Scientifically-Based Tips to Prepare for Finals

April 28, 2017 admin

By Jacob Lundquist

Image courtesy of Gonzalo Silva

Finals season is upon us! Our previous article on finals gave helpful tips on where, when, and how to study for your big tests. Now, we’ve combed the internet for data on effective learning strategies and their application to studying practices:

Space out your study sessions. Study after study has shown that recall is enhanced when study sessions are placed days apart. For long-term retention, take the long approach over everything else. This also includes studying periods—data shows that studying directly after, or later on the same day, as you learned the material is the best method for retention.

In the same line of thinking as #1, DON’T CRAM!!! Of course, you’ll be inclined to cram before a test because planning study sessions is difficult. No matter what you do, don’t give in to this pressure. The BBC called cramming “the worst way to learn” for a reason! Researchers have found that college students not only admit to cramming, but also think that it is an effective method of learning. However, years of research shows exactly the opposite—cramming is the least effective method of memory consolidation, and probably won’t help you on your test as much as you think it will.

Stay away from your computer! This point is admittedly hard to digest, because I love my computer. However, multiple psychologists have found that studying via electronic media like computers, laptops, or tablets can actually hinder effective learning. More repetition is generally required when reading information off of a computer, whereas reading from a book gives a better sense of contextual knowledge (spatially and logically!).

Use methods of self-testing. This includes things like practice tests found online or in your book, as well as flash card games. Psychologists like Henry Roediger have found that the use of small tests, especially every day at the end of class, can significantly increase memory consolidation. Using quizzes and tests as a method of forced recall, rather than just assessment, makes huge strides in long-term knowledge retrieval. Similarly, according to Roediger et al., “retrieval practice required by tests can help students organize information and form a coherent knowledge base.”

Make full use of mnemonic devices. This tip, hopefully, has been subconsciously drilled into your head over many years. Mnemonic devices simply refer to any system that helps you remember and recall specific information. Good examples include acronyms for remembering words (i.e., the Big Five personality traits as ‘OCEAN’), or phrases used to remember points (cardinal directions as ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat’).

Take on the role of the teacher. By teaching information to others, even if they’re not really paying attention, your mind more effectively cements information into long-term memory, and consolidates it alongside other data. This is likely because, as scientists have found, our brain codes information differently when we say it out loud, since that information is assumed to be more important. This makes logical sense—information that we actually talk about tends to be more relevant than information we never discuss with anyone.