Solomon was right: Of the making of books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (Eccl 12.12).
So, in the remaining weeks before StuVac and final exams, how do we best prepare for them? Here are a few tips on revising for exams.
Although I am not into Eastern meditation, I have a mantra for exams: Commit it to long-term memory. Don’t stuff it into short-term memory.
But how to get your months of notes and partially-digested new ideas into your long-term memory? Let me give you my big three points.
Actually, these are not mine at all, but are taken from the following:
- The short article ‘Re-reading is inefficient. Here are 8 tips for studying smarter’ (Stromberg, 2015). It’s available on the LSS here or on the Web here. (With thanks to Andrew Shead for first posting this on his OT1 LSS.)
- And that article is based on the eminently readable book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, available as an e-book in our Library. To get the heart of it, just read pp. 200-218, ‘Tips for students’.)
The Big Three
Brown, Roediger and McDaniel distil recent decades of cognitive science into three counter-intuitive main points for us:
Retrieve, but don’t re-read and highlight:
Re-reading and highlighting can keep us busy, but are nearly useless for helping us learn anything. Warm feelings with no result.
Space your retrieval, and don’t cram:
Last-minute, rushed study is of next to no value. Now let me show you a better way:
Repeated retrieval of new knowledge reinforces it, counters the forgetting curve, and helps to Make it stick. It’s the same principle that Memrise and AnkiApp use for vocab reinforcement.
The trick here is to space out your revision:
Wait until you just begin to forget your material. Then retrieve it from memory without reciting from notes. (And check that you retrieved it correctly!)
The important thing here is that when you struggle to recall, you fix that knowledge better in your mind. But you’ve got to struggle: If you merely recite from the page you are looking at, you’re not learning much at all.
Interleave your study, and avoid blocking:
Yes, it feels good to study one subject for a long time, but those feelings deceive us. Far better to mix it up: A bit of Greek, then a bit of Doctrine, a bit of Ethics, and then a bit of NT3. Or if it’s all Greek to you, try doing a bit of translation, a bit of paradigms, a bit of vocab. Mix it up. This forces spaced repetition, and that helps you move more info into long-term memory.
Giving in to intuitive strategies that feel effective is giving in to the forgetting curve. It allows our short-term memory to do all the work, and then to forget everything.
Implementing this kind of active learning is work. It is hard work. But it is work with a payoff, and it is study in the service of God:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (2 Tim 2.15, CSB)
So that is the Big Three. Next week I will post on the Little Three plus note-making for exam revision.
But remember for now: Start your active revising now. Even in little bits. It beats the stuffing out of night-before cramming.