Study Techniques to help you ace your GCSE and A levels
September 8, 2020
Tips from Open Study College student Elizabeth Reilly.
I have been studying for exams for the past 10 years now. I have done GCSE’s, A levels, University exams and even apprenticeship exams and coursework. I have finally found the tried and tested techniques that really work. Here are my 5 tips on study skills to implement to help you get better grades and study smarter.
This is one I always go on about on my Instagram blog. Active recall is exactly what it sounds like; it is the act of recalling information! However, it is done in such a way that allows you to move information from your short term memory into your long term memory. This is particularly useful for exam revision. There are two main active recall techniques I use:
- Flash cards
Blurting is where you quickly read over a textbook or exam specification, close the book and write down as much as you know or can remember. Once you have done this, you reopen the book and compare your notes to the textbook to see what areas you know more about and what areas you need to revise more. When I have an exam coming up, I do this two weeks before each day to make sure I am prepared.
Flashcards are something most students use but they are so underrated. I like to write exam questions on one side of my flashcard and answers on the other to quiz myself. It is important to not just know an answer but be able to apply the information you learn to show your understanding.
Spaced repetition uses active recall techniques and takes the information you need to memorise, repeating it over increasing intervals. Often students feel like they do not know when to start revision or how often to revise and spaced repetition really helps with this.
Memory works just like a muscle. The more we train it, the stronger it gets and the longer we take breaks from training, the harder it is to get back into it. Like training a muscle, you need to slowly increase the weights to be able to lift more and do it regularly enough that you do not forget the skills you learn. With improving memory, we need to treat it like weight training; slowly building on information over time and repeating the concepts we learn so we do not forget them.
Applying this technique to studying is really important. The best way I find to do this is to revise flashcards every two to three days. Closer to an exam, I might do this every day. It can be boring and repetitive, but it is very effective.
Look after your health
To be able to truly study effectively and give ourselves the best chance of success on a course, we must look after our health through regular exercise, eating nutritious food, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep. When we have a lot of study to do, it is easy to become stressed and want to reach for unhealthy study snacks.
It is good to make a habit of taking at least one day off a week to recharge. I like to keep a jar of walnuts and a bottle of water on my desk at all times, so I feel more likely to reach for them over something unhealthy. I place great value on mental wellbeing, so I always take a day off to be completely away from my phone and laptop to be refreshed for the next day.
Use an academic planner
This is especially important for distance learning students as we often have to manage our own time, but it applies to students at brick schools and universities too.
I have an academic planner on my wall that shows all of my deadlines and exams for the year. It is in a place where I see it every day, so I do not forget what I have coming up over the week. I also carry a Filofax planner, but you may prefer a bullet journey or simple diary. Knowing exactly what work you need to do helps prevent procrastination and limit stress as you feel more control over your workload.
The Pomodoro Method
Sometimes, the hardest part about studying is simply getting started. To combat this, you can use the Pomodoro method. This is where you break your study session down in to time chunks. You might prefer to do 25 minutes of study and a 5 minute break or even 50 minutes of study and a 15 minute break.
I use the app “Forest” when studying as it allows me to time my study session in chunks. It also blocks me from using my phone during that time which can be handy if you are easily distracted. You can also just use a simple kitchen timer or set an alarm on your phone or watch.