I’m assuming that at least from time to time, you make a heroic effort to revise for your exams. And I’m also assuming that no matter how hard you work to get information into your head, that over the subsequent few days and weeks most of it’s gone!
I can confidently assume that this is happening since human beings are hardwired to forget. If you’re normal – and you probably are – and unless you already have a great learning strategy, then the chances are, no matter how hard you work you’ll be forgetting stuff as you go!
But what if you do have a robust learning strategy? Can you counteract your natural tendency to forget?
Yes, you can! If a strategy works, then it works!
If yours doesn’t however, you may want to read on!
Here is a list of things to do, to fit in with how your brain already learns best.
- Work in short bursts of time. We are predisposed to concentrate for only short periods of time. So make sure you take frequent breaks and do something completely different, so that when you come back five minutes later, your brain is ready for more.
- Divide what you have to learn into small chunks of information. Your brain will naturally absorb what you are learning if you focus on a little at a time. You can learn an infinite amount of information, providing you break it up into small enough pieces.
- Use plain paper. The problem with lined paper is that you will be tempted to write in whole sentences. And the problem with that is that it’s very difficult for your brain to remember any of it. Remember, less is more. When you write your notes you need to aim to only write 10% or so of the original material. Now, finding the right 10%… that’s the art!
- Use colours to draw your notes. The more visual (images, diagrams, symbols etc) your notes, the easier your brain will find remembering them. More pictures, fewer words. That’s the key.
- And use those colours to group similar information together. Use colour strategically, not randomly. When you organise your notes use colour purposefully to help you remember chunks of information.
- Always, always, always hand-draw your notes. Research demonstrates, time and time again, that the brain-processing required makes the strongest memories in the brain. You miss out on this when you type on a computer.
- When you have finished learning a chunk of information, devise a test question for yourself. Many people shoot themselves in the foot when revising by looking at the notes they’ve made first and then attempting to recall them. All this does is test your short-term memory. That’s going to be no good to you in the exam when you will need to pull information out of your long-term memory.
- Write the test question on the other side of the page from your notes. And file your notes away question side up. This will allow you to be prompted by your test question to recall that chunk of information, and it will force you to pull it up from your long-term memory, which helps to strengthen those memory traces.
- See your notes in your mind’s eye and say them out loud while tracing them in the air. The more of your brain that you have to use in order to recall your notes, the harder your brain has to work and the stronger you will make those connections.
- Ask yourself how this new piece of information relates to what you already know about the subject. Your brain easily learns new information that relates to a framework of knowledge that you already have. So find creative ways to link new information to information you already know.
When you use your brain the way that it was designed to work best, your memory will improve and you will find revising more effective and pleasurable – you’ll see!