Best Study Habits for Exam Success!

Before you read on, I want you to know that motivation is a mental state that changes every day. It is not an enduring trait that you can gain and keep forever. Now that you know that please stop chasing it. Cramming & hoping as core strategies do not work. Exam motivation is a daily discipline. And the key is to talk more encouragingly to yourself about the challenges of learning when the goal is exam success. Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin:


1 The habit of Starting

Just start, it is that simple. It really is about stopping the over thinking or talking yourself out of it or worrying about finding it hard to study. Say to yourself “I want to get good grades so 5-4-3-2-1 go” and just move to your study place and begin. I know you’re thinking where do I begin or I don’t know how to begin. But the truth is you do, you’re just a bit overwhelmed at the thoughts of all you are to achieve over the coming months.

The key to getting the most out of your study time is to have a plan. A simple plan will do, you just need to be clear on what's the first task you're going to undertake and then the second task. One thing to note on your plan is roughly a schedule because timings matter and the one thing I want to say about timing is that short bursts are better than long periods of time sitting still doing you're learning. The human brain can only be highly alert for short bursts of time. We can work well for up to 40 minutes and then it's important to have a quick short break (3-5 minutes). This is the most effective way to study. And for those 40 minutes be well focused and know your end goal that you are aiming to achieve in that burst. Turn off the music, remove distractions and put your mobile phone on “do not disturb.” Be in a space that enables you to get into the zone for the learning.


Effort not Time

While studying properly your brain (mind) is to be uncomfortable for it to be true learning. In other words, the brain is working hard to focus and process the information its attending to. Passive scanning and reading material are not learning or revising activities.

The key is to recognise what tasks actually impact your understanding and your long-term memory. First of all you need to understand the material so find out the ways in which you grasp the concepts you're learning in the best way for you many students like to read textbooks and make notes on the textbooks. While that is a very sensible first step to take it is important to note that, that is not the only way of understanding the material you're learning it's important to take initiative at a level and GCSE and look beyond textbooks. Use what's at your fingertips, use websites that are designed for the exams assessments you are undertaking. Think critically about the information that's been presented. In other words, how does what you're reading in a different textbook or online resource fit in to what you already know from the lesson you had on the topic and the textbook material? Is that enhancing your knowledge further is it deepening your understanding or is it challenging your original thoughts? These are the tasks that are what we class as true “cognitive effort” in other words your brain is working hard to think. That is what has to happen in order for you to use your memory in its best capacity. That activity will enable you to remember complex concepts effectively.


Consolidation is different to revision

Many students I work with are unclear on what consolidation is compared to what revision is. Many students jump too quickly to revision style activities and actually more time is needed on consolidation activities before effective revising can take place. To consolidate is to “make more solid” the learning for existing material. This means that you are grasping deeply the material you are learning. Consolidation can involve making new learning materials but definitely not flash cards. Consolidation resources are enhanced notes such as a colourful poster with lots of information, an audio recording or effective mind maps. These are consolidation methods, I would even include having a conversation with someone where you discuss the material because this enables you to gain a deeper grasp on the material to solidify the ideas you have. Once you have consolidated something and got a secure grasp on it then you can move on to revising. The definition for revising is to revisit learned material in preparation for an exam. Now that's an interesting definition. In other words, this is when you go back to material you have learnt thoroughly and now review it in terms of preparing the material for an exam. This means that revising is the time when you think about how would I be assessed on this material? What would be the best ways to revise it in order to perform well when required to in an exam?

And just to say it again, effective revision takes cognitive effort. In other words, you must be very focused and mentally active in the act of revision. Creating flash cards is an excellent plan for basic knowledge however flash cards must meet the simple rules of keywords on one side, bullet point information on the reverse. Writing a paragraph on a flash card is a waste of that card, that’s information for a notepad and not the purpose of flashcards (testing technique). But only making flash cards is incomplete revision.


Testing is a Brilliant Study Habit

Effective assessment revision involves centring the revision around assessment expectations this will mean knowing how are you going to be assessed and doing activities in line with their performance required for the specific assessment. In previous years this would involve doing much past exam question work and then actually reading mark schemes and examiner reports to check the quality of your exam response. This is the most effective way of you preparing well for exams.

The next most effective way for preparing well for exams is to test yourself a lot. The key here is out formation instead of information. A key to assessment memory recall is practising recall outside of the exams. Too many students enter exam halls without practising retrieving the information from their long-term memory. They focus on putting the information in and revisiting the input by rehearsing the material. And actually those students who do best in exams have also practised the act of retrieving it from their long term memory and doing this under timed conditions too.


Now I know I have made challenging suggestions in this blog but the reality is I'm confident that you can do this. This is possible for you and if you’re going to do it, it’s best to do it right! The key for you is to start. Take one idea from this blog and implement it from today in your study habits after a couple of days of getting comfortable with that activity then implement a second strategy from this article and keep adding one in and you are moving yourself before towards the exam.

Please remember the students who do well in exams work consistently hard well before the exam starts. To discuss your own study habits and exam preparation strategies, please email me for a free 30 minute conversation: helen@helennearycoaching.com Alternatively book a place on my Easter holiday workshop “Awesome Exam Achievement by emailing me to request a place. If you need more suggestions, some sensible ideas are available on:

17 Essential Revision Tips | CGP Books (there are a couple of red funny red herrings in there so be alert!) And Finally, good luck in your upcoming assessments. While there are important now for your future, please remember that these assessments don’t define you.







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