How to study: An ex­perts’ guide to exam re­vi­sion

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - EDUCATION -

Get­ting good grades isn’t just about in­tel­li­gence, it’s about us­ing cru­cial study ap­proaches, two ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts tell Lisa Sal­mon.

With the fes­tive sea­son over, it’s time for many young peo­ple to fo­cus their minds on more se­ri­ous pur­suits, like study­ing and ex­ams.

By the time stu­dents are old enough to take na­tional ex­ams, they tend to study us­ing in­grained habits, be­liev­ing they know what works for them. But just be­cause the way you study has worked (at least to some ex­tent) in the past, doesn’t mean it’ll nec­es­sar­ily work again, warn ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts and au­thors Steve Oakes and Martin Grif­fin.

The pair, who have both been six­th­form teach­ers, have learned that past suc­cess doesn’t cor­re­late with fu­ture suc­cess, and achieve­ment isn’t just about su­pe­rior abil­ity, but about stick­ing to habits, rou­tines and strate­gies that de­liver re­sults.

So af­ter speak­ing to thou­sands of stu­dents about how they study and what they do ev­ery day or week that makes a dif­fer­ence, Oakes and Grif­fin have writ­ten The Stu­dent Mind­set (Crown House Pub­lish­ing, £9.99) to iden­tify the key traits and be­hav­iours all stu­dents need to achieve their goals.

“We work the way we work be­cause that’s how we’ve al­ways done it,” says Oakes. “Even when re­sults at a new level of study sug­gest our ap­proaches are no longer ef­fec­tive, we per­sist, do­ing more of the same. In many cases, stu­dents even­tu­ally give up, con­clud­ing they’re not in­tel­lec­tu­ally ca­pa­ble of study at a more chal­leng­ing level.

“How­ever, they’re of­ten wrong. It’s the non-cog­ni­tive el­e­ments of study that de­feat them – the new habits, rou­tines and ap­proaches they’ll need. New lev­els of study de­mand new tac­tics and strate­gies.”

Grif­fin points out that while there’s been plenty of de­bate around how much aca­demic per­for­mance is pre­dicted by in­her­ited in­tel­li­gence, it’s ac­tu­ally the non-cog­ni­tive el­e­ment of study – habits, sys­tems and be­hav­iours – that stu­dents can change as they grow.

“Rather than de­bat­ing pre­cisely what pro­por­tion of our suc­cess is due to ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion, we should in­stead be sup­port­ing stu­dents in chang­ing the ways they work as the pro­gramme of study de­mands change.

“This way, we pre­pare them more ef­fec­tively for an un­cer­tain fu­ture,” he ex­plains.

Grif­fin and Oakes say the five key traits and be­hav­iours needed for aca­demic suc­cess at any level are: Vi­sion; Ef­fort; Sys­tems; Prac­tice and At­ti­tude (Vespa).

1. Vi­sion

The au­thors say de­ter­mined and suc­cess­ful stu­dents know why they’re go­ing through the strug­gle of de­mand­ing study, and have strength­ened their abil­ity to de­fer grat­i­fi­ca­tion be­cause they have a goal in mind which pulls them for­ward.

“We’ve seen the im­pact a mag­netic goal can have on learn­ers,” says Grif­fin. “But goal set­ting needs to ad­just as stu­dents grow. It isn’t just a case of pluck­ing po­ten­tial grades from the air and hop­ing for the best – high-vi­sion stu­dents are in­creas­ingly aware of who they are and what they stand for, and this grow­ing self-aware­ness al­lows them to cre­ate a com­pelling vi­sion of what suc­cess looks like, and what the fu­ture holds for them.”

So, for ex­am­ple, they don’t just fo­cus on want­ing to be a doc­tor, they know why, such as be­liev­ing equal ac­cess to health­care is cru­cial.

“This way, they can per­sist for longer and stay pos­i­tive dur­ing dif­fi­cult times,” ex­plains Grif­fin. 2. Ef­fort

The au­thors stress that suc­cess­ful stu­dents equate their aca­demic suc­cess with hard work.

