Hack Your Exams With Unorthodox Techniques

It’s not exam season as of right now but it’s really important to start getting on top of your revision. We’re delving into February and finals aren’t too far away.

Not a lot of people know how to effectively revise for their exams. They slave away so many hours into revision. You will hear people say, “Oh, I put in eight hours of revision on Saturday.” They’re either copying out their notes again and again or scrawling through textbooks but nothing actually seems to be sinking in.  That’s revising the wrong way. You could be doing so many less hours but making them so much more effective.

Understanding what you’re learning

The first step that is MANDATORY in revision is understanding the topic. It doesn’t matter what subject it is but if you don’t understand a particular topic, there’s no point in doing any past paper questions or reading through mark schemes, endlessly, unless you first understand the content that you need to learn. There are a lot ways you can go about understanding the content. Be proactive! Whether it be staying back after class and asking your teacher to go over it or getting home and whipping out videos about the topic on the internet.

-insert Maryam quote about khan academy-

Math shudders

This step doesn’t require you learning the information, it’s just consolidation of your understanding. If you build up a pile of content that you don’t understand, further down, when it comes to exam season, you’re just gonna have too much to catch up with. So just do your best now to understand everything that you’re being taught.

Learning what needs to be learnt

Now that you understand the information, you’ve just gotta learn it. There are no shortcuts or any ways to cut corners around this. This is tedious, it’s a chore and it requires effort. Sometimes your mind gets so saturated with information that memorising anything new seems to be impossible. Mind maps, getting someone to test you on the content, flashcards are all tried-and-true methods however they can seem quite generic and your brain needs you to come up with alternate the ways in which you’re feeding it information.

Switching up your revision game:

One way that you can switch up your learning technique is by blurting (blurting out everything that you know about a particular topic on a piece of paper under timed conditions). This way, you can assess what facts you do know and which ones you’re missing out on, if any. Take a sheet of A4 paper and write down the title of whatever topic you’re working on. Take chunks of that chapter (key ideas, important information that you can look back on and reproduce in detail) and use those chunks as prompts. Set yourself a timer, if it’s a big chapter maybe give yourself a little bit more time but if it’s a smaller chapter then work under pressured time conditions (ideally three minutes). Use your prompts as guides and scribble down on that piece of paper everything that you know within those prompts. When your time limit is done, grab your notes or your flashcards and identify the gaps, the things that you’ve missed or check things that you’ve got wrong. For example, you might not be certain on some of the equations for Chemistry or a set of formulae for Physics or a case study for Psychology. Make a habit of doing this often and spacing it out at regular time intervals. This will really identify all the chinks in your knowledge. It proves whether you know the content enough to be able to recall it from memory. Eventually, you might not even need to use the prompts at all. This method requires a lot of brainpower and thought but it’s a surefire way of keeping the information locked inside your head, provided that you do you practise it often. It’s a very quick way of effective revision instead of just copying out your notes again and again or reading them over and over. It requires active recall and you’ll get used to the pressure of the time constraint of recalling that knowledge, mimicking exam conditions.

Another technique which is a little out of the box but has proven to be equally as efficient as its more generic counterparts is assigning or associating information with an object that is very familiar to you, that you see every single day. This works best for many memory heavy subjects like the sciences where mark scheme answers are repeated quite a lot or have definitions that are very wordy and you need to get phrasing right in order to get marks. So you’ve got something that you need to learn, whether it be really complicated definition or scientific process that involves a lot of steps, whatever it maybe and by assigning words to different parts of an object, you’re going to learn it. You need to have written down exactly what you need to remember; word for word, so it’s particularly useful to check mark schemes for the question to check what the examiner is looking for. Look around you in a place that you know really well, like your bedroom or your living room, and focus on a specific object that you see every single day – be it an alarm clock, a vase or even a photo frame. If you were to close your eyes, you should be able to visualise that object in front of you. After you’ve chosen your object, choose a start place on the object that you are gonna build from. For example, if you’re choosing a photo frame, maybe pick the top left corner of the frame and assign a phrase to that corner. Move in a clockwise direction (to the top right corner) and assign the next phrase or the next set of words to that corner. In the same fashion move all the way around the object, assigning different phrases to different corners or different places of whichever object you’ve chosen, associating phrases in chronological order. Bit by bit slowly build this up so that each phrase is assigned to a piece on that object. Keep going over the object, over the places that you’ve assigned and repeat the definition or the process or whatever it is that you’re learning. Eventually, you won’t even need to look at your notes. You can just look directly at the object and go along all of the points that you’ve assigned the phrases to and repeat them inside your head. Because you see this object on a daily basis, every time you set eyes on that object, your mind will automatically be able to recall the phrase or definition from memory, drilling it further inside your head. You can literally be looking at the object and almost reading out from memory what you needed to learn. And when you need to reproduce it in an exam situation, just bring that object into your head, visualise it, go through your object on all the places where you’ve assigned phrases and reproduce them in that order. So, at the end of the day you don’t even realise that you’re learning. Your brain is just thinking that it’s visualising an object which is a lot easier to cope with.

If you skip the learning step, you’re screwing yourself over. A lot of people will go through their notes, read the content but then skip learning it and move directly onto past papers. You need to have the content drilled in your head, ready to regurgitate onto the exam paper, particularly when it comes to A-levels.

Application of what you’ve learnt

So you understood the content? Great. You’ve learnt the content? Fantastic. Now you need to learn to apply what you’ve learned. One way to apply it is to be doing all sorts of questions. For O and A-levels, everyone preaches about the importance of doing past papers, questions at the end of each chapter in your textbooks, summary questions etc. Visit those marking schemes, look at those papers and solve them – they are there to help you. Without applying your knowledge, you won’t do nearly as well in your exams as you hoped because you need to know what the common questions are, the style of questions, what the examiners are looking for; knowing theory won’t hack it.

Pro-tip: make best friends with your seniors. This goes for any stage of learning whether you’re doing O-levels or A-levels or even if you’re at university. Your seniors can not only provide you with notes and content but they can also give you advice. Particularly if you’re at university they can tell you which professors expect what of you in the exam or which professor marks the toughest.

Ill advice from the one & only Tumblr

The three stages work hand-in-hand, each one being more important than the next. If you haven’t done the first two stages of understanding and learning and you skip to applying your knowledge, it’s completely useless. You need to do the past paper questions as you would in an exam.

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