It’s the scene from your worst nightmare: You study for days (or weeks!) to know your test material inside and out, you sit down to take the test and… your mind goes blank. While this worst case scenario is unlikely to happen – after a few minutes to calm down, you’ll start to remember what you studied – certain studying techniques can make your recall faster and help you cut through “brain fog” during your exam. Techniques exist to help you study for better results on your test, so you can get through exam time a bit more confident.
Use Spaced Repetition
It might feel tempting to hammer away at the toughest study materials over and over until you get it. But you’ll probably remember it better if you take short breaks in between. The theory, called spaced repetition, outlines that you’ll learn more if you repeat information at intervals – taking more and more time between repetitions each time – than if you try and repeat it over and over all at once.
What does this mean for your studies? Once you’ve identified the hardest concepts to remember, try studying it for a minute or two, and then review another chapter before circling back to it. As you start to improve your memory, start increasing the time between reviews – say, review two chapters before repeating, or take a few hours off and then come back to repeat it again. Eventually, it will get into your long-term memory, so you’re ready to recall it for your test.
Take a Walk
There’s nothing more attractive than a relaxing walk outside when you’re indoors studying – and we officially give you permission to take one during your study breaks. Not only will some time out in nature naturally boost your alertness, but regular brisk walks improve your aerobic fitness. That’s a good thing, since research shows that poor aerobic fitness negatively affects your memory. If you know you’ll be studying all day, start your day with a brisk walk. You’ll get your heart pumping, plus you'll prime your brain for the day so you’re ready to retain information when you settle down to study.
Switch out Your Study Space
You might have staked out your regular spot in the library during exams, but you’ll do more for your memory if you mix it up every once and awhile, advises Concord University. Memory is all about making associations in your brain, and that includes making associations with your environment. By mixing it up, you’re more likely to be able to recall information in different settings – like, say, in the exam room. Mixing up your environment could mean hitting a local coffee shop instead of the library, or taking your studies outside to the quad.
Include Visual Learning
Using drawings in your study will help enhance your memory, even if you’re not a natural visual learner. Remember, learning is all about associations, and associating the study material with visual cues creates more associations in your mind, which can help your recall later on, according to research published in "The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology."
Some subjects lend themselves perfectly to visual cues, like repeatedly drawing the shape of an organic molecule, or drawing out a simplified diagram of hemoglobin as you study its function, while others require more creativity. Approaching a physics problem by drawing exactly what's happening – for example, the path of a ball thrown by a pitcher – when you study, may help you remember how to approach a similar problem on the test.
Embrace the Right Noise
The conventional wisdom suggests that peace and quiet is a must for studying effectively, and that’s true, to an extent. But it’s not the whole story. If you’re the type of person who needs to have noise when you study, a steady ambient noise can be just as effective as studying in silence for better recall later, a recent study found – and white noise itself has been linked to better memory. It also mimics the quiet or ambient conditions you’d have during your exam, which may help you get into a “study” mindset during the test and forget exam anxiety. What you should avoid is irregular noises – so nix studying with the TV on in the background.
- Nature Reviews Neuroscience: The Right Time to Learn: Mechanisms and Optimization of Spaced Learning
- Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience: Poorer Aerobic Fitness Relates to Reduced Integrity of Multiple Memory Systems
- Concord University: Switching It Up: Where You Study
- Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: The Drawing Effect: Evidence for Reliable and Robust Memory Benefits in Free Recall
- Acta Psychologica: The Impact of Different Background Noises on the Production Effect
- Behavioral and Brain Functions: The Effects of Background White Noise on Memory Performance in Inattentive School Children