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Nifty tricks to ace exams

-Riya Ganguly

Exam season can be daunting for students, the stress of completing the syllabus against the racing clock challenging the young minds. But studying need not be turned into the daunting and cumbersome task as students often view it. As the age old saying goes, “work smarter, not harder”; here are some nifty tricks to ace exams and increase productivity so you can work smarter AND harder:

Mnemonics and acronyms

Mnemonic Devices“My very eager mother just served us nine pizzas — the planets” – Mnemonics have been used since formative years to help children remember better, and this is one of the many mnemonics used to help students remember the planets of the solar system in order. Memory aids such as mnemonics and acronyms have proven to be extremely effective and innovative in improving students’ retentive capacities; a 1975 study showed that among a group of Stanford students presented with a list of Russian vocabulary words, those who used mnemonic devices were able to remember 26% more words than students who used traditional methods of memorization. The trick to mastering such memory aids is creating an effective mental association to ensure quick retention; this can be done in several ways: abbreviating a group of words to create a catchy and instantly recallable acronym, using the words to create a funny story, associating an image with the item to be remembered to create a visual link, using keywords (similar sounding phrases or words to remember) or creating a song or rhyme out of the words to be memorized.

Mind maps

Mind MapsMind maps are an excellent way to organize your study material to avoid confusion. Only reading often proves inadequate to strengthen memory; writing helps organize, memorize and summarize information adequately. Mind maps can be used in several ways- to take class notes, to brainstorm ideas and plan answers- allowing creative flow of ideas on paper. Mind maps can be made by selecting a particular subject as the main topic and building various sub-points around it like the branches of a tree. Creating mind maps helps organize, memorize and summarize, also saving crucial time as you can simply jot down key concepts or mnemonic devices instead of full sentences.

Only using words activates just one part of our cognitive potential; thus, visual aids prove effective in memorization as visualization along with reading and writing helps use cognitive faculties to the fullest extent. Thus, mind maps can also use pictures or symbols in addition to words, and students often use colour codes to create a creative and interactive memory-link with the academic topics to be studied.

Don’t forget to take breaks!

BreaksMindless cramming is often detrimental rather than helpful; a 2011 study conducted by showed that students who ‘crammed’ information for exams only worked their short-term memory, achieving average results and being unable to retain information post-exams. While working hard is integral to achieve goals, overworking and cramming can lead to a stressed and tiring mind, increase anxiety, fatigue and burnouts. With students recording over 6-8 hours of screen time, it has become even more important to pay attention to mental and physical health.

Continually interpolating study sessions with social networking can  considerably increase stress and divert focus; Harvard Business Review author David Rock writes, “When we connect with people online, we don’t tend to get the oxytocin or serotonin calming reward that happens when we bond with someone in real time, when our circuits resonate with real-time shared emotions and experiences”. It is thus important to incorporate productive gaps in your study schedule such as interacting with friends, listening to music, drawing, meditating, playing a sport, exercising or taking power naps to rejuvenate yourself after a particularly exhausting study session. It is recommended to take a 15-minute break per hour of focused study, and longer breaks for 2-4 hour study sessions.

Flash cards- quiz yourself!

Flash cardsIn addition to learning and memorizing new concepts, students must know how to apply the concepts to practical situations. Flashcards help in such scenarios, and quizzing yourself on a subject helps retain concepts better by ‘active recall’. Preparing your own flashcards in addition to self-quizzing helps create strong neural pathways, aiding you to effectively recall the same ideas at command. Flash cards can also be spruced up with images, as the ‘Picture superiority effect’ in cognitive psychology has proved imagery helps people retain ideas more effectively, attaining optimal results when a mixture of images and words are employed. Flashcards can also employ aforementioned mnemonic devices and acronyms to strengthen your recollection. You can also self-time yourself while quizzing to hone your time-management skills. 

Mistakes can help!

Mistakes can helpColumbia university biologist Stuart Firestein famously argued how mistakes can be a good thing by being used as a primary key to learning. Making mistakes are inevitable; rather than getting discouraged by them, you can use them to your advantage by marking your mistakes in exams and tests. Students have often been reported to repeat similar mistakes in their evaluations, most common reasons being a lack of attentiveness, observation or understanding of the subject. By marking, analyzing and correcting your mistakes, you’ll be able to bridge your knowledge and attention gaps. Thus, in addition to applying all the previous tips and entering the exam hall confident about what to write, you’ll also know exactly what NOT to do to ensure better grades.

Use your resources!

Who says spending time on the internet needs to be unproductive? A significant advantage of studying in the 21st century is having a vast plethora of resources at our fingertips. While even a few decades ago researching would require hours spent in searching for relevant study material, the growth of the digital medium has significantly facilitated the educational intake. Students can take to the wide network of digital resources to stimulate their memory and interest in otherwise mundane subjects, using YouTube videos, images, online encyclopedias and educational apps to bring textbook concepts to life.

Also read: 10 apps that help students enhance their learning

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