1. Studying only after material has been covered in class
Class is the best time to build a foundation of understanding of a topic, and to take the first steps towards remembering it. This is far easier if you have read ahead because you can focus on absorbing the details. It means that even if you miss a few things, or if your teacher goes off on tangents, you won’t become completely lost. Not only that, but you can identify any confusing concepts in advance and clarify them in class.
2. Not managing your study time
Use a planner to keep track of assignments, tests, study time and to-do lists. This should ensure that tasks don’t end up being left to the last minute. Aim to study in blocks of 30 to 50 minutes and then stop for a snack or even a short walk. The longer you study without a break, the less effectively your brain retains information. Create a regular, realistic study schedule for yourself and stick to it. Study more frequently rather than for longer periods – studying for half an hour every day is far more effective than studying for two hours twice a week.
3. Studying in a distracting environment
Find a suitable study area, and use it regularly. Your body and mind will come to associate that area with focus and concentration. Study away from family members or housemates and inform them that you are studying, so they know not to interrupt you. Make sure you are out of earshot of the television, radio or phone. Experiment with studying at different times of day, and see what feels right for you.
4. Focusing on memorising rather than understanding
You can’t retain a concept until you understand it – so ensure you have a good understanding right from the outset. Look up words you don’t know, read slowly through difficult topics and most importantly, ask for help – from teachers, parents, peers, or professionals. Don’t even bother trying to make notes until you truly understand the material. Only then will you actually be able to recognise the salient points and study the material in a meaningful way.
5. Revising only new material
Try to revise everything you have learnt on a regular basis. Make concise, comprehensive notes within a week (or preferably a day!) of covering material in class, while it is still fresh in your mind. It will then be easy to revisit them on a regular basis – and this is the best way to commit the information to your long term memory. Avoid cramming, which tends to lodge information in the short term memory only – and deprives you of much-needed sleep!
6. Studying in ways that don’t suit your learning style
Your notes have to be easy to learn for you, and the way you study them should optimise your retention. This means not just reading the material, but interacting with it: reading it back, role playing, summarising, highlighting, making flashcards or mindmaps, recording yourself, writing questions… whatever works for you. See ‘Making the Most of Your Learning Style’ to find out more.
7. Not understanding which material and assessments are most important
Make sure you are familiar with exactly what material is examinable, and ask your teacher which areas of study are most important if you’re not sure. You can also use previous tests as a guide. Know from the outset what assessment tasks are required and what their weight is. Plan your study time accordingly – give more time to the most important topics or tasks.
8. Not practising under exam conditions
Taking past exams or creating lists of questions for yourself will give you a realistic idea of what you know and what you don’t. You can then focus on your weaknesses. Repeat this process until you can answer most questions without referring to your notes. This is also the time to develop an effective exam technique –work out how much time to allocate to reading through the paper initially and how much time to spend on each question. Learn to read questions properly and answer them comprehensively.