how to learn, relearn, and revise for exams

2006-04-24 at 23:46 (in-progress, musings, notes)

  1. Get an overview of everything you need to know for the exam, and nothing more (if you’re with an examination board, at least in the UK, the examination board should have a specification for your subject online, listing this).

  2. Get a book which covers the entire topic, and possibly any other related material. Read it through as if it’s a light girlie novel. Find any other, related, interesting and hopefully not too dry books which take your fancy and read them too, as if they’re light girlie novels. Don’t worry about learning anything, or memorising, but think more about trying to understand. (In some subjects, this is more important than others. Physics, for example, understanding is more important than the other two.)

  3. Leave that subject alone for a week or so. This lets your subconscious brain figure things out, arrange, rearrange, change the furniture, the tiles and maybe get some new lights fitted. Basically, you’re letting yourself forget most of the detail. Don’t worry about the subject at all during this week. Rest at ease, knowing you can leave it alone.

  4. Now you get out your specification, textbook, any course notes, revision guidelets or worksheets or anything that you have related to the subject, really.

  5. Get your course overview/specification, and split it up into useful chunks. Topics and subtopics kind of thing. Keep this on paper somewhere fairly close by; it gives you an important guide to progress.

  6. Get some little bits of paper/card to write on. Go through each subtopic on your list and write the bare essentials on these cards, using your textbook/other reference materials to figure it out. One subtopic per card only, and preferably in big writing. Keep as little as possible in each one, and use the simplest possible words.

  7. Leave to simmer for one week.

  8. Read through your cards. As you do this, get another set of (empty) cards and write things out again, except this time simpler and bigger. This is the final set of notes; you’ve done most of the work now. Relax for a bit.

  9. Read through these sets regularly, comparing with textbooks, adding memory aids, etc. as neccessay. By this, you’ve probably got an understanding of most of the material, and you’ve probably learnt and memorised quite a bit without actually trying. Now is the time to attack the bits you don’t grasp so easily and use more aggressive techniques on them.

Yeah, this is quite a lazy way of doing things. It relies on the idea of forgetting three times before you remember things (semi-)permanently, and relying on your natural ability to learn and memorise (which are different) with repetition, and to gain a better understanding whilst learning. While doing your card notes, you should probably employ mnemonics where useful, and silly drawings to grab your attention, or over-the-top language to achieve a similar result. Don’t try to consciously memorise, though, because that builds up stress when you can’t recall straight away.

If you can set aside distraction-free chunks of time, this is a fairly efficient way to learn, too. You can memorise multiple subjects at once by doing them in the gaps between the others. This way you might be utilitising your subconscious mind better, but it’s still a good idea to leave in some breaks.

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