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Study Tips and Tricks

It seems inevitable that at some point we’re all going to have to sit some sort of exam. The most common issue I heard discussed in high school was a complete lack of knowledge as to how to study. Frequently, I would hear people before exams mentioning to their friends their study techniques. I was absolutely baffled at the amount of people who assumed simply reading over their notes would suffice! As a third-year university student, I’d like to think I am well schooled in exam sitting. This article aims to offer you some study tools and techniques that I am sure will go a long way in improving your exam results.

Firstly, identify what type of learner you are. If your school is divided into streams or accelerate classes, it is likely that those in those top classes got to that position purely by knowing what type of learner they are. It is not that those in lower streams are incapable of learning or retaining the same knowledge; it’s simply that they have misidentified or simply do not know how they learn as an individual.

There are many different ways to learn. This is why schools, in New Zealand, at least are moving away from lecture style classes, into more students focused learning. The entire point of school is so that you can learn how to learn, not so you become some expert in the sciences, algebra and English all at once. As you go through your schooling life a huge variety of learning activities is thrust upon you that you can begin to discover which ones really work for you. Once you identify your learning style, I guarantee you will improve your results.

To help you identify this, I will briefly mention three popular learning styles and ways to identify which one will belong to you.

The Visual Learner

Personally, I am a visual learner. It may sound odd considering I study law and history which both involve huge amounts of plain text. The truth is, no matter what subject, a visual learner will understand, learn and retain information by colour co-ordination or the layout as to where it is on the page. A visual learner is likely to develop a quasi-photographic memory retreating to a visual queue in their brain of where things are stored in their brains.

How to identify if you are a visual learner: Visual learners will usually be highly creative people. They get easily annoyed when displays in the classroom are in the wrong colours or are asymmetrical. They enjoy diagrams.

How to study as a visual learner: You are the revision poster queen! Spend your time turning your notes into a series of revision posters for each topic. Begin with a clear title. Branch your title out into several sub-headings. Begin with general concepts, and make sure you include examples. For example, if you are studying English closed-text, put the novels name and author in the middle of the page, make five sub-headings of important themes in the novel. Underneath out 3-5 bullet points explaining those themes, and then in different colours put 2-4 examples or references from that text, which support those themes.

The Auditory Learner

This is a very common learning style among young people who like to gossip and chat a lot. They usually retain a lot of what is spoken to them and often have trouble remembering what they have written down. They love it when the teacher speaks to them all day in class instead of copying down notes. An auditory learner depends on hearing the information and talking about it with others. Group work and presentations are where they flourish.

How to identify if you are an auditory learner: The most common way to identify an auditory learner is to have someone observe them when they are concentrating. When they are trying to remember something they heard they would look to the sides, where their ears are. If they are trying to remember something they said they would look down toward their mouth. An auditory learner remembers by sensation and how that sensation, speaking or hearing, transmitted that information to their brain.

How to study as an auditory learner: Group study sessions work really well. But this comes with a huge caution. If your best friends are not auditory learners it can be entirely unhelpful and actually make your studying a lot worse. So with this advice, while they can be helpful, I would not recommend this as your sole study option. Queue cards are perfect for auditory learners. Spend a lot of time turning your notes into 50+ queue cards covering themes, ideas, quotes, references and facts. Go over them by yourself first, reading the question aloud and reading the answer back to you. Then get your friends to test you, if they can’t be bothered going through all 50 (sometimes my partner flat out refuses!) pick 10 key cards each time you find a new friend to quiz you.

The Kinesthetic Learner

This person learns by doing. This learning style is really popular among boys. In saying that it is actually also popular for anyone who enjoys physical activity, and among science students! The blatant truth is that kinesthetic learners often struggle with exams and studying. With some focus and determination, if you are a kinesthetic learner, you can nail that knowledge.

