There’s no denying that studying for exams takes time. There aren’t any true shortcuts to cramming the information into your brain. But there are ways to make your study time more effective and streamline the memory process.
Start early so you don’t have last-minute cram sessions. Look at what exams you have coming up and when they are. Schedule your studying, prioritizing the subjects you need to spend more time on.
Get plenty of sleep. Information is solidified in your mind while you sleep, so make sure you sleep between your study sessions and the corresponding exams. Memory retrieval is impaired when you are tired, so be sure to get plenty of sleep before exams so you go in refreshed and ready.
Take care of yourself. Eat healthily, get some exercise and fresh air, and don’t have too much caffeine. Eat a healthy meal before your exam, because working on an empty stomach causes decision fatigue.
How To Study:
There are several proven methods for maximizing information retention and retrieval. Here are some:
Write your notes by hand, not by typing. More and more studies are showing that handwriting engages your brain in ways that transcribing by typing does not. Some of that is the muscle memory involved in the act of physically writing. Other studies have shown that the more ways you engage your brain when you learn information, the more embedded the information becomes. There’s lots of information about this in this article that I have previously linked.
Flashcards work, highlighting doesn’t. Just reading information triggers recognition in your brain, but it doesn’t cause your brain to recall the information itself (which is what you need to do during the exam). You don’t want to merely train your brain to recognize the information, you need to practice retrieving the information from your brain. Use flashcards, take practice quizzes, have a friend ask you questions to answer. The more you practice recalling, the easier it will be when you take the exam.
Work out the answers on your own, and practice working them out so you can work out new situations on the exam. Have you ever noticed, if you have partial knowledge of another language, it’s easier to understand what is said to you than it is to come up with responses in your non-native language. It’s the same reason why you can look at a math equation and understand how it works, yet be unable to work out the answer by yourself. Understanding a process and working through that process by yourself are two different things. It’s almost like muscle memory in your brain: you have to teach your brain how to work through the process. Once you’ve got it, you’ll be able to work through new situations more easily.
Put in the effort. This article has highlights from the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The article has loads of very useful studying tips like generating answers on your own, interleaving your topics, evaluating, and memorization tips. The more effort you put into learning information, the more it will stick and the easier it will be to recall. But study smarter not longer! Sitting and passively reading highlighted material in your textbook is not effective. Actively engaging your brain with memory and retrieval exercises is.
Best of luck on your exams, and study smart!