Many of our students are currently in exams or about to go through them. Most will have their own plan of attack. However there are five common strategies that are actually a disaster for preparing for exams. Here are five ways to fail an exam and why these strategies don’t work.
- Underlining and highlighting important material.
This gives an illusion of learning but there is no grappling with the elemental principals beneath the text. Highlighting just makes students feel like they have been studying when in fact, they may not have even taken in what they highlighted.
- Reading and rereading.
Students can think that they have spent adequate time studying because they have spent hours reading and rereading all the material. However, repetitive reading can lull them into a false sense of security and if they are constantly rereading the same material, it means that the information is not ‘sticking’.
- Studying only one block of information at a time.
This is another common practice that actually undermines absorbing knowledge into long term memory. Research has shown that studying small blocks of information and “interleaving” subjects give students a deeper understanding of the material.
- Cramming just before an exam.
Cramming before an exam increases students’ stress levels. This, in turn, has a negative impact on a student’s ability to concentrate and disrupts their sleep patterns making things even worse. Students can ‘blank out’ during the exam or have a complete meltdown from the stress.
- Pulling all-nighters.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways to successfully navigate exams and pulling all-nighters is one of the worst methods of studying for this very reason.
How to turn it around
If these common strategies are doomed to fail then what should our students be doing to successfully prepare for their exams?
An article from “The Importance of Testing as a Learning Strategy” by Henry Roediger and Peter Brown in School Administrator provides four effective strategies.
Encourage students to ask their own questions of the material. Start by asking, who, what, when and why and students will be surprised by how much their understanding of the material will deepen. It may seem to take longer but the more thorough method saves hours of reading and re-reading.
- Paraphrasing and reflecting on the material.
If students can rewrite the material in their own words, it almost guarantees they understand the material and the very act of writing it out helps the information flow into students’ long term memory.
- Spacing short but intense study sessions over time.
Returning to the material several times is more powerful than one long session in the subject. The reason is that when the study sessions are spaced apart, students can forget part of the material but when they come back to it, the relearning goes into long term memory and has much more chance of ‘sticking’. “Interleaving” subjects by mixing up study topics provides spacing and is also a good method of effective learning, even though it may seem counterintuitive at first.
- Getting enough sleep.
This is probably the most neglected study method and yet it is one of the most important. Other physical ways to prepare for exams include drinking lots of water and eating healthy foods. Studying properly nourishes the mind but the body needs nourishment if it is going to help the mind do its job.
Let’s support our children through exams and end of year pressures by encouraging them to practice good study habits with a well-rested and healthy mind.
Mike Curtis, Principal