Many of our study habits and routines that we use at Northbridge International School Cambodia, university and beyond are taken from our time at school. Considering how important these core skills are it's time to reflect on what we really do.
When you ask people about their experiences of school almost certainly exams will come up in the conversation. You can then be 100 percent certain that these will not be fond memories. Clearly exams are here to stay but the way we think about them needs to change.
Often assessments are grouped into two main categories: formative and summative. Formative assessments are used as assessment for learning. Summative assessments are used as assessment of learning and are what most people refer to when talking about exams. Whilst I hear this terminology used a lot in schools it is not so common for the student population to be using this language.
Really as far as the students are concerned all assessments no matter formative or summative should be used as a tool to deepen their understanding and develop their thinking.
In fact, there is research showing that regular short assessments can significantly aid student progress. The key is how they are perceived and valued by the student rather than the result.
If we keep this idea in mind then our focus should turn to how we can maximise our use of assessments. How can I further my learning when having to take exams?
The right mindset
You must approach your exams with the right mindset. They are an opportunity to order and structure your knowledge of a topic and demonstrate your grasp of the concepts.
They are not designed to compare you to others or demonstrate how intelligent you are (intelligence is not really a measurable quantity). The exam will help show specific areas of strengths and weaknesses and you can reflect on the next steps needed to improve.
The whole benefit of an exam is that it ensures you spend time reviewing your work. By having gaps between when you focus on a specific skill helps to, over time, build them into long term memory. This interspacing is key to long term progress.
To ensure that you can get back into a particular topic of study you must make clear and well structured notes. This is not a short term project. Good note taking takes time and is certainly a skill to develop. For example let’s consider highlighting.
It is correctly used to highlight keywords or phrases from a text. However, if this is all you do then you will end up with a list of discrete pieces of information. The key is to link them together and draw connections between the concepts.
A mindmap is a good way of doing this. With this deeper level of understanding you will certainly begin to hit the higher levels in the exam. In order to work to this level you need to give sufficient time for your revision as well as ensure you mix your approach and do not always work in the same way.
There will be another blog post at a later date with more specific details about revision techniques and different approaches you can take.
The environment in which we work has a big influence on how well we encode information as well as how well we can retrieve it. The research would suggest that the environment we learn the information in should perfectly match the environment that we need to remember in. Therefore as an exam is taken in silence we should be replicating this environment when learning and revising.
Having said that, I do not think taking a blanket approach that all revision should be done in silence is the best fit. Everyone is different and it is important to be honest with yourself when reflecting about your revision. Can you honestly say that revising whilst watching TV is maximising your focus?
To avoid distractions when working you need to ensure that your work environment is well prepared:
Lighting: You have good lighting that is not directly shining in your face.
Noise: Either silence or gently background noise. You honestly know if something is distracting so take action to address it.
Temperature: You need to feel comfortable in the environment. Make sure you can be the same when sitting an exam.
Materials: Make sure you have everything you need on hand. If you need to look for resources or items you are losing focus and are more likely to be further distracted.
Clock: Your revision time should be well structured. Don’t work for too long on a single topic or subject. Recognise when you are losing focus and take a short micro break.
With the right approach and mindset exams and assessments can be an opportunity to learn and develop rather than a stressful experience that most people remember.