Top Study Skills, Tips and Techniques for Students to Pass Exams

Top Study Skills, Tips and Techniques for Students and to Pass Exams

• Study in 20 min sessions
• Have breaks
• Use all spd rdng techniques – investing 1-2 days for mastering speed reading and accelerated learning skill will be totally the best time spend (and you can use all your textbooks for learning speed reading)
• Drink water (eat well: omega 3, protein, etc) and look after yourself
• Sleep a lot (the more you learn to more you have to sleep because sleep is for consolidating your learning and boosting your memory – don’t compromise on sleep, you won’t perform well at the exams! It’s probably the second most important tip)
• Have study buddies as part of collaborative learning (plural – sometimes your study buddy might get ill, so have a few)
• Plan and prepare
Download everything
• Learn to manage stress (diet, exercise, meditation/mindfulness, tapping etc) and how to be in the top state for learning and exams – this might be the most important study tip! Stress is responsible for at least 80% problems during the exams.
• Use syntopic processing to work with several books or a different type of material at the same time
• Find your learning style – we all are different – experiment with what works for you

Study skills

Since so many people need reading for study purposes at different times through their lives, it’s worth thinking about how to apply the spd rdng techniques. Jan had the opportunity to see how well the advice we’d been giving to students actually worked in practice while he was preparing for his MSc in Environmental Psychology. It worked well. This is what he did.

  • For each of his subject areas, he spent about a day in the library previewing all the books on his reading list and making brief notes next to each. While other students were daunted by the thought of ‘reading’ 70 books, after one day Jan knew which ones contained what sort of information, which ones were worth buying, where to find relevant information, and in addition, he’d got a really good overview of the subject.
  • Before each lecture or seminar, he would either rapid read or have a 20-minute session on one (introductory) book on the subject. During the lecture, he was then free to listen, evaluate, and add to his mindmap things he’d missed or misunderstood from his initial read. Other students were frantically writing down everything since they were in no position to judge which bits were important.
  • He did syntopic processing with four books (plus joker) to gather information for each essay he had to write (the title of the essay was his purpose).
  • He used the search facility online to find the relevant websites and to identify and download papers containing relevant information to his dissertation.

Unfortunately, we don’t know of too many spd writing techniques – once the information had been gathered and organized in mindmaps, writing the dissertation had to be done one letter, one word, one sentence at a time.

The statistics experience  At his initial interview, Jan had ‘exaggerated’ how much he knew about statistics (in reality nothing), so the first (compulsory) statistics exam (for which there was no teaching) promised to be something of a challenge. Since he knew absolutely nothing, it took him four false starts with books purporting to be for beginners before he found the one it was possible to get the information from easily. (The worst book was one which kept adding in-jokey comments about the author’s life – they looked more interesting, but actually proved to be very distracting and unhelpful.)

First, he downloaded all the books. Then, using the one comprehensive book, he started by making an overview mindmap of the key aspects of the subject and stuck it in the middle of an empty wall. (The purpose was ‘to make an overview of the six main aspects of statistics’ – the number was dictated by the number of chapters in the book, each of which focused on a particular area.) This process actually took 27 minutes rather than 20, because although each branch of the mindmap was pretty much the title of a chapter, he spent enough time on each chapter to understand approximately what the chapter was about and to add a few ideas to each branch. (The six were: variables and research design; SPSS; descriptive statistics; probability, sampling and distributions; hypothesis testing and statistical significance. This was not a complete overview of the subject, but he was only aiming at getting enough information to pass the exam.)

He then spent six 20-minute sessions getting a more in-depth overview of each of the key areas on the initial mindmap – and added each to the wall display in its relevant position.

Next, he started at the end of each chapter and worked through the ‘study questions’. Each question was the ‘purpose’ for a 20-minute session (ie to get 6 key ideas to answer the question “[title of the question]”). The first question in each section he found hard, but since subsequent questions began to include information he’d found for an earlier question, they got easier and/or took less time to answer.

On the evening before the exam, he downloaded all the books again and then went to bed early and got a good night’s sleep. In the morning he ate a healthy and substantial breakfast. In the exam room, he got into a good state (smile, breathe, open peripheral vision, pause and plan) before he turned over the paper – and sipped water throughout the exam. With the multiple-choice answers, if he wasn’t sure he guessed. (Many of his guesses proved to be right – possibly due to having downloaded the information?)

