It’s been yonks since I’ve had to write an exam and let us hope that I never will have to again endure that little agony. However , I have just read the most fascinating article about the latest research on study methods and I’m going to pass it on to all you younger and unluckier people who might need it.
One, it’s a good idea to study in a number of different physical environments. What they mean by this is not to have one physical space set aside for study but to revise things in a variety of settings. It seems that every time you study a topic the colour of the carpet or fall of light on particular curtains attaches to the subject. More spaces equals more attachments. I’m not sure if the richer the associations the better per se or the more you muddle up the associations the more likely the materials you are absorbing peel away from the context and stand alone. All I know is that marching up and down the garden reciting history dates as I remember doing for matric, wasn’t maybe such a bad idea.
Two, forgetting is good. When you study something, it is best to revise it once you have nearly forgotten it rather than sooner. It seems that when you re-remember something it sticks around much longer than when you revise something you already know.
Three, like a musician who practices by doing some scales, a piece and a number of exercises, variety is better than a single focus. Revise a number of allied concepts together. It seems that you need to be using your brain to sort out which set of operations to use when you study rather than doing a thousand examples of one thing in the hope of drumming a single operation into your brain. (Interestingly enough, this discounts KUMON maths, which is all about drill and which, coincidentally, never helped our maths-deficient son.)
Testing is good. That is not necessarily preparing for tests but doing them. The reason for this is their difficulty. It seems that one cannot avoid the challenging and difficult route to learn. Learning is not fun, it is HARD!
I have finally laid to rest (!) my fantasies of memorising huge chunks of knowledge or learning a foreign language by listening to tapes while I sleep. Awake seems to be the very least you need to be to learn and then some more. Good luck!