Psych up your revision using ideas from psychology to improve your chances of success
Deborah Anderson from Social Web Cafe has a Masters in psychology and was kind enough to share with me her trick for successful revision.
I am in my doctorate now and have been going to school, almost to a point of a career!
As far as exams, what works before for me is when I “fake myself out” and think that it is earlier than it is. I realize that this may not work for everyone, but it would work for those who 1) procrastinate and 2) love the adrenaline rush. Which, as you notice, describes me.
Personally, I love to prepare way ahead of time (like months ahead) or wait until the last-minute. That last-minute thing is what hits me with exams. So, if I “fake myself out” and thing that the exam is three days earlier and prepare for it as if that is the date, then about the time that the exam would occur, that three days earlier, I realize that “Wow, I’m getting this!” and more importantly, “Hey, there is a bit more information that I want to check and study.” That little extra nudge that I feel at the last-minute is what makes the real difference.
I hear myself giving this advice and say, “That advice is just downright crazy!” But, I graduated with summa cum laude with my BSIT and now with Dean’s honors with Masters in Psychology, so something must be working.
Internal deadlines are usually not as effective as external ones so tell your family this plan and when your fake deadline is. Ask them to give you a mock exam on the day of the fake deadline. Do this in proper exam conditions to time and then mark it using a mark scheme. This will then allow you to spend the last few days addressing any weak areas, learning from the mock and doing more practice papers.
Having a big deadline combined with being given study leave can cause procrastination. We can seem paralysed by the size of the task and feel like we’re not in the frame of mind to start yet but we have plenty of time so we’ll get to it when we’re in the mood. To overcome this you can set small deadlines between now and the exam. Make these real by having an accountability buddy get a study partner, family member or study forum member to check you’re keeping to the intermediate deadlines. Since the deadlines are smaller and more frequent you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
Take action: Prepare for the exam as if it is three days earlier than it is and have evenly spaced smaller deadlines in the meantime.
Find your mojo
The other big reason we can procrastinate when faced with revising is that we think it is boring! It is really difficult to do a task if you aren’t motivated so you need to find your motivation. The two main motivators are pleasure and pain we want to do things that are pleasurable and we want to avoid pain.
If you are struggling to get motivated spend some time completing my motivation worksheet.
Get motivated to revise worksheet pdf download
Take action: print and complete the worksheet and stick it on the wall by your study area.
How do you respond to expectations?
In her new book on building habits Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin outlines the four types of people based on how they respond to expectations.
1. Upholders find it easy to respond to their own expectations and those of others, happily ticking items off their to do lists. If you are an upholder you will always follow through on commitments in your calendar but if you are trying to start a new routine and it isn’t in your calendar you’re unlikely to do it.To find out more about upholders watch this video.
2. Questioners need to think through and question any new habit and they will only follow through if it makes sense to them and they can see evidence to continue. They are motivated by logical reasoning. Watch the video about questioners.
3. Obligers. If you are an obliger then you will meet commitments imposed on you by others but find it hard to start the new habit if you are setting expectations yourself. If you find it easy to do something when you arrange it with a friend but you can’t do the same thing alone you are probably an obliger. Gretchen Rubin discusses obligers in this video.
4. Rebels. Finally if you are a rebel you resist all expectations no matter who sets them. Rebels just want to do what they want to do in the moment and they find it difficult to follow rules, even those set by themselves. You can watch a video about rebels.
If you need more help deciding which type you are you can do this quiz. You may fall in the overlap, the important thing is to workout what types of expectations you meet and which you resist.
Set up the relevant expectations to help you study.
If you are an upholder
- Set up a revision timetable.
- Set up some accountability to give yourself external expectations (see tips for obligers).
If you are a questioner
- Start by thinking through questions. Why do you want to do well in these exams? Why is effective revision the way to do this?
- Track your progress.
If you are an obliger
- Make yourself accountable to others.
- Find a hard-working friend who is an obliger or questioner and work with them as a study buddy. You could physically get together for revision sessions or set up daily review sessions at the same time using Skype where you quickly tell each other the things you have learnt that day.
- Set up a reward/fine system monetary or other.
If you are a rebel
- Rebels need to focus on the present enjoyment of the process not the goal.
- Find the positives and enjoyment in the action so that you will happily choose to spend time doing it.
- Try and make revision fun- make it a game to remember as much as you can, enjoy the satisfaction of getting to the point where a topic ‘clicks’.
Take action: Decide whether you are an upholder, questioner, obliger or rebel and use the tips to help set relevant internal and or external expectations to motivate you.
Strike a pose
Adopting a confident pose can impact your success- in tests, interviews and maybe even getting a date! In this TED talk Amy Cuddy discusses her research on using what she calls power poses (research papers 1 and 2).
Holding a power pose such as this one, with head lifted, chest held high, shoulders back and arms raised to sides or on your hips, for two minutes impacts your hormones and therefore your feelings and performance.
Take action: Try standing in a power pose for a couple of minutes before you study, in breaks and before tests. While you are studying try to sit in an open relaxed posture and not slouching!
Dress well test well
Arnaud from Kip Kitchen explained to me how students should dress well to test well.
I’m reading The Magic of Thinking Big and there’s a tip in there for students taking exams. The author advises students to use clothing/appearance as a tool to lift their spirits and build confidence.
The author’s psychology professor used to advise students on last-minute exam preparations to dress up for the exam by getting new ties, pressing their suits and shining their shoes. “Look sharp cos it will help you think sharp.”
Research by Adams and Galinsky in 2012 looked at the effect of wearing a lab coat on test performance. They asked 58 students to take a critical thinking test with half of them being asked to wear a doctor’s lab coat and the other half their usual clothes. Those students wearing lab coats made about half the errors on more difficult questions. In another experiment they asked half the students to wear a doctors lab coat and asked the other half to wear identical white coats but told they were painters coats. The people who believed they were wearing a doctors coat got better test scores.They concluded that wearing a lab coat associated with doctors increased selective attention suggesting that wearing clothes with symbolic meaning can change the effectiveness of our thinking.
Professor Karen Pine delved deeper into this idea in her research outlined in her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. When she asked students to wear a superman t-shirt they then believed they were stronger and more likeable. In mental ability tests they scored 8 per cent higher. In her book Professor Pine outlines clothes likely to induce a positive mood including
- Colours found in nature
- Playful patterns
- Natural materials
- Any clothes you love!
Take action: Your physical exterior reflects your mental interior. How you look on the outside affects how you think and feel on the inside.
When you are studying make sure you are really paying attention. It is easy to slip into reading through notes and then realising you haven’t taken any of it in. Find somewhere to study where you can focus without interruptions. Remove distractions such as TV, music and technology. If you are getting distracted while you study be kind to yourself up. Wasting time and energy berating yourself will not help! Notice when you are distracted and then calmly get back on task. The more you do this the easier it will become. Many of us are struggling to concentrate for extended period and practicing mindfulness and/or meditation are good ways to increase your concentration span.
Take action: Read through my posts on mindfulness to find out why it helps students and try 31 days of mindfulness to get you started with this habit.
Have you tried any of these? Would you try any of these? Do you have any other revision tips? Leave a comment by clicking the pencil icon at the top right.