Why spend 10 hours learning a chapter when you can nail it in two? Let's have a look at ways to streamline your working process.
1. Practice 'Chunking'
It may not have the nicest name, but this technique is a winner for boosting your memory. At its most basic, chunking is the idea that it's easier to remember things when you learn related ideas in small manageable chunks, rather than cramming in an entire topic all at once.
A great example of chunking happens when we learn phone numbers. Instead of remembering each individual number in a long string we chunk the parts typically into threes. So 4-8-8-7-0-4-9-0-1 becomes 488-704-901.
Chunking works so well because it is basically a hack into our memory limitations. Trying to process your whole textbook at once is simply too much for your working memory, so you will remember very little of what you studied by the next morning. In contrast, chunking breaks the information into manageable amounts that you can convert into your long-term memory.
In practise, this means if you want to learn a large amount of information in a small time-frame, try grouping facts together in ways that make sense to you. Then learn these as separate chunks.
2. Break up your time
When you're in full-throttle panic about your work, it can seem natural and efficient to study for six or seven hours at a time. Surely clocking up solid library hours will help you prepare for the big day! But while there may be the occasional need for an all-nighter essay crisis, as a rule it is a terrible idea.
Studying is a marathon, not a race, and it's important that you take plenty of breaks to keep you refreshed. Not only will you collapse under the weight of back-to-back all-day study sessions, but it's also an incredibly inefficient way to learn.
The mind has a limit to how long it can focus. Research by the US Army Research Institute has shown that your brain can only focus for a maximum of around 90 minutes before it needs a break due to the ultradian rhythm -- a natural cycle of concentration humans experience off and on throughout the day.
Another study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at the impact of breaks on the ability to focus on a task for a prolonged period. There were four groups of people and each group worked on a brain-intensive task for 50 minutes. The study found that the group that took more breaks were able to stay focused for longer.
If need structure around your breaks, try the Pomodoro method: Set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on one task for that 25 minutes. Then when the timer goes off give yourself a five minute break. Then set the timer again for 25 minutes and work on something else, and on and on you go!
3. Use your friends
While it can feel like you and you alone are carrying the whole institution's exam expectations on your shoulders, there is at least a classroom full of people who are in exactly the same boat. So use each other.
Don't just test each other either. One of the best ways to utilise multiple brains studying the same material is simply to have a considered discussion about the topic. It's amazing what you can learn from somebody else's interpretation, and logic that you previously couldn't follow may become much clearer when expressed in someone else's words.
4. Get a good sleep
There is a reason sleep deprivation is an interrogation technique. People who haven't recharged their batteries with plenty of rest are:
- Easily distracted
- More likely to make errors
- Prone to long and short-term memory problems
None of these side effects are going to help you perform well in an exam room, no matter how many hours of cramming you were able to do. Get your full eight-nine hours a night to get the most out of your studying, increase productivity and focus.
5. Ask for help, look for support
Ask a teacher, a friend or a peer if you need help. Or go online and connect to Studiosity's specialists for live subject specific help or writing feedback. Knowing where to turn for help could just be your back-pocket secret weapon, so make sure you ask around and know exactly what support you have already in your university's ecosystem. 🙏
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