We’ve all been caught out by that exam we thought was in two weeks time but is in actual fact… tomorrow.
Well fortunately for you, a new paper published in one of the top psychology journals , highlights the five most popular study strategies and examines where they are flawed and how you can make better use of your memory.
This is good news for all you study crammers.
Here are the five points, complete with all the information you need to improve your memory retention:
Strategy 1: Re-reading
Don’t worry, you’re not the only to believe that re-reading the same paragraph 100 times will most certainly keep it in there. However, psychologists believe that this method is too passive – aka not impressionable enough.
The hack? Space out your reading
Yes, this means begin studying at least a week before the exam. By doing so you will have the time to read a chapter, then go and do something else. Go back and re-read said chapter after an hour, a day, or even a week (if you are a timetabling boss). Returning to the material at regular intervals helps stimulate the memory.
You can also help yourself by actually trying to understand what it is your reading (I know?!). Question your knowledge and actually pay attention to what you do and don’t know. Simple, right?
Strategy 2: Underlining and highlighting
This strategy is not much better than frenzied re-reading. The urge to underline and highlight is not in itself the problem, but rather a student’s inability to discern what is actually the most critical information. As a result, many students will end up with almost every paragraph coloured and scribbled over.
The hack? Pause to think
Now there’s an idea. Scientists suggest reading the text through once, then marking up relevant sections on the second read. This encourages ‘active processing’, which helps form stronger memories.
Strategy 3: Note-taking
Similar to the last strategy, students will often go too far above and beyond with their note-taking, writing down almost everything they find/hear without using much judgment as to what is most essential. Overenthusiasm = a vice.
The hack? Be concise
Experiments show that when fewer words are used to express an idea in note-taking, the more likely the student will remember it later. That’s because minimalistic writing is hard – no wonder that writing a short story can be more difficult than writing a novel. Writing less forces you to really think about what it is you are trying to say, and this mental exertion in turn forms stronger memories.
Strategy 4: Outlining
This strategy is often encouraged or created by teachers. It forces students to take an overall view of the course or subject, and learn the key points in a logical manner.
The hack? Search for deep patterns
There is new evidence that suggests that students who are offered a course outline do tend to perform better. Beginning with the bones of a course or story allows you to then fill in the gaps as you progress. Psychologists suggest making your own bullet-point outlines of a text or lecture, then fleshing it out as you go along. Being able to see the structure of the argument is crucial.
Strategy 5: Flash cards
Now I was a serial flash-card maker at school, so I can attest to the usefulness of this tool. However, one study found that the more confident someone feels about newly learned knowledge, the less likely they are to remember it later.
The problem with flash cards is that people will often discard a card thinking they have successfully learned the information before it is truly embedded in their memory.
The hack? Beware overconfidence
In short, don’t drop the card before it is properly cemented in your memory. Keep testing yourself long after you think you know it.
Well, with that all said, good luck with the upcoming exam period!