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How to remember everything for exams?!! [Tips]

    As you progress through the education system, its not surprising you will need to memorize more and more material. As such, I can almost hear you and your compatriots screaming in agony, asking how to remember everything for exams?!!

    This is especially pertinent in some subjects that are concept heavy like H2 Biology. Having seen many batches of students through the H2 Bio A levels exams successfully, I have a collection of tools to help my students do just that.

    Let’s first talk about the concept of memory before we dive into the tools.

    How to remember everything for exams: some facts about memory

    There are 2 major types of memory. Short and long term memory.

    From the education perspective, short term memory is the temporary placeholder as information flows in when a student studies.

    In contrast, long term memory is when some of these information final passes through a conduit into the part of the brain that stores these information with more permanence.

    The major problem is that when students study, they expect that the information will flow into long term memory automatically.

    Unfortunately, they don’t!

    Which is why many exasperated students complain about having spent time studying but coming off the exercise retaining little if any information.

    This can be a frustrating experience!

    So why is that the case?

    Recognition is not the same as knowing

    If you stare at your notes long enough you will begin to RECOGNIZE the sequence of occurrences of text.

    Recognition gives a false send that you know the material.

    However, recognizing is not the same as knowing.

    Knowing is the understanding of source material in all dimensions. One thus have the ability to easily answer questions relating to or cover the particular area without referring back.

    A lot of students when they try to memorize facts, do not spend time knowing what they are studying.

    As such, they recognize the string of words but do not truly know the material. And hence cannot recall even after spending time ‘studying’.

    Distraction during studying sessions

    I have written in the past about how handphone use can be distracting and counter-productive to learning.

    You know why that is the case?

    Let me try to explain it.

    There is a connection between short and long term memory all the conduit between them is very ‘narrow’.

    This is logical because it doesn’t make sense to remember every single detail every single second in our lives.

    Otherwise we will run out of memory space in which we fill in memories for the long term.

    Therefore the longer we ponder over things the more likely they will be successfully go pass the conduit from short to long term memory.

    Ever seen unhappy spouses bring up obscure events in the past in arguments? Now you know the answer!!

    The problem therefore with the handphone is that when one is constantly distracted that academic information is replaced by the tweet or news or text message.

    What information you are trying to process is now lost because there was no chance for it to squeeze through the narrow conduit to long term memory.

    how to remember everything for exams handphone
    So if you want to really learn, put away that phone!

    If you want to check for more information using the phone, make sure you don’t let to irrelevant apps or news articles distract you along the way.

    How to remember everything for exams: first step

    Once you understand what prevents you from knowing and how does it relate to long term memory, it’s time to go through the actual process of studying.

    At this stage, you have to read actively through your source material. Meaning, thinking, asking questions and forming opinions during this time.

    For example, where does this link from a previous chapter? Do I agree? Can I cite a relevant fact to support this current material etc.

    Then, look for people for other sources of knowledge including youtube videos, friends, tutors and see if the information corroborates. And if they don’t why?

    This is the part that takes up most of the time which is why the last minute cramming is futile because one will skip through this process.

    An important reminder, many students end up re-writing notes instead. This is another futile exercise because no actual learning is taking place.

    The brain is just recognizing a series of text from one and copying it to another.

    I show my students that is the case by asking the same questions week after week.

    In most cases, they write it down somewhere only to again be stuck by the same question again the following week.

    Especially when they miss out on the actual studying after writing the notes.

    How to remember everything for exams: recall

    Once a chunk of the learning is done, put aside the source material do a quick recall for at least 30 seconds.

    Can you recall the key points of what you have just read?

    After the next chunk, can you recall the previous recall session?

    The study by Karpicke and Roediger show that students who repeat the routine of learning and spend time recalling afterwards are more likely to correctly answer questions afterwards.

    If one cannot complete this with ease, that means the knowing part is lacking.

    Then proceed to the next tool before revisiting recall.

    How to remember everything for exams: Feynman technique

    This technique was first referenced by Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize physicist who tried to make hard concepts easier in the university classes he taught in Caltech.

    First identify what you don’t know and then re-learn this.

    The easiest way is to seek a consult session and directly clarify.

    If not look for YouTube or Khan academy videos that cover the topic. Although they are instant and valuable sometimes the scope may be below or above what is required for the syllabus.

    In which case, it make sense to look for a tutor for help, here’s a checklist for you to narrow down your search.

    Once past the first step, imagine a friend who needs help and simulate the explaining to him/her.

    If you can’t do it, go back to the previous step looking for another source of material. If you are able to, then try to simplify your understanding further so that you can explain to an imaginary junior who has yet to contact this syllabus.

    Try using analogies, funny stories or real life events etc. The success of this ensures that you are now in a competent level and can return back to the recall exercise of the previous section.

    Spaced repetition

    Since the first few steps take a lot of time and work, attempt them way before the exams so that you can build on your skill.

    However, how to remember everything for exams which are a few months down the road?

    This is where a technique I talked about previously: spaced repetitions can work to help you.

    In essence, the revisiting of the same content periodically to reinforce their presence in the long term memory.

    Tutors who does so in the classroom will further contribute to developing the long term memory of subject content.

    Attitude matters

    To really become subject masters and ace the exams. It is just as important to think that we are not perfect and there is still much more to learn.

    In fact after spending the better part of my life living, thinking and teaching biology, I still discover areas of inadequacy.

    Having a teachable heart means that you are open to soaking in related information to extend your existing knowledge.

    This allows you to tap on your existing knowledge and further reinforcing their long term memory placement.

    Also, it prepares you for all kinds of permutations of questions that may come out for exams.

    In fact a good way to build this humility is to go to 10 year series questions to check if you are able to tackle the questions successfully.

    In addition, even explain why the other options are incorrect.

    On the other hand, if you are not able to tackle the question successfully then identify where are the knowledge gaps and fill them up using the formats I suggest above.


    I hope these tips on how to remember everything for exams will channel your efforts more effectively.

    Finally, let me know if you use the tips and made strides in your exam preparations!

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