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Studying and Test Taking

5-Step Exam Prep Study Plan

Each step is broken down into manageable parts. Do it over the course of a few days..how many depends on how organized you are to begin with, and when your teacher stops teaching new information. 

Step 1: Organize.

  • Find old tests/quizzes, study guides/flashcards, notes and handouts that you will use to study for the exam. 
  • Organize a packet of information, separate from the rest of your work.
  • Identify missing handouts/notes, and get a copy from a classmate or teacher.

Step 2: Survey, get the big picture.

  • Look over notes, tests and quizzes.
  • Make sure you have corrected your mistakes.
  • Make a list of areas in which you are least confident and need additional information/practice.
  • Identify the information you are confident about.

Step 3: Focus your studying.

  • Actively study the information you don’t know.
  • Make outlines, lists, graphic organizers, flashcards, 2 column study guides, predict questions, etc.  
  • Use teacher generated guides, and make your ownbe active.

Step 4: Check yourself.

  • Quiz yourself with a classmate—say answers out loud. 
  • Use new strategies with information you still don’t know. 
  • Highlight key parts of packet you still need to review. 

Step 5: Final Review.

  • Review all information.
  • Outline answers to essays from memory.
  • Write lists, mind maps, etc. from memory.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.

The Curve of Forgetting

Curve of Forgettingthis you should know…

The Curve of Forgetting describes how we retain or get rid of information that we take in. It's based on remembering a one-hour lecture.

On Day 1, at the beginning of the lecture, you go in knowing nothing, or 0%, (where the curve starts at the baseline). At the end of the lecture, you know 100% of what you know, however well you know it (where the curve rises to its highest point).

By Day 2, if you have done nothing with the information you learned in that lecture, didn't think about it, read it again, etc. you will have lost 50%-80% of what you learned. Our brains are constantly recording information on a temporary basis: scraps of conversation heard on the sidewalk, what the person in front of you is wearing. Because the information isn't necessary, and it doesn't come up again, our brains dump it all off, along with what was learned in the lecture that you actually do want to hold on to!

By Day 7, we remember even less, and by Day 30, we retain about 2%-3% of the original hour! This nicely coincides with midterm exams, and may account for feeling as if you've never seen this before in your life when you're studying for examsyou may need to actually re-learn it from scratch.

You can change the shape of that curve! Reprocessing the same chunk of information sends a big signal to your brain to hold onto that data. When the same thing is repeated, your brain says, "Ohthere it is again, I better keep that." When you are exposed to the same information repeatedly, it takes less and less time to "activate" the information in your long term memory and it becomes easier for you to retrieve the information when you need it.

Here's the formula and the case for making time to review material: Within 24 hours of getting the information - spend 10 minutes reviewing and you will raise the curve almost to 100% again. A week later (Day 7), it only takes 5 minutes to "reactivate" the same material, and again raise the curve. By Day 30, your brain will only need 2-4 minutes to give you the feedback, "Yes, I know that..."

Often students feel they can't possibly make time for a review session every day in their schedulesthey have trouble keeping up as it is. However, this review is an excellent investment of time. If you don't review, you will need to spend 40-50 minutes re-learning each hour of material laterdo you have that kind of time? Cramming rarely stores information in your long term memory successfully, this makes it harder to access the material for assignments during the term and for exam preparation.

Many students are amazed at the difference reviewing regularly makes in how much they understand and how well they understand and retain material. It's worth experimenting for a couple weeks, just to see what difference it makes to you!

It is very important to review material within 24 hours for maximum comprehension! You can lose 80% of what you’ve learned if you do not review within the next day.                                       

Remember: if you can’t say it now, you won’t be able to say it tomorrow in class.  Continue to actively review the material until you can recite it from memory!

Making the Most of Memory

Memory: Learning That Persists

Why do we forget?

  • The information is not used or reviewed.
  • Lack of attention and concentration during learning.
  • Disorganization of information. You are likely to forget most of the information you read and/or hear if you don’t organize the ideas in your mind and/or on paper.
  • Interference of other information...don’t take chances, write it down and review soon!

Tips To Improve Your Memory.

  • Study with the intention to remember.
  • Over-learn – elaborative and purposeful rehearsalpractice, practice, practice.
  • Review and explain information until it makes sense.
  • Use strategies appropriate for the task at hand, use different strategies to study for English, Math, Physics…flash cards aren’t the only way.