Studying effectively for exams

The goal of every determined student is to produce written and oral academic work of in-depth knowledge and understanding, with significant originality and innovation. The strategy to achieve this vision involves: firstly, critical research and studying of each subject or topic, and secondly, building a high level of retention of course material and recalling what you have learnt when necessary.

The goal of studying is not just to pass exams but to gain mastery of your course and to apply the knowledge in your life and future career. The highest level of studying is practice by doing and immediate and consistent use of what you learn through work and teaching others.

In this short article, I want to share with you a model of studying I adopted during my undergraduate studies at KNUST.

The studying model involves innovative repetition and self-testing. Innovative repetition simply means using different methods (old and new methods) to study the course material repetitively to build a high level of retention. Self-testing involves testing your ability to recall, translate, explain, analyse, critically evaluate and apply what you have learnt. The model I used can be divided into 7 levels.

Level 1: Slow reading of the core course material and additional course material. This could be book chapters, research/journal articles, handouts, lecture notes etc. My target was to read for at least 4 hours a day until I complete the reading. To make this manageable, I completed smaller tasks in every time slot.

Level 2: The second stage was to set my own questions on every objective of the course material. The questions are a combination of MCQs, comprehension questions, application, analysis or creative questions, synthesis and evaluation questions. Most of the time I set the questions as I read (level 1) or create a particular time for setting questions.

Level 3: The third stage was to provide answers to all my questions in a solution manual or self-testing notebook. In situations where I cannot recall or do not understand something properly, I refer back to the course material or do further research and extra reading.

Level 4: Arrange a group discussion with mates or study group. I had a group of friends and a study group back in school and we meet to discuss all the questions we have set individually and answered. This was an opportunity for us to assess and correct each other, add unto the knowledge of each other, conduct more research and develop what I call “a first class answer” to each question.

Level 5: Solving past questions and all questions raised in class, and questions from textbooks and online. This is the stage I test my ability to solve typical exam questions. Most of the time I created an exam environment and this gave me the opportunity to note my speed and ability to answer exam questions. This also helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and which areas I need to do further reading and research.

Level 6: Critically discuss answers to past questions with peers and study group. This stage was also a platform to correct each other and develop “a first class answer” to typical exam questions. The opportunity helped me to identify areas that I need to improve or do further reading and research.

Level 7: The final stage was teaching others about what I have learnt, watching videos and lectures about the course online and engaging in extracurricular activities that apply what I have learnt. Additionally, I took internships related to what I have learnt in class.

After completing the seven levels, I often repeated the process and I maintained this process for every course I was taking. One of the benefits of this model was that I always felt confident and well prepared for every exam I took. Sometimes almost all the questions I set myself or the past questions and the other questions I solve appear in the exam and as Bishop Charles Agyin-Asare once said, “when preparation meets opportunity there is an explosion.”

I hope you find this article helpful in your preparation for exams and your future career.

By: Aaron Amankwaa, Editor & Contributor (Forensic Science & Biochemistry)

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