By Marianne Christie, Ometz Educational Supports Program
Below are suggestions for maximizing your test-taking abilities. The trick to being a successful student is not as simple as investing thousands of hours, it is planning what and how you are going to learn and remember. Many students are feeling the grind and anxiety about doing well. What if you knew that simply re-reading information is just not useful? Learning is not optimized by simply attempting to stuff the brain with information. This is a biological fact. Instead, your brain remembers based on the strength and number of associations it develops. As such, learning depends on using information. Therefore, the educational habits that you develop are what make the difference. Everything is a process and we cannot expect results overnight – so planning and problem-solving are your friends when it comes to academic success. Moreover, developing effective study habits is a life-skill more so than a school-specific skill – they are ways for students to discover how to be effective, to practice self-discipline and productivity.
Important background work:
1. Know what works for you: Do you need a quiet space or a noisy one? How often should you take breaks? How long can you maintain your attention? Where are you most effective? Are you a morning person or an evening person? Answer the 5-W’s (when, where, what, why, how) related to your study preferences.
2. Keep records of what you know and what you still need to learn. This can be as easy as making check marks next to the topics you feel pretty confident about on your study guide. Or you can make separate lists in your agenda, on your phone, or wherever works for you. Optimize this strategy by keeping running lists as you are learning things.
3. Plan and schedule. Make your study schedule and take into account how long you want to study, when you will take breaks, how long these breaks will be. Don’t forget to take into account what time your favourite show is on, what time dinner is, or any other activities that are important to you. Write the schedule down as a commitment to yourself. Make it a routine. Studying is not something you do simply when you have the time.
4. Space out your studying. While cramming may help you for tomorrow’s midterm – you won’t remember any of that information over the longer term. You will need to restudy it for the final. Do yourself a favour, with a little effort for planning, you will save yourself a lot of anxiety and time by studying over a longer period. Plan shorter study sessions over longer periods of time. The frequency with which you study is less important than just making it a point to study over time. Practice makes permanent.
5. Take breaks and give yourself rewards (for example: snacks, drinks, or a quick walk outside). Make sure to get up and move during your breaks (your brain needs that blood flowing in it!).
Effective study methods:
1. 3R: Read, Recite, Review: Begin by reading the information (in small chunks – such as one paragraph at a time). Then, without looking at what you just read, repeat the information to yourself (or someone else!). Finally, review what you read to ensure that you didn’t miss any key information.
2. Make Flashcards (Cue Cards): These are best done over the course of the year as you do homework or casual review, but not to be dismissed if you haven’t – creating them is also a great study tool. Put a word or a concept on one side of the card, with the definition or explanation on the other. Creating these forces you to use the information differently (Question-Answer format) and gives you a great way to quiz yourself. They also help you get to know what you know already and what you still need to brush up on. They are also portable – You can use them while you wait or travel!
3. Quiz yourself and ask yourself questions. You can use the ones that are commonly provided for you, but you can also ask yourself your own questions! Learn how to ask when, where, what, how and why questions related to your material. Forcing yourself to retrieve the information and make these connections helps bolster your memory. They also help you know what you might need to study a bit more. Elaborating rather than just receiving the information passively really ensures that the information won’t be lost.
4. Relate the information you are learning to things you already know. Make connections between prior knowledge, across subject areas and to your personal life.
5. Draw. Make diagrams, flowcharts and other visual models. This forces you to process the information actively, generating your own understanding with the ultimate result being better retention.
6. Make outlines. Outlines force you to summarize information and chunk or group them based on similar concepts.
7. Say things out loud. Don’t be embarrassed to explain things to yourself out loud. This can help you recognize how well you know something.
8. Make memory games or mnemonic devices. Make up fun stories related to your material while you learn. Mnemonic devices are created by using the first letter of each word in a list you are trying to memorize. The first letter of the first list becomes the first letter of a nonsense or crazy sentence you can easily remember. These force you to use more of your brain to remember visual and active images, rather than just remembering a list. Just be sure that you can remember your crazy sentence easily and more readily than the list of words you are actually supposed to remember (There are already many existing examples – such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally for order or operations, or King Henry Died Mother Didn’t Care Much for unit conversions).
Find what works for you and adapt the strategies to be even more effective for your needs. The bottom line is: re-reading information is not an effective study strategy. It does take effort to begin to implement study strategies and effective methods, but as they become second nature to you, you will be saving yourself a lot of time, energy and anxiety. Finally, it is crucial to remember to stay positive and that you can always improve!
Want to know more about how Ometz can help you and your family meet life’s challenges? Visit www.ometz.ca