March is here, despite never being as eagerly anticipated as June or as festive as December. It is here, bringing with it cold weather and snow. Much like exams, March is a necessary evil!
For many students, exam preparation is a difficult time. A number of strategies can be introduced to help them better prepare for these nerve-wracking moments. In fact, according to researcher Steve Masson, there are two key principles to consider: repetition and spacing.
To facilitate the retrieval of memorized information, it is important to maximize the number of occasions when you need to refer to it, which is called repetition. Trying to remember information learned, repeating exercises done in class, having a friend ask you questions, asking yourself questions while hiding the answer, using question cards with the answer on the back, creating mind maps or explaining a concept to someone are all good strategies. The more often you access information, the clearer and easier the path to it becomes. Testing yourself by answering questions allows your brain to activate itself and thus consolidate neuronal connections. In short, carefully rereading lecture notes or highlighting passages in a document are not the best strategies.
Spacing out study periods can also be very beneficial and allows for better long-term memory retention. As brain activity decreases throughout a period of study on the same subject, neurons inevitably become less active, there is less consolidation of neuronal networks and learning is not as firmly established. Moreover, when we sleep, the brain reactivates the neural networks related to the learning done during the day. Planning one’s study by integrating periods of sleep is a bit like having extra study time without any effort!
Therefore, scheduling two daily 30-minute study periods during the three days prior to an exam is far preferable to a 3-hour study period the day before the test. This way, brain activity will be maintained throughout the study time and the student will have benefited from the sleep periods. Taking the time to introduce these facts to students and helping them create a study schedule will undoubtedly allow them to handle the exams with a little more serenity!