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How to Study for Exams - Evidence-Based Revision Tips

This is a summary of Ali Abdaal’s YouTube Video : How To Study For Exams - Evidence-Based Revision Tips.

The original YouTube video can be found here: How to study for exams - Evidence-based revision tips

When it comes to studying, we often do what feels instinctively right because we have not been taught how to do so effectively. Research has demonstrated that these ‘intuitive’ methods we use to approach studying may not be the most effective.


Popular (but ineffective) Revision Techniques
Very often students find themselves dedicating long hours to studying but find that they are underperforming. Popular revision techniques such as re-reading, summarising/making notes and highlighting have been shown to be inefficient and we go into some detail below.

Ineffective Technique 1: Rereading
The studies listed below demonstrated that re-reading is a very common technique used when studying. This may be a major part of your personal exam preparation.

Based on the available evidence, Dunlosky et al. (2013)’s study concluded that rereading had low utility and effectiveness in comparison with other learning methods. The findings of a study conducted by Karpicke (2016) corroborates this by stating that “passive, repetitive reading produces little to no benefit for learning”, despite being frequently listed as students’ first choice in study technique.

Ineffective Technique 2: Highlighting
The aforementioned study conducted by Dunlosky et al. (2013) also considered the highlighting technique to be of low utility, doing little to improve performance when studying and potentially having a negative impact on more difficult tasks that require inferences to be drawn. They posited that research should instead aim to teach students how to effectively use this technique, as it is likely to continue to be used by students.

Ineffective Technique 3: Summarising
Making summary notes while studying is a technique that most, if not all, students have used at some point in time. The effectiveness of this technique is difficult to ascertain because of differences in the quality of notes between students.

Dunloky et al. (2013)’s study also rated summarisation as having low utility for many learners. An exception for this conclusion may be learners who are highly capable at summarising.


Active Recall
Active recall is considered to be one of the most effective revision strategies. It involves actively stimulating your memory to remember information. This strengthens your ability to recall information at will and convert it from your short-term memory to long-term memory.

Dunlosky et al.’s (2013) study assessed he available evidence and found that active recall proved to have high utility across a range of test formats, outcome measures, learner ages and retention intervals. Active recall could be implemented with minimal training and is not time-intensive relative to the aforementioned techniques.

Research looking into active recall and its effectiveness spans decades. Spitzer’s 1939 study and Butler’s 2010 showed that students who had the opportunity to apply active recall of facts and concepts by way of a practice test outperformed the students who did not have a practice test by a significant margin (approximately 15% and 30% respectively)

Karpicke & Blunt (2011) undertook a study that assessed the performance of learners that were assigned to one of four groups:
  1. Regular study (reading the material once).
  2. Repeated study (reading the material four times).
  3. Concept/mind mapping after reading the material.
  4. Retrieval practice (reading the material once and recalling as much as they can).
Learners in this study predicted that repeated study would yield the best results, followed by studying once, concept mapping and active recall. As you can guess, the students who were in the active recall grouping performed better than the other three groups for verbatim testing as well as inference testing.


Tips for Incorporating Active Recall Into Your Study Routine
Anything you do to retrieve information is very efficient when you are learning studying for an exam or just revising. There are a variety of available resources and strategies that learners can incorporate into their study routine to maximise their efficiency and practice utilising active recall.

Anki
Anki is a flashcard program that allows you to create flashcards that you can rate as easy, medium or hard. The flashcards can then be used to quiz you on the information you’ve input in your flashcards. You can use this to help you recall information to allow you to retrieve this information on demand.

Closed-Book
This strategy involves the learner reading about a topic, closing their book and writing down as much as they can remember about the topic. Once this is done, the learner reopens the book to find out if they missed any information.

Asking Questions
Asking questions as an alternative for making notes during a lecture or when reading a textbook. In essence, the learner writes questions for themselves that they can then use when revising to allow them to retrieve information. This is called the Cornell Note-Taking System.


If you have been thinking that you’re not getting the results that you want, this may be a good opportunity to reassess the strategies you use to study. This may allow you to get better results and improve the retention of knowledge.
 
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