I won’t say my blog serves a very informative kind of purpose. It isn’t very useful to my (dubiously existent) readers, and most of the time it is about me blabbing about some opinions I have. I am not a celebrity, and I do not uphold an illusion of grandeur that people care what I think most of the time. And so my readership — if there had been any at all — might lessen over the days if nothing of practical use comes up. And therefore, in today’s Stabbing Minds, I shall divulge the deepest darkest secrets of how to excel in the exams, and how it all relates to the mind, your only weapon in the examination hall.
Now sharpen your pencils, don that thinking cap, and prepare to embrace the top-secret wushu manual.
1. Short-Term and Long-Term Memory
It is always during the exam period that we all wish we had master memory and could remember everything we read at a glance. While we are still far from inventing super memory devices, there are ways we can attempt to make learning as efficient as possible. For instance, after studying for a while, do you sometimes find it more difficult to remember concepts after you have studied a few topics? Sometimes you get confused and mix up earlier topics with the later ones, or after learning the later concepts you forget what you did earlier. Such confusions are a result of interference in short-term memory. It is especially easy to have interference if what you study is very similar.
To minimise the effects of interference, I recommend you try not to study the same subjects or topics in one stretch. Take frequent breaks and give yourself time to rehearse through what you have learnt before, and then go on to study a different subject. Tackling new content will signal a fresh start to your mind, rather than zoning out when the content seem too similar.
Another reason I recommend taking frequent breaks is the primacy and recency effect of memory. When transferring content from short-term memory to long-term memory, you tend to find it easier to remember topics you studied at the beginning of your study session, or at the end. The content in the middle tends to be the vaguest. There is a psychological explanation for this, but what you have to know is just that shorter but more frequent studying sessions will help get more content into memory.
2. Memory Codes
Our mind is a rather interesting entity. It remembers certain things instead of others, and it can be due to the strangest reasons. For example, we all know that we tend to remember distinctive things better than non-distinctive things, but did you know distinctiveness comes in many forms, one of which is known as processing distinctiveness? Processing distinctiveness means that when you elaborate on things you learn and generate your own notes, you are more likely to remember it than if you follow your lecture notes or copy notes from somebody else. You must give your mind a chance to look at and think about the content.
Also, where and how you are studying determines your success during the exam. You tend to remember things that you learned when you are in the same environment and the same mood. This means that when you are in a quiet exam venue, you will remember things you studied in a similarly quiet environment. The same goes for mood. If you are happy and calm when studying, you should be happy and calm during the exams too in order to remember what you studied.
Do you study the same way for a Multiple-Choice exam and an essay exam? You probably should not. MCQs test specific details whereas essays require you to link concepts together, and you should bear the exam requirements in mind when you are studying.
3. Comprehension and Memory for Text
Teachers tend to advocate careful planning before you start writing an essay, but do you ever feel that no matter how much you plan, you just cannot write that perfect essay? You get all your content and concepts right, but your teacher returns the essay with that annoying remark that you “were not clear enough”. How do you make your essay comprehensible? Here are 2 aspects to consider.
Firstly, causal connections! While listing points in your essay is a good way to make it neat and organised, some causal connection is required to link your points together to form an overall framework for the essay. Try integrating your points by talking about how they relate to each other.
Secondly, relations and inferences. Where possible, make everything clear and specific. Refer to previously mentioned points as much as possible. Better yet, just write all related points in the same paragraph so the reader does not need to switch to different mental models to comprehend your points. The more mentally taxing an essay is, with its unwritten assumptions, the less impressive your essay will be. I can understand your need to sound professional and knowledgeable, but to do that and be concise and simple at the same time is a virtue we should all aspire to.
This is pretty much all the tips I have for you right now. I hope they help in your revision and all the best for those exams!