Chances are that everyone you know has a different take on how they prepared for tests, and will offer completely different tips than another person would. Maybe you don’t remember what you found most effective, but you do know it was based on research. Probably.
Of course, it is vital that your students find the right method for them, but are some tips more valuable than others?
Here are 9 tips that, according to science, work:
1. Shorter Study Sessions
Plenty of research-based evidence works to support this notion. Short and regular study sessions are far better than studying for hours at a time. By aiming for about 20-30 minutes a few times a week, our brains are given more chance to encode information into their synapses in short, repeated sessions.
The same applies for learning new skills, like swimming, tennis, or singing. Shorter sessions have greater impact than if we were to spend an entire day trying to master something.
2. Make It Routine
Last-minute cramming and pulling an all-nighter might be common, but it’s perhaps not a huge surprise that this is a bad idea. In fact, students practising these techniques usually get the lowest grade, and prolonged nocturnal study sessions can affect reasoning and memory for up to four days. Regardless of whether this is a case of causation or correlation, it is clear that we should be encouraging our students to make studying a part of their routine.
Regular, short sessions scheduled throughout the year work better. Encourage students to make it a part of their weekly routine. Just one or two study sessions a week can be incredibly effective, but the key is to make it consistent, by dedicating specific times to revising. Our brains respond to routines.
3. Use Flashcards
The most common method of studying is simple; it involves re-reading notes and highlighting sections of textbooks. It is also one of the least effective methods of studying.
Flashcards, on the other hand, are effective. They make learning mobile, they are perfect for shorter 20-30 minute study sessions, and they help students to identify the most important and relevant information in bitesize chunks.
4. Have A Specific Goal For Each Study Session
Rather than just studying ‘English’ or ‘Maths’, it is important to plan study sessions. Decide exactly what you are going to study and focus on that single concept, theory, or subject area. Set yourself a specific goal to work towards to keep your study time focused on where it needs to be. A good goal to set yourself is to feel comfortable explaining an idea or concept to another person or aloud in simple terms. If you can’t explain something simply, then you probably don’t understand it well enough.
5. Study With Teaching In Mind
Those who study a subject with the goal of being able to teach it to a class perform better than those who study specifically for a test.
By studying with teaching in mind, we encourage our brains to reorganise information in a more logical, coherent structure. As a result, we understand the concept much better, and are more likely to be able to learn it simply. Encouraging students to imagine they have to teach a short class on a subject guides them to think about the topic in this way.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Nobody enjoys mock exams or practice papers, but they are a proven and effective method of study. Studies suggest that they increase confidence, make exams less daunting, and most importantly, they highlight areas that students may be lacking in knowledge enabling them to focus their study sessions before sitting an exam for real.
7. Have A Designated Study Area
Students perform better when they have a designated study area – preferably a desk – equipped with every tool they will need, eliminating the chance they will distract themselves.
This helps to focus revision, and can reduce distractions.
8. Listen To Classical Music – Or Nothing At All
Many people who swear by the fact that they can’t revise without music, and we’ve all done it. However, studies suggest that the only genre of music that actually aids learning is classical music.
The research states that repetitive, rhythmic music (think Pop, RnB, Hip-Hop, Drum and Bass) distracts our brains from actually processing information. Whilst we may feel like we are focusing better, we aren’t actually absorbing the information. Think Bach over Britney.
9. Isolate Yourself
It’s the most obvious one but ensuring you have minimal distractions gives the best chance of a productive study session. The less distractions, the better. Put your phone and tablet away, switch your computer off (and disconnect the Internet if possible), and let family members know you don’t want to be disturbed for a short while.