The first group would read the material only once
- The second group would read the material four times
- The third group would read the material and make a mind map
- The fourth group would read the material once, then recall as much as they could
Two tests were conducted on the students. In a verbatim test (when asked to recall facts) and an inference test (when asked to recall concepts), the active recall group significantly outperformed the other groups, showing that testing ourselves once more is more effective than rereading a chapter four times.
Use Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition and active recall largely go hand in hand and you’ll often hear them used together. Spaced repetition simply means actively recalling knowledge regularly over a period of time. Using Anki (the online flashcard software) is a great way of doing this.
Use Past Papers
It’s really important to be aware of how you’ll be examined in a subject and experience this before the real exam so you can be as prepared as possible. It allows you to get accustomed to the timing and know how to best divide it, how to structure your answers, and the common key phrases or marking points that are expected. For essay-based subjects, it’s also really useful to read the examiner’s report since the people marking your papers are literally telling you what they look for.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Sleep
Sleep is not only important to make sure that you’re energized and fresh for the exam, allowing you to sit to the best of your ability, but sleep has also been scientifically proven to strengthen connections between brain cells and enhance memory after sleep.
Photo: muse studio/Shutterstock
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