How to identify if you are a kinesthetic learner: Kinesthetic learners are often really impatient and restless in class. They hate sitting still and loose attention really quickly when they are copying notes. They usually flourish in science, a subject where the experiments involve active learning and testing things out. When kinesthetic learners are trying to recall information they often look at their hands, trying to remember what they had done.

How to study as a kinesthetic learner: If you have a friend who is also a kinesthetic learner, discussing your notes and key concepts can work well, just like an auditory learner. The best advice I can give a kinesthetic learner, as I am not one myself, is to study as though you are either of the two learners, but to do this as close to the location where you learnt that information as possible. If you were a science student, studying in the lab would be perfect. If you learnt the information by watching a movie in English, play that movie over and over until you can quote the key scenes word for word. Act out the knowledge with yourself, or even speak your notes to your reflection in the mirror.

It is possible to be a combination of each style of learning, or to belong to a different school for a different subject. Trial and error is not an adequate way of discovering which learning style works for you, as you may fail a number of assessments. Have a long hard think about what you can relate to, and then confidently select which style is really you.

Secondly, once you have identified your learning style the next key is to divide your time wisely. Spend 1/3 of your study time learning the information, and 2/3 practicing it. Many students make the mistake of spending 100% of their time re-learning all of the information. This should have been done through the course of the class or school year. Study break is the time where you apply that knowledge to as many questions as you can get your hands on. There is absolutely no point learning that information again. When you sit down in that exam room you will never be asked to regurgitate everything you have learned. The questions will ask you to apply that knowledge. This alone is the key aspect that separates those who study well from those who don’t know how to study. Locate past exam papers, and do every single one. Begin by referring back to your notes, and by the third or fourth practice exam you will know exactly how to answer that question.

Thirdly, identify precisely where the different information fits into the course. This can be done during the 1/3 learning time. Lots of schools give you a table of what you will be learning, or a learning objective. Write out a to-do list of each sub-subject you discussed in that class. For example, in an algebra class, maybe you learn graphing, and under graphing you learn simultaneous equations. Write these out in a list, and tick them once you have “learnt” them. When you are approaching a question identify precisely what knowledge and from what part of the course that question wants you to apply.

Fourthly, practice makes perfect. That 2/3 of study time should be spent writing and writing and writing. You will need the pens you will be using in the exam, and a similar paper. This is to get you use to the time pressure your exam will be under. Many students spend their practice time simply planning how they will answer a question in their head. When they are sitting in an exam, the thin paper, sharp pen and hard desk can completely throw them off. I suggest trying to set up your study area exactly like the exam room. Sit alone in a quiet room, with a hard stool. Print your exam questions and get some paper. As you get better and better at answering the questions, begin to time yourself.

Finally, some final tips and tricks to help you go the extra mile. Remember to ask for help if you do not understand. Revisit your teacher during exam period; they are there to help you. Get plenty of sleep and eat well the morning of the exam. Invest in comfortable pens. Be prepared to write a lot. Know exactly what the exam will cover and try guessing what questions will come up. Don’t forget to take study breaks. A good 2 hours study earns most people a 15-minute break. It is advisable to spend around 4-5 hours a day studying. Make sure you do not give up your favourite activities during study break. For example, in my entire life I have never studied on a Friday night. Friday night has always been my time for me. Even if I have an exam on Saturday morning, I put all of my university work away at 5:30pm on a Friday. Do not consume alcohol or energy drinks the night before an exam. Wear comfortable clothes during your exam. Pee before entering the exam, you do not want to waste any exam time leaving to go to the bathroom. Never leave an exam early, they have allocated that amount of time for a reason, and they expect you to use it! Finally, remember to breathe and relax, you will be fine!

Now, once you come out of that exam room, feel free to talk with your friends about how you found the exam and how they found it too! Never stress about your answers and never tell yourself you failed. Go out, enjoy the break and have an all night dance-party! You nailed it!


Words by Rebecca Dewar // Photography by Brianna Sharma.

© 2015 Reef Magazine

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