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The 5 most important learning & exam study tips

The 5 most important learning & exam study tips
Dr Suzanne Fergus
April 2021

Studying for exams can bring a lot of stress, uncertainty and worry for learners. If you know a student, then you will recognise the impact that upcoming exams has on them. Effective learning is long-lasting and can be transferred to other learning situations. There will be some memorisation of key important facts and content and there will also be the understanding of concepts and topics. This guide will cover 5 of the most important tips that are essential for effective learning and exam performance.

This guide has been written by Dr Suzanne Fergus, a chemistry lecturer and QCH practitioner. Suzanne has written and published a book Study Smarter: a lecturer’s inside guide to boost your grades.

1. Space out Studying

There’s a tendency for students to study in blocks. They will study a topic in detail for a block of time before moving to another topic. This feels like a good structure, they get to cover topics and move on when they are done, however research from cognitive science shows that spacing out studying of topics is a better approach. Mixing up topics during studying and distributing topics over time rather than a single study block improves learning performance. It is not about studying one single topic for five hours, it’s better to do 5 different topics for one hour each. This may feel less structured, and things will seem unfinished, however considering how we learn, it makes sense why spacing out learning is more effective. So, mix up topics and give time for learning to stick. 


2. Recap, recap, recap

If you take just one thing from this guide, it must be this – Recap and revisit what you have learned to make it long lasting. Retrieval practice is the term used in cognitive science for testing your learning and there is strong evidence to show that it leads to longer lasting retention of information. An impressive 20% difference in test performance was found using recapping compared to reading the material. Despite spending the same total time studying the group that use recapping and testing outperformed the group that just studied the material.
Recapping involves answering questions to test yourself on what you have studied, writing out as much as you can remember, speaking out as if you were teaching someone. Questions lead to learning which is why recapping is so important.


3. Make it personal

When studying, relate the topic or content to experiences in your life or to something from your day-to-day experience. This helps learning as it is the linking of new information to prior knowledge. It is an essential step in effective learning and can make it more fun too. This approach could involve a creative and elaborate role-play, or it could be a simple example of how this information or thing to be learned links to something from the learner’s world. It helps to connect with learning and make it more meaningful. If the connection is not obvious at first, then explaining the information in your own words is another way to elaborate and support learning.


4. Pomodoro for focus

When studying, relate the topic or content to experiences in your life or to something from your day-to-day experience. This helps learning as it is the linking of new information to prior knowledge. It is an essential step in effective learning and can make it more fun too. This approach could involve a creative and elaborate role-play, or it could be a simple example of how this information or thing to be learned links to something from the learner’s world. It helps to connect with learning and make it more meaningful. If the connection is not obvious at first, then explaining the information in your own words is another way to elaborate and support learning.


5. Spotlight on Self-talk

With exams, there is a level of uncertainty. There are worries and doubts. What if I do not do well? What if I forget what I have studied? What if I cannot answer the questions? What if my mind goes blank? What if I fail? all the what ifs that create the opposite to feeling a sense of control and safety. Too much uncertainty can lead to feeling out of control, stress, and a sense of being lost. Our minds seek stability and answers and with increasing levels of uncertainty, we can find ourselves in a spiral of negative thinking. We tend to be our own worst critic. Our words and our thoughts reflect this. Although, we cannot remove negative thinking, it is part of being human, we can replace a negative thought with a more positive and constructive one. We can reshape a negative thought such as “what if I fail?” to something more positive such as “even though I feel like this, I know I will do my best. I am focusing using the pomodoro technique, I am recapping and reinforcing what I am learning”. It is adopting more self-compassion, rather than being so critical and harsh. If you had a fitness coach, they would support you, but they would also call you out if you were not giving it your best.

If you want more information on studying smarter visit www.studysmarterbook.com and you can CONTACT SUZANNE HERE

https://www.studysmarterbook.com/