Studying for exams can be stressful, boring and frustrating – especially when you’ve worked hard, but still don’t achieve good results.
Getting better grades has a lot to do with HOW you actually study, says clinical psychologist and author of Unlocking Your Child’s Genius by Dr Andrew Fuller.
The 12 most powerful ways to increase your grades doesn’t involve you working harder, he says – but they do involve you working smarter!
Silence is golden
“This is the single most powerful way to increase your marks,” explains Fuller.
We are surrounded by more noise than ever, thanks to our smart devices, addiction to screen time and easy access to friends through social media platforms.
Spend 20 minutes of your study time in silence – which means NO texting, music or computer screens, he says.
“Outcomes improve when you practice in the same conditions [in which] you want to perform. In the exam room, there won’t be music, phones or screens.”
Give your notes a makeover
The lucky few with photographic memories can regurgitate whatever they’ve read. But most of us won’t remember anything useful just by reading our textbooks and notes over and over again.
“Your memory stores information best when you organise or transform it,” says Fuller.
The main idea in a topic must be highlighted on each page. Then, turn your notes into a diagram, flow chart, mind map or list of colourful bullet points. You could even fit them into a song or make a voice recording of them.
“The more times you can transform and reorganise the information, the more firmly it is remembered.”
Work first, play later
This is a tough one – but it works! Don’t do the fun stuff first; rather get studying out of the way before treating yourself to a computer game or group chat.
“If you play computer games before studying, the levels of dopamine in your brain lessen and you will lose the drive and motivation you need to study effectively.” Dopamine is an important chemical found in the brain that makes you feel good.
Be a chatterbox
Really successful students have a secret – they talk out loud to themselves about what they need to do next.
“This applies to every subject area. By saying out loud, ‘First I have to … then I have to do …’ and so on, any part about which you are uncertain becomes clear, and you can then use this to guide where you need to do more.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Check in with teachers and other students about difficult areas of study. Ask someone to explain a particularly difficult bit to you, or have a private talk to your teacher if you’re embarrassed to speak up in class.
Write it to remember it
Your own ideas count – and these will help you to remember the main content.
When your teacher explains something, jot down your own thoughts and ideas about it and make an effort to do further research online.
Doing this makes a powerful contribution to your grades, says Fuller.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Find the main points in a topic and write them down – this helps you to remember them.
“If you can add in reorganising and transforming them into different formats – drawings, flow chats, podcasts, etc – that makes it even more powerful.”
Lists and priorities
Put together a to-do list each week, making a note of how much you need to study for a subject over that time.
“High-scoring students do a little bit on each subject, a lot, rather than doing a lot of work on one subject every so often.”
Get ahead of the pack
It may seem like overkill, but doing your own research before class – and after hours – really does help you to remember the core content of each subject.
“If you can learn about the area before you start, not only will you have an advantage, [but] it will also make more sense to you as you begin classes on it. Take notes on your own research.
“If you can, read over your notes before class to refresh your memory.”
Tick, tick, tick!
Make that to-do list count – keep track of how much studying you have done, as you’ll feel satisfied and more motivated once you see how hard you have worked.
Memory aids that work
What are these and how do they work?
Memory aids are “tools that help you to remember information,” says Fuller. “For example, ‘every good boy deserves fruit’ helps people remember that EGBDF are the lines of the music staff.
“School requires more memory skills than any job you can think of. The best way to remember something is to transform it.
“If it’s visual, put it into words; if it’s verbal, create a picture or graph of it, use lists, acronyms, tables, graphics, and link new information to things you already know.”
Timing is everything
Did you know that you retain information better at certain times of the day?
Fuller advises deciding when YOU are most alert and setting time aside during that specific time in order to study.
“If you wait until you are in the right mood before you begin, you may wait forever.”