Summer is almost over, and it is time to get into study mode. Before you know it, you will be facing the dreaded exams.With all you have to do as an active college student, it’s easy to put off studying until the last minute.
Most students think that it is the amount of time you put into studying that counts. What really matters is the quality of the study time.
In an eight-hour, all-night study session the amount of quality time is probably no more than a couple of hours. The rest is not only a waste of time but could actually work against you. So don’t let those anxiety provoking exams creep up on you. Here are some tips to help you be successful on your tests.
1. Plan to study
One of the most important skills a student can have is planning. At the beginning of each semester every teacher will most likely provide a schedule. Use that schedule to plan what to study every week. Don’t just set a vague goal each week to study for a module exam — instead, break up that goal into smaller segments to be learned each week leading up to the exam. Pencil it on your calendar as if it was a regular class: For example, allot every day from 1 to 3 p.m. to review content for each course you are taking. Remember that for every hour of class you should plan on 2-3 hours per week out non-classroom preparation.
2. Space it out
Rather than trying to learn all of the information at once, break it up into smaller pieces and review them every day. This spaced repetition has been found to improve recall of information. For example, don’t try to memorize the names and functions of all 12 cranial nerves in one sitting — instead, learn a few every day and review each before starting on the new ones.
3. Set learning objectives for yourself
For each study session you have put on your calendar, you should have clear and concise learning objectives stating exactly what you want to learn. Use the reading assignments, your class notes, information from tables or diagrams, etc. to develop the objectives. Objectives help you know what you don’t know. After you review your notes, identify any holes in your knowledge and make that your next learning objective. This is also the time to figure out who can help you with those missing pieces- ask your instructor, a study buddy, or a tutor.
4. Test yourself as you go
Quizzing yourself may be one of the best ways to prepare. Use flashcards, double-sided notes, or any other means to test your memory of the information. Writing out the flashcards by hand (rather than typing them) has been found to help us store information. And don’t worry about breaking a sweat while trying to remember the name of the tenth cranial nerve (FYI, it’s vagus): The harder it is to remember a piece of information in practice mode, the more likely we are to remember it in the future.
5. Make something up
Memorizing lists of information can be made easier by turning the details into something else, maybe a mnemonic or a crazy story. To remember the names of the cranial nerves remember: On Old Olympus Towering Tops A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops to represent the first letter of each of the cranial nerves: Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Auditory (vestibulocochlear), Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Spinal (Accessory), Hypoglossal. To remember the branches of the facial nerve (Temporal, Zygomatic, Buccal, Masseteric, Cervical) try remembering: Ten Zebras Bought My Car or To Zanzibar By Motor Car.
Research suggests that studying the same information in a different place every day makes us less likely to forget it. That’s because, every time we move around (from the library to the coffee shop, or the coffee shop to the student lounge), we force the brain to form new associations with the same material so it becomes a stronger memory.
7. Switch it up
Don’t stick to one topic; instead, study different material in one sitting. This technique helps prepare us to use the right strategy for finding the solution to a problem. For example, doing a bunch of division problems in a row means every time we approach a problem, we know it’ll require some division. But doing a series of problems that require multiplication, division, or addition means we have to stop and think about which strategy is best.
8. Bedtime reading
Try reviewing information for a few minutes right before going to sleep. Sleep has been found to strengthen memory, increasing the chance that you will remember whatever you reviewed right before dozing off. (Just don’t bring work into the bed since this can make it harder to actually fall asleep and get a good night’s rest). It might also help to plan to study first thing when wake up in the morning- in the morning, the brain is fresh and ready to absorb new information.
9. Doze off
When there’s a textbook full of information to memorize, it can be tempting to stay up all night committing them to memory (or trying to). All-nighters have been linked to impaired cognitive performance and greater sensitivity to stress. Sleep deprivation leads to decreased focus, attention and vigilance, making it more difficult to concentrate and receive information. In the days leading up to a big exam, aim to get those seven to nine hours a night so sleep deprivation doesn’t undo all the hard work you’ve put in.
10. Tune into yourself
Do you study best in the morning or at night? Do you need complete silence to study or does a crowd get your brain working? Do you need snacks or caffeine to keep you going or does a physical exercise break do it for you? Do you prefer to periodically reward yourself with a healthy snack or a 10-minutes of tweet or Facebook time (no more than that or you may not go back to work!)? Pay attention to what works best for you. You may even need to experiment to find what’s most effective for you. Once you figure out the perfect formula for success, stick with it!