Learning Techniques for Exam Success

by | May 28, 2019 | 0 comments

Do you ever find no matter how hard you try you are not making any progress with your studies and learning? Despite all of your effort and hard work you are still failing exams? Lets go back to basics and look at what I consider to be the most powerful learning techniques.

When I coach students the first thing I want is to get a good understanding of how they study. Common answers are, I re-read my lecture notes, I go over recorded lectures, I write out my own notes. Great! These are all valid study techniques. We all lean towards a particular learning style (VAK). We may be a Visual learner, an Auditory learner or a Kinaesthetic learner. If we lean towards a particular style of learning that does not mean that we should shy away from the other styles.

I often think it would be great if I could go back to my younger student days many (many!) years ago and advise that younger Edel on better ways to study. I was a fan of putting hours and hours of work into my studies but reflecting back I am not sure how much I was retaining. I used to rote learn without really getting under the skin of a topic. This is surface learning and is unlikely to be retained in the brain for a long periods of time. Here are some of my tips for quality deep learning.

We need to space out our study. Cramming before an exam/assignment will only result in surface learning and most likely will forgotten straight after. Spacing out your study will result in deeper quality learning. This may feel a little frustrating as invariably you will forget some of the material as the exam approaches but the more times you go over the material, the more it will embed in your brain.

Another effective study method is interleaving. This is switching between topics when studying. This practice mixes different kinds of problems within a single study session.

Use concrete examples when you are studying. When studying abstract concepts, it is useful to illustrate them with specific examples. This helps grasp abstract ideas.

In my opinion, the most effective learning technique is retrieval practice. Self-testing or quizzing is a great form of retrieval practice. Testing and quizzing also gives you feedback on what you know and do not know.

The least effective method of study are re-reading notes. There is a lot of research done on how much you retain by re-reading lectures notes. I can tell you it is very little! You need to keep going over material. You need to test your self to see how much you know and how much you don’t know.

If you are still struggling, please do reach out to me. I am happy to do a free 30 minute chemistry call to ascertain your needs.

Ref: Caviglioli, O. Sumeracki, M.& Weinstein, Y. (2019). Understanding How we Learn. New York, US: Routledge.