Just weeks to go to the L.C. and J.C. – what can you do to optimise you time and results?
Here are a few things you can do to optimise the way you prepare for your Leaving/Junior Cert exams:
- Use Paretto’s Principle (the 80/20 rule) to get the most relevant topics covered
With time at a premium, you have to decide what are the topics you have time to cover. How do you do this? By using a principle that was generated way back at the end of the 19th century, known as the 80/20 rule. 80% of the results coming from 20% of the input, approximately. While this is far from an exact science, it can be used to decipher what matters at this stage of revision for your state exams.
Looking for common themes from your exam papers, you can identify the areas which are most commonly questioned in past exams. It is a crude system of trying to maximise your time, but if you are struggling with new material, I suggest you narrow your new information to only that which is most likely to be directly related to the exam.
- Know exactly what is on your course for a particular subject
I realise this sounds quite primitive in it’s advice, but it’s surprising the number of students who simply do not know what exactly is involved with their subject.
I suggest drawing out a simple diagram/mind-map that covers all of the areas on a subject on 1 single page. This gives you a “birds-eye view” of everything to be covered in a particular subject. This is not to frighten or depress you at this late stage with the volume of material on any particular course, rather this exercise is done to help you decide what you can cover, and what you simply don’t have time to learn. How you decide is based on the point above (The Paretto Principle).
- Dont’ be afraid to ask questions
If you don’t understand something that you are reading/revising/trying to recall from memory at this stage, you have several options.
First of these is to ask your teacher to explain it, and to do so simply. If you don’t understand the explanation, continue with your questions. This is not a time to be embarrassed or to let pride get in the way of not fully understanding something. Dig deeper with your questions until you truly understand the area you are having difficulty with.
If your teacher is not good at explaining or just can’t give you the time you need, you have the fantastic resource of the internet. Both Google and YouTube are incredible resources when used appropriately, i.e. don’t go down the rabbit hole of clicking on videos about “silly things that cats do” and the like … These resources are incredibly powerful search engines and can help answer a very wide variety of questions.
The next step is equally, if not more, important. You now need to embark on the process of what is known as “elaboration”. You need to explain and describe what you learned to someone (or even something!) else. You can explain it to your cat or dog if you like(!), that’s not the important part. What is vital is that you take this information that made it’s way into your brain back out again. You will quickly identify if you understood it or not by your ability to explain it.
- Information recall is key
“Information recall” is the term I use for testing. It’s a less daunting term than testing, and psychologically we are less likely to put up barriers to “recalling information”.
I’ve written about this many time before and it’s one of the most powerful tools I teach students. I’m not going into the detail in the post, but suffice to say it works incredibly well and is the most productive thing you can do with your time between now and the exams.
Take a blank piece of paper and write down what you know on a given topic for your subject that you have read through/revised in the past, e.g. Virus replication for Biology. What matters here is that you are taxing your brain. Don’t read the Biology book or your notes, try to pull the information from your head. Spend at least 4-5 minutes struggling with this process if you have to. This is productive work. If you can’t remember anything, don’t panic. When you read your notes/text-book afterwards, you are significantly more likely to remember the information you invested time struggling with. This is not something that students easily accept, but it has been proven in study after study to work highly effectively. This “work-out” for the brain also builds brain endurance and your ability to recall information improves across all areas as a consequence. That’s some good news!
Group study can work, but only for certain people. If you are easily distracted and talkative (like I used to be!), then the chances are that investing your time in a study group will waste both your time and the people in the group.
I suggest limiting a study-group to 3 people (4 max if there’s a good group dynamic).
How is a study-group of benefit to you at this stage? Only form a study-group with those students who you know are prepared to work and have a genuine interest in learning. Your time is too precious to be dealing with slackers.
Each student comes to a group study session with an agreed upon topic which they will teach the other 2 or 3 members of the group. This forces each member to thoroughly know their topic. If you can teach it to others, then you truly know and understand it. The benefits of explaining it to others are multi-fold. You are strengthening your understanding and ability to recall by forcing yourself to do this in front of others. It actually makes more and more sense the more you teach it, so don’t be afraid to try and explain it to siblings/parents too.
When you are being taught something by another member, be sure to ask questions. Take note of unknown answers and repeat the process described above in the bullet-point labelled “don’t be afraid to ask questions”. Take turns explaining the new material you are being taught also. This is a great way to learn on the spot. It forces you to take stock of what you are listening to and you are more likely to stay focused.
- Take PLENTY of breaks
With all of the above methods, especially the taxing area of information recall, be sure to take breaks. What I recommend to students is to spend approximately 15-20 minutes in the creation phase (a mix of reading, researching, creating succinct and personalised notes) and 5-10 minutes in the information recall phase.
Then take a 5 minute break. Not a break that you spend on your phone checking facebook, instagram, snapchat etc., but a break where you take a walk, grab a glass of water, toilet break etc … The rationale for not watching TV or going on your phone in this 5 minute break is that you can avoid returning to your study with something termed “attention residue” where your mind is still on what you were checking on social media or watching on TV. You want to optimise you time, not waste it thinking about things that may reduce your ability to understand and remember information with just a few weeks to go to the exams.
This process of approximately 20 minutes “creation”, 5 minutes “info recall” and 5 minutes break should be repeated 3 or 4 times (giving 90 minutes to 2 hours study) and then a more significant break of 30-60 minutes is needed in order to keep the brain “fresh”.
Repeat this cycle as time and energy permit. Also keep in mind that a good nights sleep is one of the most important things we can do to retain information and keep our brain in top form.
I hope that this advice proves useful to some of you. Please share with those preparing for their Leaving/Junior Cert.
Take care and study well.