By Christina Beltrán, Flagler College Psychology Intern
We’ve all been there. Trying to study for a quiz, test, or exam. The hard part about them is not always necessarily taking the assessment, but figuring out how to jam all the information you are supposed to know in your head. But don’t worry by the end of this article, you will have a clearer idea of where to start and how to ace that assessment!
Tip #1: Do NOT cram!
As much as you might hate to hear it and may not follow through with it anyway because you feel more comfortable at the procrastination station, DO NOT CRAM! Instead of cramming, it is good to take long periods of time between study sessions. These ‘spacing effects’ or studying in many short sessions (for example: studying for 1 hour per day 2 weeks before the test) help us better retain knowledge as it gives our brain time to correctly process the information and make our neural connections stronger (Goldstein, 2019).
Tip #2: Teach the material to someone close to you!
Even though this is time-consuming, it is totally worth it! Once you feel you know the material (For example: after testing yourself on the material several times and making your own study guide), teach the material to a friend, family member, or anyone who is not familiar (or who is very vaguely familiar) with the subject. You can start by using bullet points to guide you through the material (called cued recall in cognitive psychology) which helps you recall the information (Goldstein, 2019). When going through your points and explaining them to your friend or loved one, you are using the process of rehearsal which is basically repeating the information (Goldstein, 2019). Through this rehearsal, you might choose to use another process called elaboration which is creating connections between the material you are learning to things you are already familiar with or have meaning to you (Goldstein, 2019). For example, to help you remember where the Atlantic Ocean is located, you can increase your memory by telling yourself that the Atlantic is between the Americas and Africa, which all start with an A (if you already know where the Americas and Africa are located) (Elaboration strategies, n.d.).
Tip #3: Get a full night of sleep!
This one is absolutely CRUCIAL! Although one may think studying until 2am will help you remember more, that is not actually the case. This is due to a process cognitive psychology calls consolidation. Consolidation is when memories are transformed into a state in which they are more resistant to disruption, meaning that the memories become more embedded into your long-term memory and create stronger neural connections during this process (Goldstein, 2019). This ‘consolidation’ is enhanced when you sleep (Goldstein, 2019). By taking that time to sleep, your brain works to create stronger neural connections, which help to keep the information that you studied in your brain. Once taking the test, these stronger connections that you built while sleeping will allow you to remember an answer faster (and more accurately) compared to if you did not get as much sleep.
Tip #4: Avoid the ‘Illusion of Learning’
No matter how much you think you might know a subject, be sure not to confuse knowing something vs. only being familiar with it. Many students, including myself, are guilty of this. You may think you know the material but you only remember a few details about it. For example, you might be able to answer a multiple-choice question about the subject but will you get the full points if there was a short answer question about it? Familiarity does not equal comprehension!!!! (Goldstein, 2019).
Tip #5: Instead of memorizing the material, try to comprehend it instead!
This might be confusing to some and they might ask, aren’t these the same thing? Actually, no. Although you may remember something from memorizing it initially, you will remember it more when you try to understand it further - whether through learning how it works, visualizing it, applying examples to it, asking questions about it in class, and/or comparing and contrasting it to other things. To help you understand the material, try reading the chapter before class. That way, when you get to class, you can ask questions about specific things in the chapter such as, “Miss Smith, am I applying this correctly?” or “Miss Smith, can you tell me what this sentence means?”.
Hopefully these tips help you on your studying journey! Before I bid you farewell, make sure to not get too down on yourself if you are struggling with a subject. If you find yourself doing this, please refer to our post about positive affirmations. Otherwise, good luck studying!
Goldstein, E. B. (2019). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (5th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Elaboration strategies explained with examples. Viquepedia. (n.d.). https://www.viquepedia.com/psyche/elaboration#:~:text=For%20example%2C%20a%20student%20who,4%20%3D%209)%20is%20capitalizing%20on