To some students exam season brings with it an opportunity to show how their hard work and dedication throughout the semester has finally paid off. To the rest, the period only brings stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and more stress. With less than a month before exams start, many students are seeking new study techniques that will help them excel in their final exams.

A popular trend among university students in recent years has been the use of stimulant medication meant for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to cope with studying. In an article published by the National Centre for Health Research titled “’Study Drug’ Abuse by College Students. What you need to know”, it was found that the most common justification for the use of stimulant medication among students was to help them stay awake, focus and study before a test or an exam. The article explores the use of drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall, and explains that long-term use of these drugs can lead to serious health problems and adverse side effects. In a study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases titled “Nonmedical Prescription Stimulant Use Among College Students: why we need to do something and what we need to do”, three main conclusions were drawn. The first was that nonmedical prescription stimulant users typically have lower grade point averages than that of nonusers. The second was that nonmedical prescription stimulant users were more likely than nonusers to be heavy drinkers and users of illicit drugs. Lastly, academic enhancement was not the only reason for nonmedical prescription stimulant use among students.

After decades of psychological research on cognitive functions, the American Psychological Association has picked three principles that they believe will help students get the most out of their study sessions. The first principle emphasises that students should space out their study sessions. In fact, the more time students take between study sessions, the better the results of their efforts are. An example of this is when a subject requires sixteen hours to study. It will be better to study for four hours each week over a period of four weeks than to study for 16 hours in one week. The second principle is that students should focus on more than one subject per day instead of concentrating individual subjects. This will force students to notice the differences and similarities of the course material they are trying to master which will help them get a better understanding of the material. The last principle is testing oneself. Students who test themselves on the course material strengthen their long-term learning and help themselves remember the material better for exams. Researchers have recognised that these three study techniques are difficult to implement, but that they work because students are learning, forgetting, retrieving and then relearning which eventually results in the knowledge being transferred their long-term memory.

In a 2013 article posted by the Washington Post titled “Study techniques that work — and (surprisingly) don’t”, the least effective study techniques were found to be the use of highlighters to highlight texts and other study material, rereading course material, summarising, the use of keyword mnemonics and the use of imagery for text learning. Another common study technique which is often used by students is pulling an all-nighter the day before an exam. Studies have found that not getting enough sleep before an exam can hinder a student’s ability to recall information and reason logically during a test. Students are encouraged to “study smart” by adopting effective study methods and although different study techniques work for different individuals there are a few study hacks that will make studying easier for most students and help keep stress levels low during the upcoming exam season. These study hacks are involve creating a study plan that is both realistic and effective, learning time management skills, taking effective notes during lectures, asking for help, testing yourself, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

Illustration: Rhodeen Davies

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