At this time of the year, parents of VCE students commonly ask teachers, what their child should be doing to prepare for exams and what they can do as parents to support their child. Over the next couple of newsletter we will be including a series of articles that offer advice in how best to support exam preparation.
This article is based on an article by Henrietta Cook that ran in the Herald Sun last year titled "VCE exams: Debunking the Myths of Study."
Myth 1: Highlighters are Magic
We've all been there. You want to remember something important on a page so you highlight it. We hope that the bright colour will help it stick in our memory, or when we re read the page we will be drawn back to that phrase and will be able to remember it. Unfortunately this strategy is ineffective for both rote and in depth learning.
In order the remember something for an extended period of time we need to decode it and make meaning from it. Some strategies to decode information and thus embed in in our memory include:
- Writing the phrase in your own words (not using synonyms)
- Developing your own examples
- Linking it to other information you already know and,
- Manipulating the information into another form such as a diagram.
Myth 2: Rereading improves your results
Rereading textbooks is time consuming and inefficient. As with highlighting it does not assist you to consolidate your knowledge but merely triggers short term memory. As with highlighting to effectively consolidate new knowledge you need to decode it and manipulate it. Strategies such as those previously listed are useful as are:
- Answering practice questions and using the text book to check your answers.
- Creating flashcards and using those flashcards with study partner.
- Cross referencing and comparing answers in different text to look for similarities and differences.
- Writing notes in your own words (not using synonyms)
- Handwriting note instead of typing
Myth 3: Focus on one skill for a long time
In school you may study the same subject for 90 minutes at a time. However you may have noticed that when you are learning something new teachers change the activities in class regularly. This happens because we have an optimum period of time for study. Research has shown that humans can focus well on one thing for about 45 minutes at a time. As a result the recommendation is that you should take a short break every 45 minutes and then change tasks if you wish to be getting the most out of your study.
Psychology students will have learned about the effects of mass practice vs spaced practice. Spaced Practice is studying for short intervals over a longer period of time. Massed practice is cramming. We know from research that cramming is less effective than spaced practice.
Myth 4: Students should go to bed early
This sounds like common sense, except that what we now know about the adolescent brain tells us that teenagers biologically prefer to stay up later and can be quite productive in terms of learning after 10:00pm. The trick is to balance this natural preference and the demands of a society that say we should all be functioning well by 9:00am.
Myth 5: Only study in a designated study space
It's great to have a study space that is well resourced and organised where you can study without interruption. Research now tells us that studying in different spaces can increase our productivity and improve our memory. Like everything in life it is about balance, but don't miss those opportunities to study that would be otherwise wasted time, such as on public transport or on a dinner break at work.
Myth 6: Last minute study is useless
Last minute study is useless if you didn't learn it in place. No-one can afford to waste class time and then try to teach themselves the course before the exam.
We also know that massed practice (cramming) is not as effective as spaced practice, however if you have learned the material in class them massed practice will still assist you in consolidating learning. It is also useful for those who are well prepared as quickly reviewing your notes and materials can give you the confidence you need to tackle the exam.
Myth 7: Tailor studying to your learning style
About 10 years ago everyone was talking about how important it was to know your learning style. Some people were told to create colourful maps of their learning because they were 'visual learners' whilst others were recommended to recite or record their notes because they were auditory learners. Although these strategies work they do not work because you have a particular learning style. They work because they require you to decode and manipulate information.
Research has never managed to show that the learning style theory impacts on how we learn.
Myth 8: Multi tasking makes you more productive
The human brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time. Although we can multi task, doing so dramatically decreases our efficiency when it comes to learning and retaining information. Psychologists have long demonstrated in studies on learning and memory that distractions slow the rate of learning and impact on the quality.
Some students will tell you they learn better when listening to music. Unfortunately, although they might prefer listening to music, it reduces the efficiency of the learning.
Turning off social media, not listening to music, focusing on one subject or task at a time and studying in a quiet space without distractions are all good advice.