Methods to help revising and studying for exams

Study hard and dont give upWhen I was as young as six or seven, someone once told me: “Each of us is given 24 hours a day, and it is in your hands how you want to make full use of these 24 hours”. These aren’t the exact words, I’m pretty sure about that. But three decades on, the gist of the philosophy is still etched in my mind. The embarrassing thing is this, I can’t remember who this person is. Whoever the person is, he/she sure sounds like an authoritarian to me now I think about it. Why would an adult decide that he/she should impart this time management wisdom to a six or seven year old kid? I guess he/she must have felt so revolted by how, as a child, I spent my time so insensibly. Quite frankly, as an adult now, they still seem to be the kind of activities that a child should rightly be doing – sticker collection, bookmark collection (which I am still collecting today), hopscotch, Pac Man etc.

Well, I’m glad that I remembered what he/she said but forgot whoever the person is. Didn’t they say that we should remember only the good things in life?

Remembering the good things in life makes us happier people. Remembering what we study is what we need now, as it makes us calmer, because panic never fails to engulf us at this time of the year. Hence, let us now talk about how to remember what we study and how to pack all that information into the 24 hours that we have every day.

The first method is one that I have just learned a couple of months ago from a blogger, Thomas Frank. It is a studying method that involves two core components: spacing and forgetting.


Let us look at the first of the two – spacing. By having intervals in between your studying, it helps you to absorb information better. When you introduce a time gap in between each study session, you “allow new neural connections to solidify”, says Pierce J. Howard, author of the book, “The Owner’s Manual for the Brain”. We should allow what we have learned earlier to “solidify”, before we proceed to load our brain with new ones.


What if we forget what we’ve learned prior to the new ones? This is where the second component comes in – forgetting.

Apparently, we should not have any problem remembering things that we have forgotten. When our brain tries to retrieve any information that is stored, but has a problem accessing it, in this process, our learning ability is actually strengthened.

“Some ‘breakdown’ must occur for us to strengthen learning when we revisit the material. Without a little forgetting, you get no benefit from further study. It is what allows learning to build, like an exercised muscle,” says Benedict Carey, the author of the book, “How We Learn”.

Flash Cards

Thomas Frank suggests the use of flash cards, the Leitner System, to incorporate the two components of spacing and forgetting into our study. It involves nothing more than just flash cards and the technique of dividing them into five boxes.

notecard boxes

Here’s the full article on Frank’s blog that has an in-depth explanation to spacing, forgetting, and the Leitner System.

Mind Maps

Another is a tried and tested method for years – the mind map. It is a formula which I swear by ever since I started using it for my first tertiary exam several years ago. It is an old technique, popularised by Tony Buzan and Edward de Bono during the 1970s and 80s, but it is without a doubt, an effective way of note-taking.

MindmapOne of the guidelines to constructing a mind map is to use images and symbols, but I realised that a simple mind map using colour codes works just as well for me. The main idea of mind-mapping is to “radiate” the information out from the core. Each piece of information should be branched out from the centre, making connections to the main topic of your study. The structure of the mind map is said to be “friendlier” to your brain, therefore this enables you to remember things and think better. The finished product of the mind map should look like a spider diagram, although I think it resembles the veins of our brain.

Other than using it to remember what I study, the mind map is believed to be useful in other areas such as problem solving, making decisions or even in areas that require creativity.

Here is a TEDx talk by Tony Buzan himself, which I find it immensely inspiring and informative.

Here are the links to more information on how to optimise the use of the mind map:

No Victory Could be Sweeter

I hope that these methods of studying are as useful to you as they are to me. There is no denying that sitting for exams is always so stressful and frightening, but it is also the very thing that proves that all the efforts we put in are worth it. Isn’t it a battle that we want to win with every fibre of our being since the beginning? At the end of it, no victory could be sweeter and more satisfying than to let the world know that “I worked very hard to achieve this!”

Tiffany is studying the BA English by distance learning in Singapore.


One thought on “Methods to help revising and studying for exams

  1. Hi, thanks for the article. I am impressed at the specificity and research involved in it. I definitely can associate with the spacing and forgetting technique. Whenever inadvertently I have left my studies and returned to them at a later time I have found my mind more ready to adjust to that material than every before.

    One thing I would like to suggest is my own study tip- the good old fashioned rote learning. This I think is the last stage of the studies when you have clarified all the concepts and now have to learn certain limbs of tests and names of cases or academics.

    I just find myself repeating the line five six times every time I sit with the material and perhaps rewrite what I have tried to learn.

    It certainly helps.


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