Applying principles from psychology, learning theory and teaching practice will take the guess work out of studying for exams. Here are some top tips that have worked well for me as a student, a psychology lecturer and for my students. You can also adapt these for driving test or preparing for presentations. Some of these tips are also useful for confidence building.
Study Skills Top Tips:
- Information sinks in better if we start with a positive attitude, so don’t be resentful, recognise the privilege of studying and actually ‘enjoy’ the experience.
- Begin each study session with some deep breathing exercises. Use the Two Minute Stress Buster throughout the day in your short breaks.
- Drink water throughout the day as dehydration can lead to a reduction in your cognitive functions. However, don’t force yourself to drink too much – just enough so you don’t feel thirsty.
- Avoid junk food and eat those all important fresh fruits and vegetables.
- After the first day, the first 30 mins of study should be a brief review of the material you covered the previous day. This is easy, it gets you ‘in the mood’ and it helps with retention.
- Try to study in the same place as a routine. Context is very important in memory recall. Memories of where you study are automatically linked with the facts. In exams, don’t panic, instead of trying to force the information out, begin by closing your eyes, taking some deep breaths and imagining your study space. This will help to release the study material associated with your study space.
- If you have to listen to music while studying, just choose something instrumental that just helps focus your mind and block out distractions. Lyrics just get in the way.
- Create variety in your study routine so that you don’t get bored. Try mind-mapping, condensing notes, asking yourself test questions etc.
- Try giving non-stop 20 minute presentations (to an imaginary audience on a topic) with only a handful of cue cards. Even if you falter you have to keep going and deliver the whole presentation. The act of keeping on going helps to build and strengthen associations between different facts and makes it more likely that you are using your own words. At the end of each presentation, review where you got stuck, and try it again.
- Revise in shorter sessions (30 mins) with small breaks in between to prevent mental fatigue.
- Try this study routine: Morning: 30 mins study, 5 min break, 30 mins; 5 min break; 30 mins, 5 min break; 30 mins; 15 minute break – for which you should get away from your study space. Repeat again, but this time you can have lunch after 40×30 min sessions. Repeat for afternoon up until dinner time.
- Five sit-ups or press-ups in the short breaks will also help limit mental fatigue, and you may end up with a toned-stomach at the end of it.
- Create a study timetable where sandwich the subjects you don’t like between the ones you do.
- Practice relaxation exercises (eyes closed and take long slow deep breaths) – see my Two Minute Stress Buster post.
- Get out in the fresh air, in daylight everyday, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Get exercise – build this into to your weekly study timetable.
- Don’t study right up until bed time, this can ruin your sleep. Instead, spend the last hour relaxing before you go to bed.
Wishing you happier and more productive studying.
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