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3 Ways to Use Association for Effective Exam Revision

3 Ways to Use Association for Effective Exam Revision

We all know how much easier it is to learn something new when we have a scaffolding of prior understanding to hang it on. We also know how difficult it is to attempt to get your head round something that is beyond your usual frame of reference. This article will provide readers with three strategies for using association to improve memory retention during exam revision.

You know that lovely definition of madness… repeating the same action but expecting a different outcome?

And the aphorism:

If what you’re doing isn’t working, then er… do something else!

We’ve all been there!!!

We’ll all go there again!

But, when it comes to learning and revising for exams, how about we take a step back right now, and evaluate how well our current strategy is working?

‘Cos if there’s room for improvement, maybe now’s the time to make some changes!

This week, I helped a veterinary science student do just that.

She’s well-organised and not afraid of hard work, but for the sake of a few tweaks here and there, some of her exam scores were leaving her disappointed and frustrated.
One of the things we talked about was the way new memories are formed by the brain, building up a network of connections and reinforcing those connections, the more those memories are practised.

We all know how much easier it is to learn something new when we have a scaffolding of prior understanding to hang it on. And conversely, how bloomin’ difficult it is to attempt to get your head round something that ‘just isn’t my thing’ and beyond your usual frame of reference.

So, when you’re revising, you might find the following ideas, while a bit of extra (and maybe at first, unwelcome) work, extremely useful for cementing in place that new knowledge you’ve worked so hard to learn. Think of this as that extra push to get you over the exam finishing line – the difference that makes the difference.

Each time you learn a new chunk of information, deliberately find a way of associating it with information you already understand, for example:

1.    Explain the new concept to someone

It doesn’t matter who it is you talk to. Maybe it will be an interested colleague; maybe it’ll be the cat or your teddy bear! It doesn’t matter who’s listening. The key to it is to verbalise the concept and explain it in your own way. The effort and thought that goes into it will force those brain cells to talk to each other – and the job’s a good ‘un!

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2.    Compare the new information to what you already know.

What’s similar? What’s different? Look for patterns. Is there something about this that relates in any way to an otherwise completely different beast? For example, How might compound interest be similar in structure to the growing population in certain parts of the world? How is it different? How might the roles and responsibilities of a small business relate to the functions of the liver? See? Now you’re thinking!

3.    How does what you’ve just learned relate to your own life?

What have you’ve just learned that might have some practical use in your day-to-day life? What value might there be to you or to someone you know, in what you’ve just learned? Imagine putting the information to practical use. What would that look like? Sound like? Feel like?

You won’t be surprised to hear that research confirms what we already, intuitively know – when something new seems interesting, useful and relevant, you’re far more likely to fully engage with it, and your brain therefore, far more likely to hang on to it.

And isn’t that what you want when you’ve worked hard to get it into your head in the first place?

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