Five mistakes to avoid when studying for exams

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Did you know there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to revising? This blog post looks at five mistakes to avoid when studying for exams.


We are moving quickly towards mock exams season, and many students will be facing exams either just before or just after the Christmas break. Everybody knows how to study, right?


Not necessarily.


There are some things that might be on the top of your to-do list when it comes to studying but here are FIVE things that you definitely need to avoid to make the most of your revision sessions.


  1. Being distracted by your phone when studying!

Yes, you need to ditch that phone – well at least for the duration of your study session.  There is nothing more distracting than the ‘ping’ of notifications on your social media accounts. With the best will in the world, it is very difficult to resist the urge to just have a peek…and then it is even easier to get sucked into the spiral of social media scrolling. The easiest thing to do is to simply switch it off, or at least turn it to silent mode. If this seems a little overwhelming for you, there are some apps that you can download to avoid you accessing your social scrolling when you are going to focus on studying. StayFree is available for both IOS and Android phones, allowing you to limit and track your use of social media, which can help you to avoid the temptation. Apps such as PawBlock can also be downloaded on your computer, allowing you to ‘ban’ yourself from checking social media accounts for the duration of your study session, leaving you to focus only on your work!


  1. Studying without really knowing how to remember

Many students think studying is simply opening any of their books and reading over any previous work. This is one of the biggest mistakes to avoid when studying for exams. While this might just trigger some memories of what you have covered in past lessons, it will not really help you to get ahead in remembering the content for your exams. There is a phenomenon researchers call false memories, where you may convince yourself that you will remember something just because you have read it. However, research has proven that in just a few days, you will probably have forgotten everything that you have simply read. In 1885, renowned German scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus, published his findings on memory which was developed into the ‘forgetting curve’. This shows that within a day, we forget up to 70% of what we have learned.  In order to create a lasting memory – saving that stuff in your brain so you can actually access it during an exam – you must revisit it in different ways. And do this frequently. By following this strategy called ‘spaced learning’ or ‘spaced repetition’, you are creating stronger synapses in the brain, a bit like creating an extra-strong bond between a trigger word and the actual content you need to remember. In the 1980s, Polish researcher Piotr Wozniak found that using four ‘spaced repetition’ sessions and active recall (learning by testing yourself) can enable you to remember up to 90% of what you study over the course of a week. This is going to serve you much more effectively when you need to pull that quote out for a timed essay or remember those formulae and methods in answering tricky algebra questions.


  1. Studying without a plan

Most people prepare for exams by creating a timetable. You know the sort: a different subject focus during different sessions. However, by doing only this step, you are actually not properly ensuring that all topics within a subject are being covered thoroughly. This leads to a possibility that you may run out of time to cover topics in enough depth. If you plan study sessions by covering, for example, 4 hours of English and 3 hours of maths, you are focusing on the time spent instead of making the goal more specific on learning the material within each topic. Be mindful of the topics studied, not just the time. By creating an effective study plan, you can make sure you are spending enough time on each topic, giving yourself enough spaced repetition sessions to retain the maximum amount of information.

So how do you create an effective study plan? Plan out which subjects you will study each day, spending more time on the topics you need more work on and less time on those you feel more confident in. Schedule in study breaks and try to keep to your timetable as much as possible. Ensure you visit the breadth of topics across each subject over the weeks leading up to your exams, scheduling in time for spaced repetition to really get to grips with facts and keep that maximum retention.


  1. Poor-quality notes by highlighting too much

When you are looking over a piece of text, do you know how to use your highlighter to help you REALLY learn, or do you simply end up with a sea of colour on the page? If your page is more like a rainbow, the chances are you are doing it wrong. This is another of the mistakes you need to avoid when studying. You must be careful not to highlight so much that it simply becomes distracting and confusing. So how do you know what to highlight?

Highlighting quotes that you may need to remember for English exams is a must. You need to consider which quotes are important enough that they make an impression on the reader or signal an important key event in the story. If you end up highlighting too much of the text, however, you are unlikely to remember much of the quotation at all, so choose carefully!

Keywords or specialist terms are useful to highlight. These can then be used to make study cards, where one side of the card shows the keyword or term, while the other shows a definition or explanation. These are great for revision time.

Single words or sentences that help summarise what the text is about should be highlighted. This will involve a certain amount of critical thinking to help you weed out what is not so useful and help you laser-focus on what the essence of the text really is about.


  1. Leaving it to the last minute

The last one of our mistakes to avoid when studying for exams is cramming during the final few nights before an exam. Cramming the night before an exam is a big no-no. While it may have limited success, it comes at a price. Cramming is essentially just trying to fill your brain with as much information as possible right before an exam and hoping that the stuff you read will stick in your short-term memory long enough. While this might seem like a good idea – less time on studying, right? – all it does is lead to increased stress levels and less sleep time before exams, resulting in you not feeling refreshed and at your best on the day of the exam. Does that sound like a plan? No, not really! Be more like the tortoise than the hare and remember that slow and steady wins the race!


If you would like to find out more about studying more effectively, check out our mini-course ‘How to Study Effectively So You Will Actually REMEMBER!’ by clicking here.

Our new course ‘Mastering Effective Note-taking for Exam Students’ will be launching very soon. You will learn how to take effective notes in class and not just write down everything your teacher or lecturer says. You will also find out how to make your note-taking easier to use for revision later on when you are studying for exams by learning about SIX different note-taking methods.

In the meantime, download our note-taking guide sheet by clicking here and we’ll let you know when the course is live!

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