While it’s an effective way to gauge your grasp of the material, taking exams is something that we’d probably rather skive. It doesn’t matter if it’s for maths or you’re preparing for the PTE Academic test.
However, there are better ways to tackle new materials that optimise the learning process and make it easier to shift them from short to long-term memory retention. That’s the long-term goal that separates productive and unproductive study habits.
Short-term retention is fine if you don’t need the knowledge after the exam. All you need is a high mark. However, if you want to make it stick, you should forget the methods that don’t help the materials take root.
It’s probably the way most of us start serious learning in school. We read the text, highlighting what we thought were the most important points along the way. Unfortunately, it’s a distraction. It breaks your concentration to focus on what you’re highlighting instead of the context. It’s a textbook example of the misplaced value of multi-tasking.
You’re thinking more about the act than the content.
You’ll find many apps for taking notes, whether it’s on a laptop or a smartphone. The problem is that your brain goes on autopilot if you type well. When you write notes, you’re engaging your brain better. It’ll make learning more of an active process. If you prefer digital, use a stylus with your app, instead.
You’re not interacting with the subject matter.
Rereading sounds great in theory. You’re reinforcing ideas by interacting with the text again. The key is whether you’re involved with what you’re reading. Otherwise, your mind is cruising along, remembering what you’ve read before but not retaining it. It’s even worse if you’re looking at the highlighted text, assuming you didn’t miss anything important the first time.
Your brain is bypassing what it has already seen.
Probably the worst thing that ever came out of preparing for exams is swotting or cramming, as Americans say. Marathon study sessions may help in the short term, which is fine if you’ll never revisit it. Getting something into short-term memory only to ditch it the day after the exam is a waste of time and brain energy.
Swotting only works for the short term.
Many teachers get it. They suggest you read the material before the lecture. The reason is so that you can focus on what you’re hearing instead of multi-tasking by taking notes. However, listening without understanding what you're hearing isn’t productive, either. Previewing gives you a head-start towards comprehension and memory retention.
Your brain is focusing on the external stuff and not the material.
The best way to study is to challenge your brain and take the necessary steps to encourage memory retention. Learning isn’t a passive activity. The best approach is previewing the material, summarising what you’ve learned, and revising. It’ll help prevent the stress that exams bring. When you use productive techniques, you’re well on the way to crushing it.