I Changed Up How I Studied; Here’s What You Need To Know
Studying for exams has never been my thing. Let’s be honest, it’s no-one’s thing, right?
I’d spend days psyching myself up (read: procrastinating) before a test, then the night before I’d go crazy; highlighting, reading, making awesome notes and feeling pretty pleased with myself.
Until my marks came back, and I had barely scraped by.
This went on for ages. I couldn’t study anymore than I already was, so I guessed I just sucked at exams.
The game-changer for me was a study session with a friend.
I figured I’d go in all prepared (with my art gallery of notes) and be awesome.
Except we didn’t really need my notes – his way of study was to test himself.
We sat a practice test, marked it, and it hit home hard.
I couldn’t remember half my notes; the definitions I had learned weren’t detailed enough to get full marks, and I’d misread half of the questions anyway.
Cue panic stations.
My mate also got loads wrong, but he just wasn’t fazed. It was all part of his process – he figured he’d got half right; so that was stuff he didn’t have to study now.
I pretended to be fine, we went home and then did it again the next day.
This time I recognised some similar wording to the last test. I vaguely remembered that marking key and dodged some of yesterday’s silly mistakes, either interpreting the question correctly or better understanding what the examiners wanted.
After marking each other’s work this time, we found we’d both improved – which left even less stuff we needed to review that night. It was starting to sink in that this was a much better way.
Skip ahead to test day and, without taking any more time and energy than usual, I had improved my mark by 14% - way more than I had ever managed before.
I’ve learned since that your brain is kind of like a muscle, it responds to exercise. The more you ask it to do something, the stronger it becomes (it’s called Neuroplasticity).
Turns out, practice testing is the single best way to strengthen the brain’s ability to find information (recall) and improve how long you remember it (retention).
Since it also creates metacognition (awareness of what you do and don’t know), you can essentially pinpoint your weakest muscles and work on making them stronger – in my case, finding the topics I sucked at most, paying attention to the marking key, and focusing my attention there.
Scientists are all over this; they’ve published dozens of studies that back me up (testing boosts results by 38% compared to re-reading1), so now I’m feeling pretty smug that I eventually worked it out too.
It took me a while to get there (and there may have been some tears) but practice became my go-to study method and from that time on, I was so much more confident going into tests and exams, and my results showed it too.
So, before you go to reach for those highlighters, get stuck into some practice tests first. Grab a friend or go solo; either way you’ll be better for it.
You’ve got this!
P.S. You’ll want to make sure that your practice tests and exams have ATAR-style marking keys and align properly with your current curriculum.
Find WACE, QCE and VCE courses at www.reviseonline.com .
1.Roediger, H.L., & Karpicke, J.D. (2006b). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17(3), 249-255