Picture this: you’re writing an exam. You look at the first question and your brain draws a total blank. You move on to the next question. Still nothing. The entire exam looks unfamiliar. When did you even learn this? This is an incredibly frustrating feeling, but luckily there are ways to help you avoid it in the future!
It might be that you didn’t use effective study techniques or you waited too long to start preparing for your exam. In fact, last minute cramming is one of the least effective ways to study. While finding the right study techniques can depend on your preferred learning style, there are a few particularly effective study tips we’d like to share that make studying a lot easier.
So, without further ado, here are our top five study tips.
Tip #1: Take Notes By Hand Instead of On Your Laptop
The development of technology has made it so much easier to take notes in class. You can write faster, ensuring that you don’t miss a single word your professor says and that you have more material to study off of during exam season.
You’d think this would be better for studying. However, a 2014 study demonstrated that students who wrote their notes by hand outperformed their peers who took notes on their laptop. Since taking notes by hand is too slow to transcribe what your professors say verbatim, it forces you to process and reflect on what’s being said so that you can record it succinctly enough to keep up with the lecture. Paraphrasing statements into your own words also helps you understand and remember the content more easily.
Once you return to your notes for review, the sight of your own handwriting and of the specific phrasing you use serves as a prompt of the specific context in which the notes were taken (your thoughts and feelings as well as the conclusions you drew). While writing your notes on your laptop allows you to record more detailed notes, they’re more likely to be devoid of these details and, as a result, won’t trigger the same memories.
Taking your notes by hand can sometimes get messy since you’re rushing to write everything and don’t have the time to make it super organized. You can always reorganize them after class, either later that day or the next. This serves as a great way to review the material!
Tip #2: Make Reviewing Course Notes a Regular Habit
Have you ever sat down to study before an exam and found the material entirely unfamiliar, almost as though you were encountering it for the very first time? This is likely because you haven’t reviewed the material regularly and have fallen victim to the curve of forgetting, a term which describes how we forget material if we don’t spend an appropriate amount of time reviewing it.
Spending even just a few minutes a day reviewing course material will enhance memory retention, helping you recall the material months later. You should review course content within twenty-four hours of when you learned it, spending ten minutes reviewing for every hour spent learning. So, if your lecture was three hours long, you should spend a half hour reviewing the material the next day.
As time goes on, you’ll need a little less time reviewing the same material in order to recall it. Within a week, you’ll only need about five minutes for every hour spent learning and within a month it’ll only take you two or three minutes.
Make sure you’re using active study methods to review! Just rereading your notes isn’t sufficient. You need to engage with the content. Some great study methods include…
- Reorganizing your notes
- Identifying main points and rewriting them in your own words
- Coming up with your own questions and answering them
- Using practice questions provided by either your professor or your textbook
If you decide to use practice questions, make sure you’re only checking the answers after you’ve solved them on your own. Checking answers before you’ve tried your hand at the problems doesn’t ensure that you’ve understood the material.
If you’re fond of using flashcards to study, you could always use an app such as AnkiApp to review. This app uses an algorithm to present you with flashcards. It notes your progress as you study, recognizing how well you know each card. The more you review and the better you know the material, the more time the app puts between presentations of the same card.
Tip #3: Use the Pomodoro Technique
With technology constantly on hand and multiple distractions just a click away, it can be really difficult to focus on course work. So why not break your study sessions into smaller, manageable chunks with frequent breaks in between?
This technique is known as the Pomodoro technique. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Decide on a task or goal. This could be a number of chapters that you want to review in your study session or an assignment that you need to work on.
Step 2: Work for twenty-five minutes. Turn your phone off and set aside all distractions, working exclusively on the task at hand.
Step 3: Take a five to ten minute break. Use this time to get up, stretch, or get some water (these are all important for memory retention too!)
Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’ve completed four rounds. Then take a longer (twenty to thirty minute) break. This helps your brain assimilate the information and get ready for the next round. Then start again until you’ve completed your task or reached your study goal!
The point of studying like this is to be really intentional about how you study. No distractions, just you and your work. If you think of something unrelated that you need to do, write it down on a notepad to remind yourself to do it during your next break.
If you don’t think you can dedicate this time to studying without getting distracted by your various notifications, try disabling your Wi-Fi for the duration of your study session. If you need the internet to access class notes, you can always try using apps or plugins such as Freedom which block certain sites for a specified duration. This way, even if you’re tempted to get off track and start scrolling through Instagram, you can’t!
Tip #4: Start (or Join) a Study Group
Sometimes, all it takes to study more regularly is to have a group of people who hold you accountable. A study group grants you this accountability and allows you to bond with some of your classmates at the same time.
Study groups also provide you with unique learning opportunities. If you’re struggling with course content, it might help to hear someone else’s explanation of it. Or, if you already understand the content, explaining it to someone else is likely to help solidify your own understanding. Either way, a study group ensures you’re regularly reviewing course material which is the most important thing!
Keep your study group small – between three to five members. This small group number helps keep meetings under control. It also makes it easier to coordinate everyone’s schedules.
If you’re starting a group, consider asking your professor to send out an email to the class to connect any students who are interested. You could also do this yourself depending on the permissions of your school’s student portal, or you could use social media to find your group members. There are often Facebook groups for students in specific faculties or programs that could serve as great starting points for your search.
The University of British Columbia has a few recommendations of things to discuss in your very first meeting:
- Identify everyone’s goals and learning styles
- Establish how often the group would like to meet and what dates/times work best
- Gather everyone’s contact information
- Identify the location of the meetings (ex: online, in person, at a library…)
Tip #5: Rest
Every university student has considered pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment last minute or to study for an upcoming exam. It’s almost a rite of passage. However, it’s also detrimental for your memory.
There are three components to memory:
- Acquisition is the introduction of new information
- Consolidation is the process by which material gets stored in your long-term memory
- Recall is the ability to access this material later
If you’re tired, you won’t be able to concentrate on what you’re trying to learn. Additionally, when you sleep, the neural connections that form memories get stronger, facilitating consolidation. So, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your brain can’t properly store all of the information you’re learning and you might have difficulty remembering it when exams start.
To avoid any last minute study sessions the night before an exam, try out some of the other tips we’ve mentioned. Take your notes by hand, review them regularly using the Pomodoro technique to make focusing easier, and consider starting a study group to hold you accountable.
Now you’re all ready to tackle your course work and ace your exams. Good luck! The I Got In team is cheering you on.