Study Advice

Are You Studying Properly for your VCE or QCE exams?

By Moya Ellis - 8 minute read

Studying constantly and for very long periods of time does not equal immediate exam success. Just because you study doesn't mean you'll definitely do better in exams. Here are some tips on how to improve your study tactics in order to study more effectively and subsequently get you the grades you want.

1. Avoid Distractions

Having your phone or laptop beside you while you’re studying is the number one distraction you’re going to have, especially if you’re getting Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp notifications all day long. If you don’t need it, just get rid of it from the room you’re studying in. You’ll be able to focus on the subject/topic better if it’s the only thing in front of you demanding your attention.

Yes, the temptation to look at your phone is hard to resist, but it’s only a short sacrifice you have to make and it’ll be worth it when you get higher marks. For those of you who need your phone as a watch, either put your phone on Airplane Mode while studying or else download an app like “Keep Me Out” which locks you out from your phone for a selected period of time. It's not always necessary to completely isolate yourself from social media, just ensure that your dedicating enough time to study, and only study, not mix the two between each other.

2. Get Your Study Area Right

Lots of students study in their bedroom or in the kitchen or living rooms at home. The problem with this is that your brain associates these places with activities other than studying. So, when you're in your bedroom all you want to do is sleep. You need to set up a proper study area. If you must study in your bedroom then try and turn your desk away from your bed. Also try to minimize distractions by staying off any social media and your phone while you are studying. Instead use your breaks as a chance to catch up with your friends online.

A nice little trick is to have a "study lamp" on your desk. Every time you study switch on your lamp and as soon as you feel your concentration is slipping switch off the lamp. This will help make you more aware of when you are drifting and will also train your brain into dividing study time from relaxing time, because when you start to mix the two, inevitably, your studies will become less efficient.

3. Set Goals and Make a Plan

This one is pretty obvious. What are you studying for? For good grades? Understanding? Success? To get into the course of your dreams? Figure it out. A student without goals is less likely to be successful as a student with goals. If you don’t know why you are studying, and have no established desires for success, you will be less motivated, and pushed away from working hard.

Once you have established your goals, you must make a plan. If you don’t plan how you will accomplish your goals, you are less likely to achieve them.  “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Your goals should both consist of short term, and long-term ones, as so should your plan. Plan for the exam in 12 months, but also plan for that analysis task you have in a couple of weeks. Preparation is vital! Take action now!

4. Take Proper Breaks

If you’ve ever had that feeling that no matter how much you study, nothing will go in, then the chances are you’re studying inefficiently. Research has shown that studying in short bursts makes it much more likely that you will retain information. This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in. Named after a kitchen timer, the technique involves you setting a timer for 25 minutes and studying as hard as you can on a chosen task for that time. When the time is up take a 5-minute break and every fourth break take a longer 20-minute break.

Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the technique, suggested using an actual timer as the act of winding it and hearing it ticking helped you focus on the task at hand. Loads of free tech tools to help you time your Pomodoro’s have been developed, and are extremely useful. However, there is no best way to organize your breaks, you need to find what works for you, and identify what maximizes your effectiveness in studying, and happiness as well.

5. Become an Active Learner

Most learning for exams can be divided into either concepts or facts. Learning the names of the bones in the human body is facts but learning how the bones work together is a concept. Understanding concepts is far more important than facts. If you don't have an understanding of the overall concept then you will find it really hard to learn the facts.

Humans are storytellers. The human brain has evolved to be able to remember complex stories. See if you can you put concepts into your own words, this will force you to add meaning to it and so remembering will be easier, as it is something that you have developed yourself.

Recapitulation is when you summarise the main points of something. Psychologists have shown that restating information in your own words greatly improves retention of concepts. You can do this by writing notes in your own words but an even better way to do this is to teach others by explaining concepts verbally. Forming a study group where you and your friends teach each other can be really effective. Even talking to a chair can work. The act of verbalizing what you have learnt is when deep learning happens.

6. Sleep!

One of the simplest things you can do to improve the effectiveness of your study is to sleep more. Psychologists have shown that our brain forms memory during REM sleep (rapid eye movement).  There's no point in studying more hours at the expense of less hours sleep as this will give your brain less chance to sort and file the information.

Everyone is slightly different but teenagers should be getting somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. It's also really important to try and get into a regular sleeping pattern. Try and avoid long lie-ins or late nights on the weekend as this will mess up your sleep cycle for the coming week.

7. Learn How to Make Notes

Textbooks are designed mainly for pedagogy i.e. to help your teachers teach you the course. If you've ever stared blankly at a book for hours on end then you'll know that reading textbooks is not always the best way to study.

A good tip for learning from textbooks is SQ3R Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. The idea is that you should start by looking through a chapter and survey the various sections to come up with a series of questions, "what are white blood cells for?". You then read through the text looking for answers to your questions. Once you have created questions, your brain will find it way easier to place the answers. Recite the information by rewriting or verbally and finally review all just before the exam.

8. Receive Feedback

Feedback is one of the most powerful tools in life. Those who shy away from feedback shy from improvement. The greatest soccer players in the world are great, because they constantly receive feedback about what can be improved on, and they take action on it. When you receive your test results back, don’t look at an 80 or 70 and be satisfied with what you got right. Get excited because now you know what you aren’t so good at, and you can use this feedback to improve on the exam, and then turn that 80 or 70 into something better.

9. Differentiate Between Studying for the Mark and Studying to Understand

Ever since examinations have become an integral part of our society, everyone has emphasized the need to get the highest mark, associating it with highest intelligence. But if you are in Year 12, you would know that the majority of your mark is your examination. The examination covers all topics you have covered during the year. It’s a lot to take in! The best way to learn that maximizes your retention in the long run, is to properly understand what you’re learning, and explore the topic deeper than needed. Focus on understanding what you're being taught, and the marks will come. It is the long-term method for studying.

10. Test Yourself

The best way to discover what you know, and what you don’t know, is to test yourself. But sometimes it's quite tedious to do so! Looking at your textbook and sorting through spending time trying to figure out what you need can waste lots of time! Here at Studyclix we have the solution! Just sign up for free and you will get limited access to the power of our site! We concatenate all questions for all topics for many subjects in their group, and have all VCE/ QCE exams questions split up topic by topic so that you can test yourself anytime, anywhere.

Additionally, if you are having trouble with a certain topic, you can select the subject, and the topic you aren’t understanding, and there will be videos, websites and blogs relating to it, allowing you to understand what you previously had trouble with.