Best study methods for effective learning & exam revision

In this post I will share the best 3 study methods that helped me get trough university more “smoothly”. Like many other students, I struggled to cope with the university workload. Too many different arguments to study (and remember!), assignments and exams close together and so on.

I was at my lowest point and I had a decision to make: let those things slowly ruin me and my university experience; or spend some time finding some good study methods to improve my studies. I went for the second option.

Whether you are looking for some tips on how to prepare for university for the first time or for your next year; or you are looking for a good method to study effectively; or maybe you have an exam coming soon and you need an effective study method to revise for it in a short time; these study tips can help you too!

One thing I would recommend though is to take those and “shape” them according to.. yourself! We are all unique, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. This is not any different when it comes down to studying effectively, only you can find out what works best for you!

Sometimes all you need is a good structure to build upon, the rest is all a “trial and error” process to reach effective learning. Now without further ado let’s go through the best study methods I used to study effectively at university.

Study method 1: The “Pre-scan” method

This is one of the most effective study methods you can adopt to prepare in advance, it was key for me! Unsurprisingly, I have already touched on this in various articles on my blog, so apologies if you find it repetitive. The concept is very simple, I’m sure you have heard this before “study smarter not harder”; but how can you do that?

Well, pre-scanning is one the most efficient study methods out there, at least in my opinion. Consider it like “investing some time earlier to save more time later”. We can approach this at two levels: if you are already a student; or if you are going to be one soon and you would like to prepare for university. Nevertheless, I will expand on this from both standpoints:

You are a student and you need to study more efficiently:

This is what I used to do; I would quickly scan the lecture material/slides beforehand looking for any concepts, words (acronyms in particular), or themes I did not know the meaning of. After that, I would take a note of them and look for the most comprehensive definitions/explanations.

The key activity here is to really understand their meanings and then re-write them in your own words! Trust me, this will allow you to remember those words/themes for longer, much longer! Basically, I would create (and write) my own glossary of terms! I would keep it with me all the time and consult it when I needed to.

What are the benefits of that study method? Firstly, you will be able to actually follow a lecture without getting lost. I remember those times when lecturers would mention something completely new and I would need to pause for a moment to try understand it; the problem was that by the time I did that they would had already talked about something else!

Secondly, you will actually understand those properly since you are going to re-write them in your own words. That is learning as its best! It will also sharpen your critical thinking skills and allow you to talk about those concepts “freely”, like you could actually explain them to other students too!

You are going to start university soon and want to prepare for it, tips:

It is unlikely you will have access to a lot of lecture materials before actually starting. As a matter of fact, sometimes is even hard to get it once you’ll start! (very few lecturers still don’t share their slides in advance but only after the actual lectures; probably to increase attendance I guess, I can see their point by I don’t agree with it!)

Anyway, I have talked about this in another article, how to prepare for university. Although my main focus was being a mature student returning to education, you might find it helpful regardless. The concept behind this study method is the same, but in this case instead of pre-scanning lecture materials you can take a broader approach.

My advice is to go onto your university website and find the course description of your degree. You should be able to find a breakdown of each academic year with all the modules (some mandatory and some you can pick along the way). I would say to have a look at those for semester 1, particularly the mandatory ones.

From there, you know what to do basically. In all honesty I would not stress too much about it, consider doing this out of “curiosity”. Probably the best thing to do would be to get used to the terminology rather than looking for concept/themes.

Again, creating your own glossary of terms will save you a lot of time later! Obviously, this is also a very good study method to prepare for your next academic year.

Study method 2. Use your visual memory to study effectively! Visual learning methods

If the first method was about doing something in advance, this is the opposite. Using visual memory was not only a very efficient method in general, but probably also the best study method to revise for exams in a short time!

I used to struggle with this a lot, I needed to improve my study memory. I was asking myself: how to remember what I just read? The next day was already gone (sometimes after just few hours!). Even more pressure when exams were close. How to remember my notes? Visual learning was the answer, let me explain what I did.

Again, we can split this into two instances. In the first, and the more “rare”, I was a model student. In all honesty I tried to keep up with it, trust me, but I just could not do it consistently. Anyway this is what I used to do when I felt like it.

Scenario 1, a model student

At the end of each lecture, whether face to face or recorded from my flat, I used to draw mind maps/flowcharts/diagrams (whatever you call them). This was particularly useful for complex lectures with a lot of arguments.

I would put a “keyword” in capital letters as the box title; (by keyword I mean something that would easily relate to that concept/argument, even better if specific to that); then a short paragraph explaining it, either at an overview level or in detail depending of what best.

I will be honest here, I did not that consistently, but it’s one of the best methods to study efficiently that I can give. Why? Because I noticed a real difference when I did this. I was able to remember those lectures for longer, their concepts, their meanings, all the important bits!

Whenever I needed to remember something; e.g. start an assignment or add more arguments to it, link concepts from multiple lectures (key to show critical thinking and get higher marks); or even to follow other lectures without getting lost, participating in class debates etc; I would think of the flowchart/mind map.

It was like having a picture stored in my mind, I would see those keywords and remember those brief paragraphs. That’s why I refer to it as using my visual memory to study, because this was among the best study methods to memorise and retain information! Obviously I’m not saying it would last forever, but definitely for much longer than usual.

Scenario 2. study method to revise for exams in a short time

This was a more “recurring” scenario, we have all been there I guess. I wasn’t any different, sometimes I would let lectures accumulate for weeks before actually doing any work. This time would likely coincide with an exam or assignment approaching soon.

So many times I asked myself how to prepare for an exam in short time, whether in a week, in a day or even few hours before. How to remember what you just read or studied? Let me tell you (again) that this was the best method I ever tried for that. In my opinion, the most efficient study method to revise for exams in a short time and actually memorize all I needed.

