Dr Kristy Martire is the Associate Professor & Director Master of Psychology (Forensic) program. She shares insights into effective study methods to help you retain the important material you need to succeed at exam time.

31 May 2013


Not all approaches to studying are equally effective, so choose your study method wisely. The more deeply you think about the material you need to learn, the more readily you’ll be able to remember it. 

For example, simply re-reading lecture notes or textbook chapters requires only a very shallow or superficial engagement with the material and will not be well recalled. You need to take a more active approach to your learning. 

Try re-writing your lecture notes, synthesising and summarising the content for yourself, or even better, testing yourself on the content. This will result in deeper learning and stronger recall.

You can make it easier to remember information in exams by employing various strategies when you’re learning. These include categorising, reorganising and rehearsing information. 
Humans have a great capacity for storing and retrieving visual images. So, where possible, convert words into pictures. Draw diagrams, make mental images, and graph data. You can bring them to mind when you need them.

Learning and storing new information in your brain involves physical changes to your brain structure. Synaptic connections need to be formed or altered and neural systems rejigged and refined. This takes time. So be realistic about the way your brain works and give yourself time to accommodate new knowledge by scheduling breaks into your study. Revisit content on multiple occasions rather than focusing on one thing for extended periods just before the exam.

We’re better able to recall information when the learning and testing environments match. This is because contextual information acts as a cue to help us recall other associated information (i.e., what you were studying in the context). 
So, think about the space you’re studying in and make it as similar (authentic) to the space you’re going to be tested in as you can. The more you study in quiet, uncluttered, and peaceful environments, the more likely you’ll be able to recall that information when you’re tested under exam conditions.
For the same reason, you should avoid too much coffee or other drugs. This will result in different internal learning contexts to the one that you’ll be tested in.

Our memories are unique, individualised and interconnected webs of experiences and knowledge.
The more we integrate new knowledge into our existing personal narratives and information networks, the more deeply it is learned, and the more routes we must locate and retrieve that information when we need it. 
For example, make information personal and embedded by considering how the information relates to you. Think about what else it reminds you of. Consider how it matches with or explains your experience of the world. Evaluate how it relates to other things you know. 
Make it about you and it will be easier to remember.

Craik, F.I.M., & Lockhart, R.S. (1972). “Levels of processing: A framework for memory research”. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.
Bahrick, H.P., Bahrick, L.E., Bahrick, A.S., & Bahrick, P.E. (1993). “Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect”. Psychological Science, 4(5), 316-321.
Godden, D.R., & Baddeley, A.D. (1975). “Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: On land and underwater”. British Journal of Psychology, 66(3), 325-331.
Rogers, T.B., Kuiper, N.A., & Kirker, W.S. (1977). “Self-reference and the encoding of personal information”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 677-688.