“Putting ef­fort into study isn’t a symp­tom of weak­ness for these peo­ple.

“They’ve sur­rounded them­selves with peers who feel the same and are ex­act­ing in their stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions of them­selves,” stresses Oakes.

As stu­dents be­gin work­ing at a higher level, the suc­cess­ful ones in­cor­po­rate – sub­con­sciously in some cases – ideas about ev­ery­day sig­nals (or lead­ing in­di­ca­tors) telling them how much ef­fort they’re putting in.

Plus, they “snack on learn­ing rather than binge”, so they might read a chap­ter of a text­book per week, sum­marise their notes in four half-hour

New lev­els of study de­mand new tac­tics and strate­gies

sit­tings, write an es­say in stages, or re­view their un­der­stand­ing by test­ing them­selves on a topic.

“In short, they ac­tively set them­selves work,” says Oakes. “This switch from the pas­sive com­ple­tion of di­rected tasks, to the ac­tive se­quenc­ing of in­de­pen­dent study ses­sions that work as lead­ing in­di­ca­tors – a cru­cial part of un­lock­ing higher lev­els of ef­fort.”

3. Sys­tems

Suc­cess­ful stu­dents have de­vel­oped sys­tems that al­low them to or­gan­ise time and re­sources, say Grif­fin and Oakes, so they have neat files and fold­ers, com­plete with hand­outs me­thod­i­cally ar­ranged, so they can make con­nec­tions be­tween use­ful ma­te­ri­als and there­fore learn faster. They pri­ori­tise ac­cord­ing to need and im­pact, and meet dead­lines. 4. Prac­tice

Suc­cess­ful stu­dents work on their weak­nesses, spend­ing un­com­fort­able study time op­er­at­ing at the edge of their abil­ity, iso­lat­ing the things they can’t do and fix­ing them. They com­plete ex­tra work for hand­ing in, done un­der timed con­di­tions, and then pay close at­ten­tion to feed­back.

Oakes says many stu­dents hit cri­sis point when re­vi­sion strate­gies used suc­cess­fully in the past sud­denly seem use­less, as once in­for­ma­tion is fully ab­sorbed, it then has to be used to an­a­lyse un­fa­mil­iar data, solve a prob­lem or con­struct an es­say ar­gu­ment.

“For stu­dents loyal to mem­o­ris­ing in­for­ma­tion, this can be a shock,” says Oakes. “High-prac­tice stu­dents learn to ad­just the way they re­vise, mas­ter­ing the con­tent as the course goes on, so the bulk of their prepa­ra­tion in­volves high stakes exam-style prob­lem solv­ing. They are calmer and bet­ter pre­pared as a re­sult.”

5. At­ti­tude

Suc­cess­ful stu­dents know two things that un­suc­cess­ful ones don’t: Fail­ure is an im­por­tant part of suc­cess, and learn­ing is com­posed of a se­ries of sharp in­clines, plateaus and set­backs.

Mas­tery hap­pens slowly through de­lib­er­ate ef­fort and ap­pli­ca­tion.

Grif­fin ex­plains: “All stu­dents face ‘the dip’ – when progress halts and back­slides.

It might have hap­pened be­fore, but what works at one level – re­con­nect­ing with our suc­cesses, re­mind­ing our­selves of our pos­i­tive qual­i­ties, com­fort eat­ing and watch­ing a bit of TV – might need ad­just­ment as chal­lenges arise more fre­quently.”

High-at­ti­tude stu­dents have a broader and more ro­bust range of tac­tics when times are tough, such as a strong sup­port net­work they reg­u­larly rely on, be­cause they don’t equate ask­ing for help with in­tel­lec­tual in­fe­ri­or­ity.

“And they have tech­niques for han­dling stress,” says Grif­fin. “They know ex­ams are not a test of their self-worth.”

Pic­tures: PA.

Good stu­dents un­der­stand ex­ams are not a test of their self worth.

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