By Carys Brown
Don’t worry! This will not be another person telling you that (the dreaded) Cornell note system is the best and only way to do your study. Although it is valid, and for some, a useful technique of note-taking, it should not be your definitive method of exam prep.
In fact, note-taking is essentially the most effective and passive time waster.
For some, (you know who you are) you will need to read that bombshell again.
I know it is a hard pill to swallow, but, never-the-less, an essential one.
Yet, instead of leaving you feeling bad about yourself, I want you to complete this post with a sense of inspiration to not only make your study sessions more effective, but more creative and time-efficient.
First of all, you get to take your notes! Trust me, I may be back-tracking on my ‘time-wasting’ bombshell slightly, but hear me out. Having a complete summary for an entire chapter or unit of study is perfect for future reference (your exams.) I would recommend doing your notes in an online document or having a notebook or binder that is easy to add to as you go along. To make this step the most efficient, carve time out of your day to take notes on what you studied in class that day. This means, that when you have finished learning the chapter, you will already have summarised both class notes, textbook notes, or extra information from the ATAR Survival Guide website 😉. For subjects where flashcards work well, this is the step where you can create them. Don’t make the mistake of writing notes and then turning them into flashcards, you don’t recall any of the information and the process wastes precious Netflix time.
Secondly, instead of reverting to old habits and taking those notes and passively re-writing them, or, even worse, not looking at them again, you need to actively recall all the knowledge you now have. For subjects where you have made flashcards as notes, spend time every day going through them with friends, parents, or yourself.
If you have practice questions from your textbook, use them as one of the best ways of identifying what you know, and what you don’t. From this, you can use your notes as a tool to actively find your answers.
Or, if you have a content-heavy subject that requires lots of things to be memorised, a way of actively testing your brain and your knowledge is a technique known as ‘blurting.’ Here you hide all of your notes and get an A4 or A3 black sheet of paper. Put a timer on for 3-5 minutes, and in that time write down everything you can remember about that topic. Then, once the timer goes off, all the things you forgot, you can add to the page in a different colour. This is a great one to repeat just before a test or exam.
A hot tip, once you have begun the learning process, you will have an idea of topics you know well and topics that you struggle with. For this next step, work on your weakness. Take out the flashcards you struggle to memorise or whip out practise questions you got wrong and focus on covering areas that you don’t know well. Here, the ‘blurting’ that you did comes in really handy. Also, use your teachers as learning tools to help, or check out the ATAR Survival Guide for guidance from fellow students. Also, there is no judgement here, get out the stuffed animals and teach them that tricky subject you have been working on. Explaining and being able to teach someone (or something) else is a great tool for memory!
That's it. Well, there are lots of techniques out there, but really, those steps are a great starting point. A great checklist for knowing something is the rule of 4. I definitely just made that up, but I promise there is some science behind it. You should be looking at your material four times in four ways. That ensures that you don't just have the notes, but you learn them, apply them and test yourself on the content needed.
The rule of 4
✔ Learn the information in class from your teacher.
✔ Make notes or flashcards to consolidate the information.
✔ Learn the topic through active recall and practise questions
✔ Identity what you got wrong or struggle to memorise and learn how to get it right.
As we enter the exam term, you have about five to six weeks left of study time. My final tip to help you stay calm and focused is to plan your study and focus and the active recall and practice questions part of your study.