Preparing for an exam can be one of the most stressful experiences university students live through. Learning material for an exam that covers months of studying can be challenging, to the point where many of us don’t even know where to start. Luckily, psychologists have conducted many experiences that have found ways to help us learn and remember better. Here are some tips to keep in mind for this exam season:
- Don’t cram for an exam the night before. Research on memory has shown that studying is more productive when it is done in intervals. In the 1800s, a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus spoke of the forgetting curve and found that 20 minutes after learning something, memory begins to decay at its fastest rate. This effect can be fought off by reviewing material between intervals, as being exposed to information only once is not very useful for learning. Planning short and frequent review sessions is more effective than attempting to memorize all the information the night before.
- Take breaks while studying, but avoid multitasking. As mentioned before, learning happens best when done in short intervals. Because of this, taking breaks while studying is crucial for better performance on tests. Studies have also shown that learning is strengthened by sleep, so taking naps, relaxing, and getting a good night’s sleep improves our performance on exams, by making us feel better in the morning while also strengthening our learning. However, breaks should be done with the purpose of resting from studying, and we should avoid switching between tasks while we learn. Multitasking negatively impacts our ability to focus, creates problems in memory, and ultimately makes us less productive.
- Learn actively. Memorizing, repeating, highlighting, and rereading usually don’t work. Creating diagrams, making connections, and visualizing information are the most effective ways to learn. The self-generation effect states that we are three times more likely to remember information if we generate it ourselves than if we simply read it or hear it.
- Test yourself. Creating tests for yourself can be useful to review the material, as it strengthens the process of long term memory encoding. It makes us actively engaged with the material, making it more likely for us to remember it later. Also, it helps give us more confidence to perform better. Doing this with a friend can make the experience more fun while being a very useful way to learn and revise.
- Match the conditions. Research shows that matching learning conditions to testing conditions has an impact on memory. Being in the same room where we learned the concepts, and even being in the same mood, can help us remember them better later if these conditions match. Although we should not rely on this to take exams, it does have an effect on our memory. Studying in different contexts can help prevent us from associating one specific location to our learning.