You might be breathing a little easier now that secondary school is over and done with, but don’t get too comfortable — the exam-fever doesn’t stop at SPM.
While you might think that you’ve become a pro at test-taking after 5 years of midterms, trial exams and finals in school, college and university exams are a whole other ballgame.
But don’t fret. We’ve got your back with these top tips to help you ace your assessments!
#1. Avoid cramming
Start studying a month (or earlier!) before your exam to utilise spaced practice, which involves stretching your studies over a period instead of cramming before your exam.
So instead of studying 5 hours in one night, study 5 hours in a week instead.
Leave the cramming to the amateurs as it results in poor long-term retention of information, a.k.a a very real risk of you forgetting everything by morning. GASP.
#2. Create a schedule
Yes, even if you’re unconvinced that you’ll never stick to it.
Creating a study plan will break your workload into bite-sized tasks, making your goals easier to achieve.
Write down the topics you need to revise, estimate how many 50-minute sessions you’ll need to master each topic and schedule them into a revision timetable. Block out time for school, tuition or meals and don’t forget to allocate some leisure time.
A realistic timetable will mean that you are more likely to adhere to it.
#3. Break down your tasks
Avoid the post-motivation study slump by breaking down your tasks into manageable sections. Determine all the examinable chapters and slot it into your schedule to ensure you don’t miss anything out at the last minute.
Next, make notes for each chapter or skim through your class notes for the main concepts and subheadings. This note-taking process, called outlining, is effective as it requires analysis and synthesis of information before memorising its content.
#4. Master spaced repetition
Organise your flash cards into 3 boxes, where correctly-answered flash cards are “promoted” up the line of boxes and incorrectly-answered flash cards are “demoted” back to the first box.
The first box requires reviewing every day, the second box every 3 days and the final box every 5 days.
Reviewing your material repeatedly at spaced intervals forces you to learn the material until you’ve mastered it.
#5. Use flash cards
Write down questions and answers based on your study material on a stack of index cards and test yourself by frequently going through them.
Utilise both sides of your card so that you can answer questions no matter how they are phrased. For example, if you’re preparing flash cards for a law exam, on one side, you can ask “Define mens rea”, and on the other side, “What is the Latin term for criminal intent?”.
This method promotes active recall which has been scientifically proven to boost and reinforce learning.
#6. Practice makes perfect
Studies suggest that students who learn by retrieval practice (e.g. recalling what they have learnt by thinking about it or by taking practice tests), may be able to recall information better despite being under stress compared to those who only reread information.
So ditch the rereading tactics and practise past-year papers to test your understanding of the subject, familiarise yourself with the exam format and work at structuring your answers.
#7. Create a cheat sheet
No, we’re not suggesting that you smuggle bits of paper into the exam.
Create a “cheat sheet” on a single sheet of A4 paper with all the important information you need to know, using symbols and diagrams, to avoid a page full of text.
This will act as your one-stop reference point with all the important information you’ll need for quick revision sessions!
#8. Simulate exam conditions
Throw yourself into the deep end by practising past-year papers under exam conditions by temporarily abandoning your study material and setting a time limit for yourself.
This will give you an accurate depiction of your understanding of the subject and how much you can actually recall without your notes at hand, on top of helping you gauge how long you should spend on each question during the exam.
#9. Partner up
Form a small study group with your trusted pals and take turns playing teacher by explaining different topics to each other.
This can help boost your motivation to study and prompt you to prepare beforehand to participate in the discussion.
Teaching others also enhances your learning as it encourages you to organise your knowledge and improve your understanding of the subject.
#10. Make a date with your lecturer
If you’re struggling with a particular topic, make an appointment with your lecturer to help you understand the subject better.
Choose a time when you’re both free and write down your questions to ensure you have a fruitful discussion.
Your lecturer is more than likely to oblige meeting you, but be sure to do so 2 or 3 weeks before the exam as many students will be bombarding them at the last minute.
#11. Take a chill pill
The brain is like a muscle, and continuous stress can tire it out.
In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of your exam prep, be sure to squeeze in some time to relax as you cannot afford to burn out before your exam.
So, take breaks in between studying to listen to some music or have coffee with a friend over the weekend. As counterintuitive as it may sound, taking short breaks have been scientifically found to dramatically improve focus, which can boost your productivity.
#12. Catch some Zs
Sleeping plays a critical role in the formation of new memories. A lack of sleep affects your brain’s ability to convert everything you’ve learnt the night before into long-term memories, causing you to struggle to remember what you’ve studied.
A lack of sleep also impairs your immune system, which means you’ll take longer to recover from an illness. Without enough rest, you may also be prone to nausea and fatigue, so make sure you catch those Zs!
So there it is! Who knew the recipe for success wasn’t such a closely guarded secret? Now that you have the means to take you to the top, all that’s left to do is to go out and do it!