Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Get enough sleep. Eat breakfast. Taking care of yourself is easy, and doing so will have a big effect on your performance. “Sleep matters a lot and eating breakfast matters a lot,” Kelsey says. “The SAT and College Board recommend waking up two hours before your test just so your brain is awake.” The bottom line? Eat a good breakfast, and don’t roll out of bed 15 minutes before your exam.
Tip 2: Space It, Don’t Race it
Research has shown that you’ll learn more if you space out your study sessions over a number of days. Forget about cramming the night before the exam, since you won’t retain information as effectively. “Space out your practice so you’re not just cramming the night before,” Kelsey says. “So you’re doing a little bit of math, a little bit of English every day.”
Tip 3: Stop, Elaborate and Listen
Studying should be more than just re-reading your notes. “It’s really important to test yourself, not just passively looking over your notes,” Kelsey says. “Actually test yourself and make sure you can explain. That’s a principle called elaboration.” By elaborating on a subject, you’ll forge and strengthen neural pathways that will make it easier for you to retrieve that information later on – like during an exam. Having trouble? Try to explain a difficult topic to a friend, using your own words.
Tip 4: Mix It Up
When you’re studying, try not to spend 4 hours on just one subject. Mix it up! This practice, called interleaving, trains your brain to retrieve information. Just stay on one subject until you feel a sense of accomplishment, and then move on to the next. Interleaving will feel challenging, but it will help you discover important connections and retain knowledge for the long haul.
Tip 5: Cement Your Learning: Find Concrete Examples
Concrete examples will help you learn more effectively. Go over examples from class and explain them to a friend for an added benefit. Ultimately, creating your own examples are most helpful for learning.
Tip 6: Dual Coding: Make It Visual
When studying, try to come up with different ways to represent information visually – like with an infographic, cartoon, timeline, or diagram. This is a process called dual coding. By coding the information in two formats – words and images – you’ll have multiple ways of remembering the information later on. In practical terms, you can also dual code by switching the color of your pen as you study, writing the words you don’t know in red. Your brain will code that red word differently, and you just might remember it easier during an exam.
So put down your phone, pick up a pen, and keep studying. Exams should be a celebration of knowledge and an opportunity for growth – even if you don’t know all the answers.