If you’ve gone through quite a few exams in your life, you’re aware that it takes more than caffeine, energy drinks, and long study hours to achieve good results. We often see people who have had their heads buried in their books all year long, end up with unsatisfactory scores, while others seem to breeze their way through tests and assessments with minimum time and effort.
What accounts for this discrepancy?
Different methods of approaching the same exam!
I recommend the following approach, which is guaranteed to make you pass any exam with flying colors.
1. Know your goals.
Before you begin preparing for any exam, you must have a clear idea about your goals. Do you intend to go through your test without failing, or are you interested in getting an A-plus or distinction? Having sight of your goals serves to keep you motivated.
Pro-tip: Always aim high. On average, people tend to achieve less than their targeted goal, so to score better than average, you need to set your goals unrealistically high. Shoot for the moon. And be fearless about it.
2. Know the syllabus of your exam.
All assessments or courses come with a predefined syllabus, and students are not expected to be equipped with information outside of that syllabus. Despite this, many people mistakenly go to great lengths trying to cover topics that aren’t a part of their curriculum. It not only wastes time but also prevents one from focusing on the essential elements of the course.
Once you’ve understood what the exam demands of you, you can picture the mountain you have to climb and plan accordingly.
3. Be wise about the resource materials you are going to follow.
It is advisable not to read summary notes to save time. Summary notes rely on rote memorization alone, and you will have difficulty reproducing answers on the day of your test. Instead, consult books written by renowned authors that have been recommended by other people who have already given the test.
4. Make a plan.
Planning is the most crucial step. If you start studying without an effective plan, you will have no means to assess your daily or weekly progress and make changes. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to write down an intricate plan about how you’re going to cover the selected books/chapters in the given amount of time.
Planning should be detailed and down to the last day. Moreover, your plan needs to be practical. For instance, while you might want to read a 600-page book for conceptual learning, it isn’t a good idea if you’ve only got five days to prepare for your exam. In such a scenario, it is best to go through high yield topics first and not dwell on all the tiny details.
Make sure to leave at least two days in your plan for revision and two days empty in case you need to cover up for any missed days later on.
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique if you struggle with concentration.
Pomodoro technique is an excellent tool for enhancing focus and productivity. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. Each of these 30-minute sessions is called a Pomodoro, and after 3-4 Pomodoros, one can take a more extended break of 15-30 minutes. It not only prevents burn out caused by continuous studying but also prevents one from continually getting distracted. I will be writing more about this technique in a separate post.
Click here to download the free Pomodoro application that I use for this purpose.
6. Summarize what you’ve read after each study session.
It is a useful practice to write concise notes while studying, which can be used for quick revision at the end of each day.
7. Recall. Recall. Recall.
Only reading and understanding a particular subject is not sufficient; it’s all the more important to be able to retain the information you’ve learned. And that can only be done by frequently recalling the text you’ve read. Recall aids in the processing and coding of relevant details, creating new neuronal networks in your brain, which helps store information in the form of short-, intermediate-, or long-term memory.
8. Use flashcards for facts requiring rote memorization.
In certain subjects like history, anatomy, and pharmacology, remembering a lot of factual information is required. In such cases, flashcards come in handy.
I suggest using “AnkiDroid Flashcards” for this purpose.
AnkiDroid Flashcards is an application that allows you to make flashcards and use them. The great thing about this application is that the cards you’ve managed to memorize well don’t show up as often as the ones you’re still trying to learn. In this way, it allows you to review your weak topics more frequently. Its android version enables you to read your cards on the go.
You can download it for free here.
9. Go through old tests/past papers after you’ve gone through your books.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Since every examination has a specific style of questions, which is both repetitive and predictable, making yourself familiar with this pattern not only helps shake off the exam jitters but also provides feedback for improvement.
In Pakistan, old papers aren’t easy to get a hold of, you’ll have to search the internet for hours, but it’ll be worth every second in the end.
10. Go the extra mile.
If you want to achieve extraordinary results, you will have to stop following the crowd and make the extra effort. For example, throughout medical school, every subject I studied had one or two books notorious for being hard to read and comprehend. So people did not bother purchasing or reading them. Surprisingly, those books had the most to offer and helped me excel.
Lastly, sleep well.
Just as regular recall through revision, flashcards, and past papers helps code and store information, sleep helps consolidate the said information. Your performance on your exam day shows a significant decline if you haven’t slept the night prior. Therefore, have a good night’s sleep before your exam, even if it means sacrificing some study time.