It’s that time of year again: midterms. And every semester when we get our midterms back we say we’ll study more next time.
But maybe it’s not about studying more, maybe it’s about studying more effectively. In my cognitive psychology class this year we learned how to apply the theories from the course to our every day life, and more specifically we learned how we can use those theories to study more effectively. I’ve used these techniques for my exams last semester and I can definitely say that they helped. If you want to learn more about this, and you can’t take a cognitive psychology class like I did, check out one of the textbooks for the course: Cognitive Psychology by Bruce Goldstein.
Generate Your Own Content
Instead of just reading the slides from the class or the textbook, try making up some of the material yourself. When you create the content it leads to better encoding of the information and makes it easier for you to retrieve it later on. A good way to practice this is to take on the role of professor and teach the content to a friend (or just pretend you’re teaching it if none of your friends want to learn about cognitive psychology, which was the case for me). You could also make up your own questions for a practice test or remake the course notes in a new way.
Elaborate on What You Learn
To transfer what you’re learning into your long term memory, you need to elaborate on it. That means linking it to other things that you know to give it more meaning. If you’re taking a language course, like French or Spanish, try relating the words you’re learning to other words that you already know in that language. Or, if you’re learning about parts of the body for an anatomy class, try to link them to other parts that you may already have learned.
Not only does this help you review the material, but it gives you an accurate idea of what you really know and what you don’t. It’s happened to me many times that I was sure I understood something, so I’d just read it over quickly, but when I got to the test I had no clue what to write on the page. Testing yourself forces you to think of an answer, and if you don’t know what to say, you know that you need to study that concept more. On the other hand, sometimes I would spend a lot of time rereading concepts that I already knew very well. Putting yourself through a practice test also helps you realize what you know so that you can spend more time learning what you don’t. There are plenty of cool apps that you can use for testing yourself that even make it fun sometimes. My favourite is Quizlet where you can make cue cards, play games with them and even share them with your classmates.
This is something I struggle with, but I definitely see the reason for it. Studying in short bursts with breaks in between is shown to increase memory compared to studying for one long session. This is called the spacing effect. So instead of sitting in the library and studying for five hours straight, try doing one hour at a time and maybe watching a show or going to Starbucks with a friend in between every session. Or maybe take a nap in Brenda Wallace in between: it’s proven that your memory will be better if you go to sleep after learning. So next time you sit down for a study session, set a timer and go relax for a bit every hour or so.
Organize What You Learn
This is my number one study trick. I don’t know how I would pass any test without it. When you reorganize what your professor or the book presents to you, you’re making it more meaningful and therefore easier to encode. Everyone has a different way of learning and understanding new information, so it makes sense that different people would learn better when the information is presented in different ways. You could reorganize the material by just rewriting your notes using your own titles and rewording the information in your own way, you could make a mind map of it, you could use a hierarchical tree, or even make tables to compare information. The important thing is that it works for you. Reorganizing information also helps you chunk it together in a meaningful way so that means less content to memorize!
Avoid “Illusions of Learning”
Sometimes, after seeing a concept so many times in class and in our book, we’re sure that we know it very well and don’t need to study it, until we get to the test and our minds go blank. This is called the familiarity effect. You’re familiar with a concept so you interpret that as knowing the concept inside and out. But this often isn’t the case. There’s also the fluency effect, rereading something so many times that each time you look at it it gets easier to read. Again, you might interpret this as truly understanding the material, when you really don’t. The only way to make sure you know and understand the content is to use the techniques mentioned above: make up your own material, elaborate on it, test yourself on it and reorganize it in a way that makes sense to you.
Hopefully these tricks will help you succeed on your midterms this semester, and if you have a technique that works for you, feel free to comment down below! And if you’re having trouble finding a good study spot, check out Kayla’s blog post about off the beaten path campus study spots. Happy studying!