Our brain can potentially memorize 2.5 petabytes of information. The rough equivalent of 3 million hours of YouTube videos. So why then can we not remember that one important concept in the exams, which we knew (apparently) like the back of our hands just the night before?
Exams can be trying but with the correct technique and slight changes to your method, you can make things much easier for yourself.
So here are some tips and tricks to learn better and perform well in exams.
- Spaced repetition: Scientists say that to maximize learning, one should study short but often. Many of us are in the habit of studying for long hours on end in the exam week, thinking the longer we are able to sit at a stretch, the better. And tiring ourselves dead in the process. But studies have shown that studying for short intervals with brakes is more productive.
- Sound sleep: A study conducted in Harvard showed that students who slept well the night before their exams did 35% better than students who didn’t sleep between studying and the test. Neuro-scientists have discovered that synapses, the connectors in the brain that make us remember and understand stuff, grow mainly when we are sleeping. Sleep and dreams are vital to processing and storing new information in your brain.
- Pomodoro technique: If you have a long and boring portion to cover for your exams, set your timer to around half an hour or so, during which time you only study. When the alarm rings, take a 5 minute brake. Then set the timer again. These short brakes provide motivation to keep going and the half an hour study time makes the tedious portion look doable.
- The Feynman technique: Start with reading up a portion of the syllabus. Once you know what it is about, write about it, as if you are teaching someone else. If you can, then the best way is to write and speak simultaneously, like a teacher. Now you know what specific parts are still troubling you. Whenever you get stuck, study that part again, until you have explained the whole topic. Now repeat the whole process, improvising this time around by simplifying the language, and using examples and analogies. Keep doing this till you are satisfied with your explanation, that is to say, it isn’t confusing anymore. Now you are likely to remember the portion for a long time. Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, was notorious for asking his fellow mathematicians to explain concepts in simple language to test their understanding.
- Go places: In an experiment, two groups of people were asked to memorize random words. One group changed classrooms and the other didn’t. The first group remembered 40% better. We can make deeper memories of a subject by learning in richer environments. This is because they offer more visual clues that we can relate matter to.
- Quick tests: Finish up small sections of the portion with quick quizzes. Immediate recall in the form of short tests or summaries can increase retention by 30%. Because it is much harder to reflect than to read, the extra effort creates deeper traces in your memory.
- Use different media: Everyone has a different pattern of studying. And it keeps changing. You might lose motivation to read your book, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop studying. Try to continue by watching videos, asking your friends to explain concepts to you, or any of the many different methods at hand. A 2008 study shows that the more different regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means you will have more opportunity to pull up data, while recalling, from the many storage areas.
- Make connections: Try to relate what you are learning to something outside of study. For example, to learn that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed, only converted from one form to another, you can think about how people say obstacles are advantages. So negative energy is actually a good thing because you can convert it into positive energy. For example, if you’re angry, it’s good because you can work out! You might have to learn concepts much more complex than energy equilibrium, but you get the idea.
- Go with the flow: If you find that you aren’t immediately motivated to study, or you aren’t absorbing anything, don’t force yourself to toil. Because you aren’t getting anything out of it anyway. Take a brake, and come back later.
- Have fun: Modern learning science proves that positive emotions are very important for increasing our learning potential. So find a fun way to practice. Needless to say, most people eat!
Now that you have these tips, the key is to apply them to your life one at a time. You’ll watch your grades improve gradually, and you’ll not even be killing yourself.