The more you actively interact with the subject matter, making it your own, and linking it to previous knowledge the more meaningful and memorable it becomes. When making notes a useful strategy is the PQRST:
first skim through the reading material, concentrating on the charts, headings, summaries and conclusion to obtain a preview;
formulate questions or points that highlight what you hope to derive from the text, to guide your reading;
read actively by selecting material and making appropriate notes of key ideas;
summarise the main points using lists, key words patterns and flow diagrams, connecting them with ideas from other sources;
test yourself by reciting and reviewing the summaries immediately after learning the material, then at later intervals.
Making “spider” diagrams can help you process information and interact with it more. Straight down the page notes restrict you to a linear path of thought whereas a spider diagram enables you to connect information in many different ways. Make the learning process as distinctive as possible by using for instance different coloured paper and pens, rhymes, key words, drawings.
Use cue cards to summarise key facts and figures. These can easily be carried around for frequent revision. You can also pin them on wall charts around your room.
Collect old exam questions and work on them. Choose one and ask yourself “how would I deal with this?” You may feel some initial panic – all the more reason to practise this in the security of your room! Get in touch with what you do know. Briefly list all the points that spring to mind and then put them into some form of plan. They help both in showing you where the gaps in your knowledge are and in helping you learn better by seeking the answer to a question rather than passively trying to imbibe mounds of information.
Try and answer some questions under exam conditions. If possible ask a tutor to set you a question and then mark it. Some students may shy away from testing themselves because they are afraid of finding out what they do not know. Yet clearly this is the time to do exactly that.
Motivation is enhanced firstly by becoming more realistic and aware of the task ahead and secondly by “psyching” yourself up with constructive self-talk, on your ability to face the challenge and its anxieties. Much avoidance behaviour is a defence against the fear of failure, so deliberately switch your focus onto the process of studying, rather than the ultimate result (the desired pass or high grade). Resolve to do this studying for yourself, not for anyone else.
If there are certain topics that you dread and therefore have a tendency to avoid, break them down into smaller bits; incorporate morale boosters – an enjoyable reward after each small task is completed. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t – avoid the latter. This may sound obvious but it is surprising how many students persevere with unhelpful and unconstructive methods of studying simply because they always have and it feels strange or worrying to abandon something familiar. Maybe you would find it easier to work with a friend or in a group, or at the library. You may try using a more flexible time-table perhaps studying less (then paradoxically achieving more). Minimise the competitive atmosphere by ignoring the amount of work others might be doing – focus on your own approach.
Make a list of all the topics which could come up in each exam. Then make a chart of those you intend to revise. It is unrealistic to cover every topic area for an exam. When doing this consider:
Are there any core topics on which there are questions every year?
The amount of choice given on each paper.
Any pattern of questioning evident in past papers which is likely to continue.
The emphasis of the course
Your own interests and competences
Decide how many days you will need to spend on each subject. Set yourself realistic targets so that when you achieve them you are giving yourself positive reinforcement. Over ambitious targets lead to disillusionment and feelings of failure. Reward yourself each time you achieve your goal.
Allocate more time for your weaker subjects. Break them down into smaller components so that they feel more manageable. Avoiding them will only make them feel more daunting.
Bear in mind that there are distinct stages to learning: acquiring, understanding and testing knowledge. Allow time for each of these stages.
Your revision plan should be flexible – it is unlikely that you will be able to keep to it exactly. Include spare days. These can be used to catch up on topics which have taken you more time than you anticipated. You also need suitable rest and recreation intervals.
Exam Skills and passing test
Before the exam: The day before check the time and venue of the exam and work out how to get there in plenty of time. Review your summaries and cue cards systematically. Make sure you have an adequate night’s sleep. In the morning of the exam have something to eat or take along some glucose sweets for energy. Arrive at the exam in plenty of time, to calm your inevitable nerves, but avoid conversations which you know will wind you up.
During the exam: Read the question paper through once, underlining key words and instructions. Do not panic if your initial feeling is that you cannot answer any of the questions adequately. That is a common first reaction. Then go back and read it more thoroughly marking those questions which you feel you could answer. Read those questions which you have marked very carefully and decide exactly which you are going to answer. Answer questions in the order: easiest, favourite and difficult to avoid getting demoralised. Remember to attempt all the questions required, as the first 50% of marks for any question are invariably easier to obtain than the next 50%. Analyse carefully the precise wording of the questions you intend to answer – it is easy otherwise to end up answering a question that was not asked. Planning your essay is not an optional extra; it is crucial and you should not attempt to answer any question without having spent at least 10 minutes on your plan. Do not be put off by glancing around and seeing other students scribbling away at top speed straight away. These people should not be emulated. They have not taken the time to organise their ideas. You may write a bit less, but your essay will be much better than the one you would have produced if you had written “from the top of your head”. What matters is not how many pages you write but what you write. Read through your planned answer. Is it logically argued? Are the main issues covered? Does it really answer the question? How will the marker view your approach? Then voila, you’ve passed test .