He passed the exam with 70%, while some people who had previously studied statistics for three years failed. And his whole study process, once he’d found the right book, took a day and a half. He started at lunchtime on Saturday, worked in 20-minute chunks through the rest of the weekend (with breaks of 5 to 15 minutes between sessions) and sat the exam on Monday morning. He would scarcely have been able to read once through the book in that time if he’d been using traditional reading techniques.

Revise using past exam questions

When preparing for exams, get past papers for your subject. Write the first question as your purpose, spend five minutes jotting down anything you already know on a mindmap, then have a 20-minute session with your books to collect six additional points you would include in your answer. Then do the same with the next question, and the next, etc.

You will find that almost everything for the first question will be new information. The second question will possibly overlap slightly with the first, the third with both the previous two and by about question five or six it will just be a case of rearranging material you already know.

How to plan your revision
For some students, starting revision is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Remember targets should be achievable and manageable, targets must be short-term and include a time-limit, review your targets, and when complete, set new ones.
1. Create a plan Break down everything you need to revise into small topics and just revise one topic at a time. Work in 20-minute sessions. By creating a plan you are taking control.
2. Set targets  Identify when you are going to revise each topic. Give yourself a time limit for when to complete each topic. Work in 20-minute sessions.
3. Check progress Check your progress and set yourself a new time limit if necessary. Once you’ve met a target, set yourself a new one.

Collaborative learning

We recommend that you teach these spd rdng techniques to a friend (or two). As well as helping you consolidate your new skills, it will also allow you to study collaboratively, which will bring immense benefits. Try syntopic processing (>22)using different books, or the same books in a different order – particularly for subject overviews, or on revision exam questions. You can take notes on different aspects of a subject and share your results or prepare questions on different texts for one another. You can collaborate face to face or online.

Stress – how to deal with it: get into a good state for learning and exams

Stress is responsible for 80% of the problems with studying, learning and problems with exams. By learning how to deal with stress you’ll be able to pass exams and study smarter than before. Learn how to get into a good state for learning and taking exams so you can perform your best at important times. One technique of dealing with stress is journaling. Research has shown that simply writing down your worries and concerns before a stressful exam can help to download them from your mind and they’re less likely to affect your performance and distract you at the exam.

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing – different people react to stress in different ways
Stress can be a motivating factor for some students, giving them the ‘get up and go’ that they need to succeed. Other students can be indifferent to stress; they can float along without getting affected by stress.  Stress is not a good thing when exam pressures become overwhelming. The key things to remember are that:  stress is nothing to be scared of, anxiety is not inevitable and you can learn how to cope more effectively.

The key signs of high exam anxiety

Physical signs
• dizzy or faint
• sweating
• fast heartbeat
• tight churning in the stomach
• jelly or wobbly legs

Affective/emotional signs 
• feeling excessive tension
• feeling panic
• feeling overwhelmed
• feeling not in control

Cognitive/mental signs
• going blank in an exam
• difficulty concentrating
• negative thoughts about past performance or consequences of failure

The key things to remember are that: most people experience some of these signs during exams, high exam anxiety is when you experience them most of the time and you can learn to control your physical reactions to anxiety

How to control physical reactions to anxiety with breathing
When you become anxious your breathing becomes shallow and fast. Breathing slowly and deeply will help you calm down and feel in control.  You can learn to control anxiety with breathing and many people find it easier to learn with an instructor as well as yoga or mindfulness classes can also be helpful.

How to feel more confident about exams

What are negative beliefs?
Many people with high exam anxiety can’t stop worrying about failing or the consequences of failing. For instance, ‘If I fail my GCSEs my whole life will be a failure’. These types of beliefs and thoughts focus on what you can’t do rather than what you can. If you experience anxiety, replacing negative beliefs and thoughts can help and some people find it useful to keep a record of their beliefs, thoughts and feelings and you can become a more confident student with a ‘can do’ attitude.

How to replace negative beliefs with positive beliefs
Find a positive, realistic belief and thought that can replace the negative belief. For example, if your negative belief is ‘I am rubbish at maths’ a positive, realistic alternative could be: ‘Even if I will never be the best at maths, I will better if I have a revision plan and stick to it’.

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