In the education systems of most countries, the exam is that moment when our learning becomes an all-or-nothing task .

Days or even weeks of class attendance and self-study may fail if we fail the tests we are given on exams. That’s why mastering study methods well is very important when it comes to getting the most out of our knowledge and skills.

Dealing with difficult exams

Spain is a country with a serious problem in its education system; both primary and secondary schools do not teach students effective ways to study, something that should be key to the learning process. In my first year at university, I was limited to memorizing, a task that was very tedious, so I began to look for other methods to study for the exams .

As soon as I mastered these new methodologies (since there is no single one that is infallible) my grades improved a lot; in most subjects I went up to more than three points (in exams over a maximum score of 10). The truth is that I doubt I would have gotten such good grades without these study techniques; the University is tough and at that time I had to understand and assimilate a lot of information. It was clear that the study methods worked for me, and I think they can also be useful for anyone who needs to pass exams . That’s why I decided to share them.

The best techniques and methods of study

The advice I will explain will be useful for any subject: exams for competitions, English, etc. However, these study methods are not a panacea for laziness: effort and perseverance are the basis for success!

1. Awards

Thinking about the image of having 2-3 hours of study ahead of you is, let’s say, not very… stimulating. But there is a way to make it less tiring:

Take a break every 50-60 minutes and do an activity you like for 10 minutes : watch TV, read, exercise, etc. It’s a matter of knowing that the effort will not be superhuman, quite the contrary; it’s about combining the effort dedicated to study with pleasant or leisure activities, so that we unconsciously associate study with something positive and bearable.

2. Get rid of the distractions!

Are you the classic student who is in class looking at the facebook every minute or scribbling in the notebook? Don’t be afraid, there are many of those. They are the same students who study 1 hour out of 4.

This is because it takes almost 10 minutes to reach a full state of concentration. At this point, if by active or passive this process of concentration is interrupted, you will have to restart the process.

And what can we do to avoid being distracted? Avoid social networks, hide or turn off your mobile phone, stay away from the TV , etc. These are small details that, although they seem insignificant, are important. This method of studying can be summarised as follows: when it is your turn to rest, rest and don’t complicate your life, but when it is time to study, don’t do anything else.

3. Music to Concentrate

We will agree that putting on heavy metal or electronic songs to study works for very few people… but despite the popular belief that when it comes to studying you don’t have to listen to music, there are certain melodies and sounds that can help you enter a state of relaxation . You can try, for example, with musical pieces for meditation.

Other tips about music when studying:

  • Avoid playing the typical catchy song , or one you like very much.
  • Choose a playlist of at least 50 minutes , so you won’t have to search for songs after a while.
  • The radio is not working . The voice of the presenters can become irritating when studying.

4. Study in advance

I never studied the day before the exam, nor on the day itself . Nor for the more important exams such as the finals. The key is to study months in advance, a little bit every day. If you study an exam that you have in two months time for an hour or two a day, you are guaranteed success.

The information will be structured in your mind in the long term , it will be kept for a long time and you will be able to make use of it when you need it. If you study in a hurry the day before, or two or three days before, you may pass, but the knowledge will not be fixed and you will end up forgetting. Things will become difficult in the future when teachers assume that you remember the contents of previous lessons.

5. Mind maps

A mind map is a schematic image used to represent words , ideas or concepts linked around a central idea. Mind maps are a very good method of memorizing information. I recommend it!

6. Exercise

Although it may not seem like it, exercise can be part of the study methods. According to a study from the University of Illinois, doing 20-30 minutes of exercise before an exam improves concentration . Many times I have gone to the gym before an exam to de-stress, after all I had studied well in advance and could afford to do so (as a reward).

From my point of view it is a big mistake to think that on the day of the exam or the day before you have to spend it studying until the last minute. You have to give yourself a chance to rest and train your muscles to be in the best possible physical condition before you go through the pressure of an exam. We are human!

7. Change the places of study

If you change places where you study you will improve your concentration and you will be able to retain more data . This is because studying in the same place, whether active or passive, ends up irritating you. Introducing new variables into the study breaks this routine and gives us a ball of oxygen to study with.

A good option would be to alternate between your home and various public libraries.

8. Eat well and healthy

Hunger will cause you to have no energy and be distracted . I recommend that you eat something before studying, especially almonds (as they contain phenylalaline, which stimulates the neurons) and beetroot (uridine monophosphate helps improve cognitive abilities).

9. Keep a positive spirit!

Positive thinking is a great help when it comes to getting good grades .Many classmates, by giving excessive importance to the results, worry excessively about what they are doing and experience outbursts of anxiety before the exams, which conditions them and keeps them distracted (the self-fulfilling prophecy). That’s why it’s important to stay calm and have a positive attitude.

Besides, being pessimistic about the results we’re going to get gives us an excuse to stop trying. It’s a phenomenon similar to what’s known as learned helplessness.

10. Conduct mock exams

Imitating a test by means of a simulation is many times more useful than reading or underlining . You can think of logical questions (which may be the same as those in the real exam) and help to regulate anxiety before the exam, because the “real” exam will only be one of many.

In addition, conducting mock exams is one of the most useful study methods because it helps you discover gaps and weaknesses in your knowledge.