Whether you’ve started classes for the first time this year or continuing your studies, the reality of being a part of institutionalized education is suddenly delivered again: midterms and finals. Not only is anxiety a nasty side effect of the exam seasons, but also many are uncertain of their study habits’ effectiveness. Many factors influence your ability to understand and retain information effectively. Ultimately any student can improve this ability if they practice the right methods. Here are six ways to get you started on increasing your productivity and success when your next exam seasons come around.
1. Turn off ALL distractions
Avoid all temptations to respond to text messages, talk on the phone with a friend, stream Netflix in the background or listen to your latest curated playlist. These things may seem like a way to make the practice of studying feel like less work, but in reality, they’re all preventing you from fully immersing yourself in the subject matter.
Some of us can get easily distracted by the sheer lack of sound. If this is the case, try listening to instrumental music like classical, jazz or study beats quietly in the background. You’ll be surprised what a difference instrumental music can make on getting you into that flow state of concentration. If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum and can only concentrate in complete silence, ensure your devices are set to a silent mode, your friends and relatives know that you need to avoid distractions, and just start.
2. Start studying at least one week before your exam
The earlier you begin, the better the outcome. As students, we all have other priorities in addition to our course load, but even devoting 45 minutes to rewriting your lecture notes a week before the exam is a great start. With multiple exams, you can divide up your studying time based on the difficulty level and incoming date of each course’s final examination. If you start studying earlier, you’ll be able to memorize the information at a slower pace and in small increments thus preventing the inevitable feeling of information overload if you decide to cram the night before. Beginning earlier could also provide you with a thorough understanding of the information, leading to a deeper level of expertise on what you’ll be tested on.
3. Break the material down into simple components
A multiple-choice exam will usually entail remembering a high amount of knowledge whereas a short answer exam will entail the application and understanding of that knowledge. No matter the format, all the information which you are required to memorize can be formulated in simpler parts. Memorizing a set of definitions lecture by lecture is easier than attempting to remember 10 pages of definitions all at once.
Definitions can even be organized by an overarching theme or idea presented in the course, therefore making it easier to remember by association. Acronyms are a great way to break down the information like the three Rs: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Mnemonic devices like certain words, phrases or rhymes are also effective in memorization. No information is too complex that it can’t be broken down into simpler concepts, so find what works for your brain in terms of how you wish to simplify the studying.
4. Eat brain foods during and after your study sessions
What we put into our bodies has a profound and cumulative impact on our capacity for memory and focus. Many foods, vitamins and supplements are known for their ability to improve the functioning of the human brain. Some of these include blueberries, green tea, coffee, almonds, fish and dark chocolate. Note these for your before exam snacks too! Snacking on a bowl of berries or biting into a few squares of dark chocolate can not only improve your focus, but it can also wire your brain to improve information retention. Consuming these foods in addition to an overall balanced diet even when you’re not studying can further solidify the positive mental impact. Keep in mind that no food can provide you with a passing grade, it is simply a fuel to enhance your study habits.
5. Study within increments of time
Attempting to memorize anything within a short amount of time is no more effective than devoting a three-hour block with no break to one subject area. The human brain is only capable of memorizing so much at once, thus it is wise to divide up your study sessions into a manageable block. You could devote one uninterrupted hour of total information immersion followed by a twenty-minute break, followed by another hour, thereby completing a two-hour session of memorization without feeling burnt out. This not only ensures that you are making use of your study time, but you’re actually giving yourself time for other responsibilities and self-care practices which are just as vital as the exams.
6. Practice journaling or meditation if you are unable to focus
We all get inevitably distracted even when we are at an optimal level of concentration. Our minds can drift off to a recent argument with a partner, what we have to do tomorrow, or just general daydreaming even when we know that the upcoming exam is what ought to be consuming our thoughts. When this happens, it can be useful to stop studying: pull out a sheet of paper and write down every thought or concern on your mind. This can provide mental relief and a feeling of recharging your level of concentration. Meditation can also be effective in regaining your focus or de-stressing, allowing you to be in the present moment and foster positive thinking. Even a fifteen-minute walk around your neighbourhood can assist in clearing your head. We all require moments to regain focus, so don’t be afraid to engage in a mindful break or practice.
Being tested is one of the most nerve-wracking life experiences and the less than the ideal reality of being a student, however, with the right habits, studying may transform from an anxious obligation to a manageable academic endeavour. Only you can manifest the grade you deserve, and it all starts with being effectively prepared. Good luck! You can do it!