Using Deliberate Study for Exam Preparation!

Reaching mastery and expert proficiency is much more than investing 10,000 hours in a chosen endeavour; it’s also about ensuring that practice is quality. ‘Deliberate practice’ is the pathway to quality practice.

So, how do the principles of deliberate practice apply to exam preparation?

In short, many of the same principles apply. Therefore, exerting effort while completing difficult tasks, breaking ideas down into simple & discernible ‘chunks’, tolerating discomfort and welcoming feedback can help improve the quality of study revision.

Below outlines four additional deliberate practice tips to help with exam preparation – handy tips that students can directly apply, or teachers can share with their students!

Audit knowledge gaps. This allows one to target the areas requiring the most preparation. Upon understanding the aspects of the syllabus likely to appear in the exams, a self-diagnosis of knowledge gaps against this syllabus is the most logical starting point. Ensuring that subsequent study is focussed on these aspects – specifically the most difficult and material worth greater weighting – is of most importance. This will ensure that subsequent study is targeted and well informed.

Be clear on study goals.

So what does ‘studying for an exam’ actually mean?

We recommend study to revolve around four goals. These include:

  1. Relearn the basics
  2. Expand knowledge beyond basic
  3. Commit knowledge to memory
  4. Practice applying knowledge under exam conditions

Given the natural accumulative progression to these study goals, they’re best completed in sequence. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to attempt to commit knowledge to memory without having understood the basics. Additionally, it would be largely ineffective to attempt to apply knowledge under exam conditions without expanding knowledge beyond the basics.

Without a clear understanding of the purpose of each study session, students risk under and/or over preparing in each of these four areas. Therefore, we recommend that purposeful and balanced consideration be given to each of the four goals when planning for study sessions.

Structure & plan study sessions – You may have heard the saying that ‘failing to plan is like planning to fail’. We suggest that planning for exams should include both within and across study session considerations. I’ve detailed several important tips below:

  • Provide a ‘study window’ of at least 6-8 weeks leading up to exams.
  • Form a study schedule on the basis of knowledge gaps and study purpose for each subject.
  • Interweave study by mixing up types of ‘problems’ (within each study session) as a way to help commit knowledge to memory.
  • Space study sessions to allow for greater consolidation of learning and memory.
  • Use the ‘Pomodoro technique’ (i.e. 25 minutes of work then 5 minutes break), as a way to structure each study block. This will enhance concentration and memory.
  • Include some group or teacher assisted study sessions to gain feedback.
  • Incorporate plenty of time for sleep and exercise during each study period to help relieve stress, improve mood and concentration.

Seek and measure improvement – Using study preparation to seek and measure improvement is a commonly overlooked, yet vital aspect of exam preparation. Rather than using past exams papers and example questions to primarily diagnose opportunities for improvement, many students often complete them to simply affirm what was done well. A common reason for this is that mistakes and knowledge gaps exposed at the time of completing practice exams may evoke anxiety in the lead up to the ‘big exam’.

However, clearly mistakes and feedback at this stage can help inform subsequent study areas. High performing students therefore more commonly see mistakes in this context as an opportunity to improve, rather than a threat of failure.

So there it is; four ways to deliberately prepare for exams!

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