Home in on these five study skills to learn faster, remember longer, and ace your exams!

Everybody loves spring, but for students it can be a bittersweet time: the days are lengthening again, summer is around the corner, but before that... Well, before that, there's a lot of studying to be done, and the mere mention of upcoming exams is enough to spike your stress levels.

But there's another way: by using the study tips below, you will be able to study more effectively, do it faster, feel a lot more confident and enjoy spring, too!

Let's do this...

Fix one thing at a time

My cousin rang me one day and asked me how could her son learn to write faster so that he could pass his geography exam. I told her that she needed to fix one thing at a time. In this case, he was trying to write faster, come up with the answer to the question and articulate it. If he wanted to write faster, then he oooneeded to take a page of text (any text at all) and write it as fast as he could. Then repeat the text again tomorrow and again the next day etc. It was absolutely imperative that he didn't have to think about what he was writing, but just get it down on paper as fast as possible, while still writing legibly. She called me ten days later to say that his writing speed was indeed up, and they were proceeding to his recall of the subject before tackling exam technique. That's how you do it!

Mix it up

One reason you drag your feet before doing your homework every night might be boredom. It's completely normal to prefer variety and that's something you can leverage to make homework more pleasant. As you plan your homework, try to mix it up as much as you can. I used to always start with my maths homework, because it was my favourite subject. Next, I would work on Applied Maths, as it was the one I found hardest. Next, I would work on English, because it took the longest. After that, I would balance between working out problems (e.g. physics), writing a paragraph (e.g. French) and then finish it off with a subject I used to love, namely accounting (and I still do!![1] ). This is sometimes called the "Yes-No-Yes" or the "Sandwich" technique and it works a treat: start with what is easy and pleasant and makes you feel confident.

This creates a motivation boost that you can use to tackle more difficult or less pleasant stuff. Finish on a high note by saving something easy and pleasant for last. 

Practise time management with your homework

Often students worry about how they're going to get through an exam in the very limited time that's given to them. It seems only lucky people can spend just the right amount of time on each question... However, that's not the case at all. Time management is a skill that can be learned and honed over time.

You don't have to wait until your mocks to test it out, either. Start right now with your homework! Give yourself an hour to write an essay; twenty minutes to do a maths question or half an hour to do an Irish comprehension. Use your exam papers to guide you on timings. At the end of that time, stop (even if you haven't finished) and review how you're getting on. Are you on track? Are you totally off?

If so, why? Did you need to get some extra information, which means that you need to study this area more? Did you under-estimate the amount of time you needed to spend on this question? Did you get distracted? This information is valuable as it gives you good insights into the knowledge areas you need to fix, your estimation of how long things take or your personal biorhythms. All of these can be fixed well in advance of the exam, if you take action!

Use mnemonics to remember important information faster, better

"Mnemonics" are memory techniques, named after the goddess of Memory in Ancient Greece: Mnemosyne. There are many: just Google "memorise faster" or "mnemonics". Maybe you've heard of Sherlock Holmes' "mind palace" technique: you can use your own version, just like I did to memorise my organic chemistry homework. I simply used my journey to school in the mornings. There was the house, the bus stop, the pond, the shop on the corner and my school. There are five key characteristics to effective collisions in organic chemistry and I used to assign each one to one of those places. In a test, if I couldn't remember them, then I would trace my path to school in my mind.

Sometimes what you are trying to memorise will suggest its own shortcut, like alphabetical order. When I was trying to memorise the structure of the eye for science, I noticed that the "aqueous" humour is in front of the "vitreous" humour: "a" comes before "v" in the alphabet. As you can see all those years later I haven't forgotten it, so mnemonics work!

In the exam, focus on what you can do first

This may be a simple one, but it's so effective. When the exam or test question lands on your desk, it's difficult to keep calm and stress levels will rise. That's why you need techniques to rely on, so that you know exactly what to do and where to start. This technique will allow you to manage your stress and it's extremely useful when building up confidence in an exam. First of all, scan the entire paper and read each question attentively - don't dive straight in! Then, pick the question that you feel you can answer most comfortably. Remember the "Yes-No-Yes" technique above: this is the same. Build up your confidence at the beginning of the exam by doing what comes easily. Make sure that, before you start to answer any one question, you read all the questions.

You might think it's a waste of time, but it's not: it will actually speed you up, because while you're working on one question, your brain is busy subconsciously processing the other questions. When you move on to the next and more difficult question, you might be surprised to realise that in the meantime your brain has laid out all the information you need. This technique makes use of a well-documented psychological mechanism called "open attention", and I have lots of anecdotal evidence that it works!

Related Article:  5 Practical Tips: For parents to help your student through exam revision


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