9 January 2018

Among the excitement of starting your new life in an exciting and dynamic capital city there comes a moment of realisation that smacks you across the face and says "Wake up! It’s exam time!" That tiny little element that you conveniently put to the back of your mind during the semester because "It’s ages away!"
Students studying at the University of Edinburgh Business School

When the realisation hits that you actually need to start properly thinking about studying, so that you can relay the information you have learnt in a coherent and academic style under exam conditions, the first hurdle is deciding how to tackle the exam preparation!

As it has been some years since I last studied, I was keen to take a creative and flexible approach to finding the best study techniques. Something that went beyond reading the same paragraphs in the text books again and again.

Here is what worked for me!

Planning

First and foremost, be realistic with your planning – you want to work smarter, not necessarily harder. The human brain can only process so much information at a time so start your revision in early enough to allow for breaks (and when I say breaks I mean being able to take a few hours or even a whole day off to recharge.) Gauge how much of a new topic you can take in during one day rather than rushing to ram all the information in.

Find a Good Working Space

For me, working from home is full of distractions (uhm...Netflix) so moving myself into a purely academic environment was essential. I appreciate this may not work for everyone but it does pay to place yourself in the best working environment for you, whether that is a coffee shop, the library or listening to music in your room.

Communicate and Group Together

You and your classmates are all in the same boat - you have studied with each other all semester and you will know who gets the best discussions out of you. Working in groups and openly asking each other questions can be a useful way to rewire theories in your brain that you maybe just don’t quite get. I found a combination of reading and verbal discussion to be very useful and was surprised at how much more detail I remembered.

Be Creative with Techniques

I am a visual person – for me mind maps and flash cards helped me to recall information when I tested myself later. Another suggestion is to create stories with the information you're trying to remember, a story that ties everything together. This proved useful as I tend to remember the specifics of case studies much better than bullet points in a lecture slide.

Write and Write

As simplistic as it sounds, the more you write when you are trying to learn, the more you take in. After studying a topic I sat and wrote anything and everything I could remember about it, and I tended to write how I talk – very informal and not necessarily grammatically correct. It made it easier to understand the information and to recall details when answering questions or tying topics together.

Practising with past papers is tedious and soul destroying when you realise you know so little when under pressure, but the more you practice combining ideas and concepts, the easier the information flows and the better prepared you will be for the question format during the actual exams.

Sleep

Working yourself to the bone and staying up all night is not a great idea as it makes you panic and stressed. Some people in my class got only a few hours of sleep before exams and studied well into the night, and as much as I appreciate that everyone is different, no way was I doing that! The benefit of getting a good nights’ sleep before an exam cannot be exaggerated. Cramming at that point in the revision cycle will not help you to learn anything. Instead, you're hoping to remember the most recent words you read will stick and be of use.

Lastly, pay attention to what works best for you and adapt it to your study routine. I have learnt a bit more about how best I retain information, so I am conscious of the adjustments I need to make in order to give my next exams the best possible shot.


Fiona Hay, MSc International Human Resource Management (2018)