How to prepare for an exam

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How to prepare for an exam

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Alice and Rob consider which study techniques are good and which aren't. Does sleeping with a book under your pillow help?

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Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript.

Alice Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Alice…

Rob … And I’m Rob.

Alice So, it’s nearly exam time again. And the subject of today’s show is how to prepare well for an exam.

Rob I’ve got some great tips, actually, Alice.

Alice Have you really? Can you remind me what grades you got at school?

Rob Yes, well … [mumbles] …

Alice So, you didn’t get very good grades.

Rob I probably should’ve started revising earlier. But my learning strategies were very good.

Alice Oh, really? Well, when you revise for an exam you study information you learned before. OK, Rob, I’d love to hear more about your learning strategies, but first here’s today’s quiz question for you. What’s the word for a system, such as use of special poems or rhymes to help you remember something? Is it … a) pneumatics b) mnemonics Or c) hypnotics?

Rob I’ll go for b) mnemonics.

Alice Well, we’ll find out whether you got the answer right or not later on in the show. Now, according to current scientific research, some study methods popular with students aren’t actually very effective.

Rob Don’t tell me - putting your textbook under your pillow at night doesn’t work.

Alice Did you try doing that, Rob?

Rob Yes, I did, but without much success. Maybe I was using the wrong kind of pillow?!

Alice Well, let’s talk about more conventional methods than the book-under-the-pillow one. These include summarising, highlighting or underlining text to help you remember it… I do love a pack of highlighting pens, though.

Rob Oh yes, me too. And actually highlighting text was one of my top tips. But I used to get so absorbed with the highlighting I’m not sure I was actually learning anything useful. My notebooks were works of art, though!

Alice Yes, and that’s the point made by John Dunlosky, Professor of Psychology at Kent State University in the US, who says that you need to do more than just highlight information. You need to test yourself on it. Let’s hear from him now.

INSERT John Dunlosky, Professor of Psychology at Kent State University in the US Students who can basically test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material in the long run a lot better. So for instance maybe you start by reading a textbook using your favourite highlighter and favourite colours, but then you go back and make flashcards of all the critical concepts and instead of just rereading those, you basically try to test yourselves on them.

Rob Professor John Dunlosky there. So he says trying to memorise the material isn’t enough. You need to do something with it, for example, making flashcards of critical - or important - concepts and then testing yourself on them.

Alice By repeatedly testing yourself on something, you strengthen the pathways between neurons - or nerve cells - in the brain. And the more often you do this, the easier it becomes to retrieve information.

Rob And retrieve means to get something back.

Alice That’s right. When you repeatedly test yourself over a longer period of time - for example, over months or weeks - this is called distributed practice - and psychologists believe this is a very effective way to learn.

Rob It sounds like hard work, though, doesn’t it? I prefer the cramming method - which means to try and learn lots of information in a short period of time. For example, the night before the exam.

Alice I don’t know, Rob. We don’t cram to learn other things - like music or dancing, or football or language learning. It’s far more effective to join a conversation class and practise speaking every week than to practise for hours in front of the mirror the night before your oral exam!

Rob That’s a good point. In fact, I used to sing irregular French verbs to myself, every day in the shower for weeks before my French exam, and that helped me remember them more easily.

Alice Excellent! Making different types of associations with what you’re trying to learn - for example, musical associations - is meant to be effective. Let’s listen now to Professor Dunlovsky talking about visual associations.

INSERT John Dunlosky, Professor of Psychology at Kent State University in the US I would encourage students as they are reading to try and elaborate mentally using images, as they’re reading, to kind of develop a more vivid picture of what they’re reading. Again, that’ll help quite a bit for some kinds of studies - maybe history and so forth - and a little bit less so for more conceptual studies.

Rob And if you elaborate on something, it means you add more information - in this case, mental pictures.

Alice So, creating mental pictures is useful for some subjects - like history or languages. But conceptual subjects - ones based on abstract ideas rather than things - like maths, for example - it might not be so easy to associate ideas with pictures.

Rob Now what about Albert Einstein? People say he was a very visual thinker.

Alice Well, you’ve got me there, Rob. I don’t know the answer to that but I can give you the answer to today’s quiz question. I asked: What’s the word for a system, such as use of special poems or rhymes to help you remember something? Is it … a) pneumatics, b) mnemonics or c) hypnotics?

Rob I said mnemonics.

Alice And you were right!

Rob Great!

Alice Well done! Research on mnemonics suggests they are a good strategy for learning certain kinds of things, like how to spell difficult words. For example, the first letters of this sentence: ‘ b ig e lephants c ause a ccidents u nder s mall e lephants’ spells ‘because’. Now, do you think you can remember the words we heard today, Rob?

Rob We heard: revise critical neurons retrieve distributed practice cramming elaborate conceptual

Alice Well, that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English. Remember to join us again soon!

Both Bye.

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