If your beginning to feel the onset pressure of exam cram … relax. Take your mind off your deadlines for a moment to consider if your current strategy will achieve anything other than stress, exhaustion, and you, sitting your exams, unable to remember a single thing. Before you begin an intense, disorganised bout of work, read through this article to learn how to create an effective study plan, construct an environment you can flourish in, and write notes you’ll remember.
Preparation and Scheduling
Take the time to plan out your schedule leading up to your exams. When are you free to study? How long do you have after your done with other responsibilities? Draw up a weekly calendar to help you visualise the best times you can set aside for studying. If you need more, shift around other responsibilities or ask help from others to give you the time you need.
Make exams your only priority
Now, to avoid being quickly overwhelmed by your workload, break it up into realistic and achievable chunks. Divide it throughout your schedule, making sure each topic gets a fair amount of time. Don’t forget to set goals and rewards to motivate your progress. Set up a timer because a routine of 30 – 50 min work with a 10-minute break is best for retaining information. If you want to make your notes pop, write using bright, attention-grabbing colours. Trying to read endless black text will get tricky when the paragraphs blur together, and your eyes get tired. By typing with blue text for the body and red for the heading, you’ll more likely to pay attention to what your reading.
Constructing a Productive Space
Find a place that fosters an atmosphere of focus and productivity. A quiet space like a bedroom or study where you can be alone and undisturbed. Make sure there’s plenty of soft natural light and fresh air. Don’t forget to communicate to anyone else in the house that you wish to be undisturbed during your study times. If studying at home isn’t an option, try researching online for the best study spots in your area. Discover libraries, parks, and cafes nearby that give you the change of scenery you need to concentrate. Now that you’ve found the right space, remove anything that could distract your attention. Turn off alerts and notifications and disconnect from social media. If you’d like to take it a step further, download a free focus tool like ‘Cold Turkey Blocker’. You can use it to block access to any time-wasting apps and websites temporarily. Finally, make use of online playlists explicitly designed for relaxation and concentration while studying. Once you’re entirely in the zone, you’re ready to begin work.
Utilise Free Resources
Look over any free resources you have available. Organise your textbook and any notes that you’ve recorded. If your teacher has provided a study guide, use it to highlight the key areas you could focus on, these will most likely be in the exam. There are also past exams that could be available online for you to practice. Gather these and add them to your plan. They’ll help prepare you for applying your knowledge to an exam scenarios. Don’t forget about unofficial resources. For any difficult to understand topics, there’s a wealth of free and professional information online. Access YouTube tutorials for lessons that are well designed and easy to understand. These will supplement your learning by explaining specific topics and problem you may be struggling with.
Preview and Revision
When reading through your lesson notes and textbooks, have a purpose and know what type of information you’re looking for. This will help when you skim through the text. Don’t spend time trying to read everything. Instead, quickly flip through what you’re supposed to read and scan headings, subheadings, introductions, and conclusions. Pay attention to any visual aids like pictures, charts, diagrams, statistics, and words in bold. If you read something you think is useful, make sure to highlight or underline it. Add questions or notations in the margin to help yourself remember why this information was important. It will you help if you need to find it again later. Now that you have analysed some valuable information, summarise it in your own words. Reflect on what you read by writing down the main idea and any supporting details. You should end every study session by revising the day’s study. Not only is this helpful for memory, but also helps avoid plagiarism.
Learn by Teaching
The best way to learn is to teach. If you can take what you’ve memorised and explain it to someone else, then you know you understand the topic. Additionally, hearing your work out loud increasing that likelihood of remembering it by 50%. Dubbed the “production effect,” a recent Waterloo study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory. Preferably, you should pair up with a motivated classmate so you can exchange notes and test each other as well. However, it’s okay if you can’t find another person. Conducting lessons to a pillow or even your reflection will still help.
What you eat becomes part of your brain, so eat well and eat regularly. Fresh fish, eggs, fruits, and green vegetables will be the best fuel to maximise your work output. Don’t just go for fast food because it’s easy. Preparing meals yourself is usually the most affordable option and gives you the protein, vitamins, and nutrients for a high-performance body. Also, keep a bottle of water next to your desk. Drinking helps stimulate the body and keeps the brain hydrated and functioning efficiently. You can’t think if you don’t sleep. Have you ever tried focusing in class after a night of little sleep? It’s what’s required for your body to recover. It will allow your brain to continue working proficiently and convert short-term memories to long-term. So, get a full night’s sleep before your exam. Pulling an all-nighter is not recommended, but if you must, take a 15-20 min nap right before the sun comes up to let your body rest. Lastly, spend some of your study breaks stretching or walking around the block. Exercise is a fantastic way to energise and focus as it increases blood flow and oxygenates your brain.
Use Memory Triggers
The brain itself is a miraculous tool when it receives the proper fuel and rest. It can recall information when triggered by a particular scent, flavour and thoughts. Use memory triggers while studying, such as spraying a specific brand of fragrance around yourself or chewing flavoured gum. Then reuse these triggers during revision and exams. Your brain can make the connection and recollect what was in your notes. Connecting remembered content with emotions and experiences is also how you can turn them into long-term memories. When you’re trying to memorise information, think “this reminds of…” and “this is like when…”. That way, when you read an exam question, it will trigger the memory or feeling and lead your thoughts to the right information. Other memory tricks you could use are putting information to a rhythm, creating mnemonic phrases, and utilising colour coded flashcards.
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