ProcessSchool Study Success

Exam Success: What to do with all that memorization

So you’ve memorized the material for the test, then what? In today’s post, I talk about using a specific layout system to summarize your notes. You can use it as a practical self-test tool and study aid, that in turn will help you get better grades on tests.   

The 3-hour study rule

In my Study Preparation and Techniques post, I mentioned the 3-Hour Study Rule.

Here’s a quick recap:

2 hours

  • 1st hour: slowly read your notes and take the time to understand and reflect on the material.
  • 2nd hour: spend it actually memorizing the material

Repeat for each chapter.

+ 1 hour

  • 3rd hour: go over the chapter entirely and focus on the sections you have the most difficulty with. Use this time to self-test as well and organize the information using diagrams.

Following these three hours, you won’t have to spend as much time on the same chapter again. The idea here is that after these 3 hours, you can go over the entire chapter, and do so within 15 minutes. This means that you understand and have memorized the chapter so well, that you can recall the material (maybe looking at your notes once or twice the first 2 times), while getting ready for bed, as you’re getting dressed to go to school, in the shower…

Bottom line is, the more times you practice it, the less time it takes you. At that point, (this is what usually happened for me) all you have to do is close your eyes, and get a mental picture of the entire notes, that you can flip through as if you are flipping through the actual, physical notes.

Customizable summary layout

When you get to the “15-minutes-per-chapter” stage, as you are recalling the material, flip to the back of your note pack (or use blank paper) and divide the page into boxes that correspond to the chapter sections like so: 

Use box layout for chapter skeleton

  • IMPORTANT: only do this when you KNOW the material, or else it will take too much time to do. Pretend this is a test and the teacher is asking you to write everything you need to know about chapter x [excellent self-text exercise] 
  • KEY WORDS ONLYDo NOT waste time with complete sentences… this is meant to be the skeleton of your notes, not the meat! The meat is your head: you know the material, remember?
  • Use bullet points and/or numbered lists
  • Use ACRONYMS. During revision, you will have no choice but to recall what the letters stand for [self-text exercise]

This “chapter skeleton” technique serves as a visual, organizational aid ⇐

Depending on the chapter, customize the layout of the boxes. Not every chapter will have the same box layout. Also, sometimes numbered lists is all you need, other times drawing figures will be more beneficial. 

Different examples of layouts

Additional tips

  • If appropriate, draw parallels between chapters. You’ll notice recurring themes between chapters that might get you mixed up when recalling material during exams. Compare similarities and differences for each theme. This will help you see everything you’ve learned as a whole, bringing everything together. 
  • Keep the color scheme to a MINIMUM: I used 2 colors – (1) definitions, and (2) important information.
  • Be the teacher! Speak out loud, ask yourself questions, use a whiteboard, etc. 

School Study Success Series


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