Exams. My worst enemy.
Honestly I don’t even mind actually taking an exam, it’s the preparation and studying for the aforementioned exam that cultivates self-doubt, worry, panic, anger, and pretty much every other emotion associated with anxiety. I never know what to study or when to stop studying. I never feel like I’ve done enough. Which led me to my question.. Could science help me be a more effective studier?
Martyn Denscombe attributes exam stress to four reasons: concern about the outcome’s effect one’s life, low self-esteem, fear of judgment, and fear of disappointing. This added stress could cause a multitude of problems during not only the exam itself but also during the preparation for it.
One of the most substantial ways to reduce exam anxiety is to SLEEP. Researchers at UCLA found that decreased hours asleep lead to an increase in learning problems the next day. Also research from nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott shows that when one sleeps 6 hours rather than the recommended 8, cortisol’s (the stress hormone) presence in the blood stream goes up by 50%.
In her article, “22 Science-Backed Study Tips to Ace a Test”, Shana Lebowitz combines several studies, offering a multitude of study tips to her readers.
Her first piece of information states that studying when tired has many benefits. Studies show that our brain retains and strengthens memories during our sleep cycle. By studying before going to sleep, there is an increased chance that one will better retain what they just reviewed.
Lebowitz also sites a Harvard Magazine article. Both article’s describe a study technique called “spaced repetition”. This utilizes reviewing small, categorized sections of study material for long periods of time before moving on to the next segment. Studies on this new way of thinking has shown improved retention rates and increased knowledge in medical students and residents.
Another study technique offered by Lebowitz suggests regularly changing your environment when studying. Research shows that we are able to better retain information studied in different locations because our brains affiliate the information to a multitude of environments.
There are also simple steps you could take to be a more effective studier. Writing things out, saying things aloud, and repeatedly quizzing yourself have all proven to have major benefits regarding memory and recognition.
Whatever study technique you decide to try, it is also important to remember that exams are not everything. In my own life, I inflict a lot of my own exam stress. I often put added pressure on myself, which tends to psych me out before a big exam. Exams are only one part of college; as long as you are well prepared and try your best the rest will come easy!