Student Essentials

Here you can find all you need for your University journey!

The process is pretty much the same as above, but instead of doing that straight after lectures I would do it after watching a bunch of them from home (if recorded), or from the lecturers slides (those should be always available) and readings.

I would draw my flowcharts as usual for each lecture, choosing how much details to include according to the importance of the lectures topics (and the likelihood they would come up in the exam!). At the end, I would have flowcharts covering the entire module! I would basically mostly study/revise off those for my exams.

Visual learning study methods, few tips

A few tips I can give you for that is to spend some time thinking “what do I need to include?”, or “do I really need to include this?”. Mind that when revising for an exam in short time I would assume you will have lots of lectures and readings to go through. Hence, lots of flowcharts/mind maps to draw!

You really want to keep them as concise as possible, remember you need them to have a visual impact, if you start writing too much in them you might as well do a transcription of your lecture materials. Be picky! You already revise as you are go trough everything, the diagram is simply the best summary of it!

Another tip is to look for themes, can you link some lectures together? Can you combine multiple lectures in one flowchart? Always look for that, I used to draw mine by hand so it was easier to see all of them together on my desk. (you might be able to find good software for that, let me know if any and I will put it here).

If you spot any themes or concept that relate to others, colour code them! Assigning colours can have a bigger visual impact and can make this study method even more efficient! However, I would suggest to only do that for recurring themes or other important parts; too many different colours would make your flowchart messy and have the opposite effect, confusion!

Whether you are looking for an efficient study method, or you need to revise for an exam in short time, this is one of the best study tips I can share with you. Like you use your other senses without even realising it, you can use visual memory to study more efficiently.

Who knows, visual learning might be the best study method for you, but if you never try it you will never find out!

Study method 3. Test your knowledge! Gamification study methods

Spoiler alert: this might make you think you are crazy sometimes, at least it did that to me. So my advice is to use this when you are alone. You could also ask your friends to help you with some aspects of it, although I did it alone.

In all fairness, I did not really make a lot of friends at university, surely not at the beginning. As a matter of fact, I struggled a lot with social anxiety when around other students and suffered from a huge inferiority complex. If you are feeling like that as well, then this other article I wrote might help: How to become more confident at university if you are an introvert.

In any case I will now explain what I used to do to test my knowledge after studying or when revising. Whereas the previous two study methods were more focused on assimilating new concepts, this is more something to consolidate your studies or exam knowledge.

Interrogate yourself

A bit of a play role here, you got to think like a teacher. If you were one, what would you like to hear from your students? Ask yourself a variety of questions, easy and difficult ones! I would recommend doing this not only right after studying or revising, but also randomly! (e.g. hours later, the next day etc.)

Be critical, if you answer quickly it might not mean you know the argument enough! A follow up question to always ask yourself is: how can I expand on this? Try to find something that relates and add it to your answer; e.g. any concepts from other lectures, themes you spot, additional readings, own research etc.

In my opinion, and my grades and feedback confirmed it, this teacher role-play is among the best study methods to develop critical thinking skills! Remember that lecturers love when you link different arguments together. Right or wrong it doesn’t matter as long as you can back it up with evidence and show the logic behind it!

Talk to yourself and repeat out loud

Here we are, this is the part that makes you sound a bit insane. Although you can also test your knowledge by interrogating yourself in your mind, doing it out loud is much more effective. This is also why I suggested to do it when you are alone. However, you might have some friends willing to do it with you, even better if they are studying your same course.

You actually need to imagine the whole conversation, not just questions. Make it flow, think like you are preparing a presentation; or even better, think like you are putting together a lecture to teach other students!

The simpler you are able to explain things the better. This is a great way to really understand what you studied; and once you understand it, you won’t forget it that easily! Also try to use technical words in your answers/discussions, getting used to them will come handy during assignments!

Trust me, so many times I would think about that conversation/discussion I had with myself when doing an exam. I would basically write it down! That’s why also suggested to imagine technical words, link other concepts and so on. You will be able to answer exam questions more comprehensively and get better marks!

If you are unsure about your academic writing skills, this other post I wrote might help; 3 essential guides to improve and develop academic writing skills. Those were another massive support to my university journey!

Best study methods for effective learning and exam revision, conclusions

When “I designed” my study methods I had a clear objective in mind: study more effectively. So I started by tackling my weaknesses. One of the issues I had was that I got lost during lectures as soon as a new concept was introduced.

Basically, I could not keep up with everything at the same time. Therefore, I needed to find a good study method to prepare in advance. Going trough lectures materials beforehand; noting down concepts/words I didn’t know; finding their meanings/definitions; re-write them in my own words. That simple!

Another problem I had was that I could not remember my studies for long. I needed an efficient study method to retain information for longer! This led me to visual learning, drawing diagrams was the key for that. In essence, I improved my studies by using my visual memory to remember things for longer, that’s it!

Lastly, I struggled with putting everything together for assignments/exams. I always believed that gamification could make studying a bit “funnier”. Hence my teacher role-play study method with self-interrogations (both out loud and in my mind only) where I would “talk” to myself. This allowed me to perform better during exams!

Best study methods recap:

  1. The pre-scan to prepare in advance.
  2. Visual learning to remember what you study/read for longer.
  3. Teacher role play to consolidate your knowledge.

Do you see how those flow? Just like an essay structure: introduction, main body and conclusion. I combined them to create the best study method for efficient learning and exam revision. This was key to my success at university!

Obviously there was much more than that, but an efficient study method is very important! Here you can find other tips I shared on how to be a successful student at university. Again, although my main concern was being a mature student, the same principles apply to all students!

As usual, let me disclaim the obvious. Everything you read on my blog is based on my personal experience and opinions, so always consider that. Thank you very much for reading and best of luck on your studies!

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