Tips and tricks to boost your Year 12 scores

Study smarter not harder, with tips for students and parents from an educational neuroscientist

One sure way to boost your final year school scores is to study harder: losing the next couple weeks of your life to textbooks and note-cards.

But a better way to boost your scores is to study smarter. As Year 12 school students across Australia go into their exams, here are some tips & tricks to help you get the most bang for your study buck.

Tips for students

Stop reviewing – start recalling

Many people believe if they repeatedly expose themselves to a piece of information, it will eventually sear itself into memory. This is why most study sessions are filled with re-reading text books, re-watching lectures, and re-copying notes.

Practice quizzes are a good way of recalling information - an effective way to build deep memories. Picture: iStock

Here’s the problem: repeatedly reviewing content does not lead to better memory.

If you want to build deep memories, you must focus on recalling information. The more you access a memory, the stronger it will become.

This means focus less on cramming info into your brain and more on pulling information out of your brain. Use flashcards that require you to recall facts. Use practice quizzes to force you to call-up information. Summarise complex ideas into single sentences and share/discuss these with others. Recall instead of Review.

Mimic the exam environment

When it comes to memory, everything seems to be included. As you read this sentence, surrounding scents, sounds and textures will all become part of your memory of these words.

Why does this matter? If you study while listening to your favourite music, lounging in a soft bed, munching away on yummy snacks – all of this will become tied into your memory for the material you are learning. This means that in a couple weeks time, when you are sitting your VCE exam in a silent room with stiff chairs and no food, you will have a much harder time recalling the material you studied.

As you study, try to mimic the conditions you will encounter during the actual test. In this way, you can ensure your memories will be infused with the same sensations you’ll experience when it comes time to access those memories.

Space it out

Cramming: it feels so right. What better way to learn material then to spend six straight hours reviewing and recalling it?

Believe it or not, if you were to spread those six hours across six, 12, or even 24 days, then your memory for the material would be much better and last much longer. In fact, people who spread study time over several sessions can remember up to 50 per cent more than people who study for the same amount of time in one long session. Furthermore, material learned in a spaced-out manner can be retained for up to 6 months (probably even longer).

Cramming is not an effective way to study. Picture: iStock

Space out your studying – it’s better for your time, better for your stress levels, and much better for your memory.

Sleep, sleep, sleep

It might feel like wasted time, but sleep is the only way to ensure new memories are permanently stored within your brain. If you do not sleep, you will not remember: simple as that (and, if your parents complain you’re sleeping too much, just show them this article).


Involve yourself . . .but not too much

Sometimes, parents think it best to leave their children alone during final year exams study period; why add to their stress levels? Unfortunately, this well-meaning sentiment may do more harm than good. When parents are completely absent from the study process, children may feel overwhelmed, isolated, and ultimately unable to effectively learn material.

The answer, however, is not to over-involve yourself. When parents control study and solve problems for their children, learning also suffers.

The key is to focus on helping your children stay motivated and positive during studying. Be your child’s sounding board, let them summarise ideas for you, and help them recall material by quizzing them. Done in a loving and supportive manner, this will help create a calm and safe environment that can diminish study stress and boost exam performance.

Help construct a schedule

Help your child develop a study schedule that is easy to adhere to and effective. A common schedule involves, each night, studying one subject for 20 minutes, taking a 5-10 minute break, then studying a different subject for 20 minutes.

By helping your child develop and stick to a clear routine (without nagging), you will not only improve their self-efficacy and sense of agency, but also their learning.

Helping develop an effective study schedule, that allows for plenty of breaks, is a useful way parents can help their child. Picture: iStock

Embrace error

Errors, blunders, stuff-ups…this is how we learn. Each mistake serves as a clear signpost to guide us down the learning paths we most need to travel.

As you help your child study, embrace each error they make. The more mistakes they make now (and the less judged they feel), the fewer mistakes they will make come exam time.

Model perspective

Are final school year exams important? Absolutely. Are they all important? Absolutely not.

How you discuss the upcoming exams with your child will largely influence how they come to interpret them. If you put undue pressure on results, so too will they. If you completely ignore the exams, so too will they.

Help your child develop a healthy perspective by assuming and modelling a healthy perspective yourself. They certainly need to understand that you deem these exams important - but it’s equally important they understand that you recognise there is more to life than a test score.

So there you have it. No need to study harder, simply study smarter.

Now go out there and kick some ass.

Banner image: iStock