What are the best effective study tips for superior performance on examinations? This is a loaded inquiry. While studying is a necessary process used by all students to assimilate information and acquire knowledge, it is not a one size fits all process. As with all processes, several factors influence how efficient and effective studying would be. A few include: the intended outcome (e.g., acquire knowledge, gain understanding, pass examination, etc.), the individual, the content being studied, the time frame available and the nature of the examination. Hence, studying in general needs to be customized for each individual based on these factors. Trying to juggle and optimize all these factors can quickly lead to development of complex studying blueprints which can be counterproductive to the intended goal. Having some solid, simple and easily implementable study tips to rely on can be the difference maker for many students. Here are 10 proven study tips that can positively transform learning experience and consequently examination performance.
1. Set Clear Goals
Without a crystal clear goal it is impossible to determine the effectiveness of studying. Often the search for better studying strategies arise from poor performance on a test. Nonetheless, there may not have been a clear objective from the onset as to what the individual wants. For example, was the goal a perfect score on every quiz or test? Was the intention simply to pass? Or was the objective merely to understand the content and hope this takes care of any assessments along the way? An approach that may be conducive for acquiring understanding might not necessarily translate into perfect scores on an exam. Setting a clear goal at the beginning of the course is a must. Among other things, it can help inform the frequency of study sessions and the mechanics of each study session.
2. Prepare for Each Class
In principle, studying is more efficient and effective if one attends classes. Preparing for each class, however, takes studying efficiency and effectiveness to a whole different level. Take at least 5 minutes to prepare for each class. At this point, just being mentally aware of the topic and various subtopics to be discussed is sufficient. If you have more time, phrase the various subtopics to be discussed as a series of questions. This would help with attention and make you highly engaged as you would be actively seeking answers to the questions you have written down. Nothing beats preparing for class.
3. Pay Attention in Class
There is little benefit being in class if you are not mentally present. Give your instructor undivided attention and be actively involved when in class. If boredom sets in, rephrase key statements made by the instructor as questions? Make sure you have the all facts that can answer your newly formulated question. Also, ask questions to clarify any ambiguity. Leave the class with at least 80% clear understanding of the topic. This would cut down on time needed for additional study.
4. Take Excellent Notes
Whether you use an electronic device or old fashioned pen and paper, taking notes is priceless when it comes to effective study. You need to master a good note taking system that works for you. A couple of well-known note taking approaches are taking Cornell notes and using the outline system. Note-taking is designed for review, not for learning totally new material. The better the note taking process and notes, the shorter the review time for content mastery would be.
5. Create an Environment Conducive for Studying
While it is possible to learn anywhere and at any time, creating a conducive environment is essential for effective study. Ideally the study location should be quiet and free from potential distractions. Frequent interruptions and distractions kill focus. There can be no effective study without focus. Having more than one suitable study location may also be beneficial. Being able the change study location throughout the day can facilitate mental alertness and minimize boredom and extreme exhaustion.
6. Design Study Sessions to Optimize Peak Attention
A recent study by Microsoft Corporation revealed that the human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2002 to only eight seconds in 2013. Basically, a goldfish has a longer attention span than humans. However, when the mind is wrestled to focus on a given task such as studying, certainly the attention span can be longer. It is common for students to study continuously for more than an hour. Nonetheless, accumulating evidence suggests that attention drops to less than 20% after 45 minutes. A good strategy would be to break study sessions into chunks of 45 minutes at the most with 10 minute breaks in between. Each 45 minute session should have a 5 minute “warm up” and “cool down” component. It may be prudent to perform a reflection on what has been learned during the study session in the final 5 minutes. Excellent ways to use the breaks include going for a nature walk, talking to friends or listening to music.
7. Review New Content at the End of Each Day and Periodically
This study tip can totally enhance studying effectiveness. Carve out an hour at the end of each day to review new material learned in class that day. Do this preferably just before going to bed. This would allow the brain to process the material and make those important neural connections with previous knowledge.
Beyond reviewing new material at the end of the day, incorporate periodic review of the material to minimize forgetting the material. Memory retention decreases exponentially with time and the initial strength of the memory. Memories of shocking events are intensely stenciled in the mind and almost impossible to forget (flash bulb memory). However, since most material studied does not fall into this category, strategic periodic review should be utilized to slow down the speed of forgetting. Practicing new material leads to what is known as overlearning which makes the information reviewed invulnerable to being lost or forgetting. Also, each additional review increases the time interval need for further review to maintain the strength of the memory. At some point, it becomes impossible to forget the material. Just like your name.
8. Eat Well and Exercise Regularly
The mind needs to be well nourished to function optimally. Regardless of how crunched you are for time, always be sure to eat a balanced diet and take sufficient quantities of water. Not only would your mind function well, it would also improve your immune system. Eating well is easily one of the most overlooked study tips.
A sound mind goes with a sound body. Regular exercise improves circulation and concentration. It also releases endorphins that fight anxiety, stress and fatigue. These benefits of regular exercise can significantly aid effective studying.
9. Take Strategic Power Naps
Recall is known to decline with time. Some studies indicate that less than 20% recall exists following 8 hours of being awake after study. However, taking 10 minute power naps 2 hours after a study session would maintain recall at about 55%.
10. Apply the Pareto Principle
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for several events, approximately 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This rule is highly applicable when studying especially for examinations. By now, you have determined how much time you need to invest in reading the material you desire to master. Note that all this time spent in reading should constitute 20% of total study. Targeted practice must constitute the remaining 80%. Practice using questions in textbooks, practice books and question banks. Better still, do timed practice that simulates the exam conditions. In all my experience as an educator, practicing for tests has a significant positive effect on exam performance than simply being intelligent. In some respects, examinations are a metric of the number and quality of practice material covered as opposed to actual knowledge. This is definitely one of those study tips which can quickly lead to significant improvement in academic performance.
Which of the study tips from the list above do you currently use or plan to adopt? Or what other study tips work for you? Share your thoughts on study tips in the comments below, and share this post on facebook.