1. Smell your way to success.
Research into the Proust phenomenon indicates that olfaction could be a useful tool in building strong, long lasting and detailed memories (Chu & Downes, 2000). Sufferers of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim that odours have the ability to trigger autobiographical memories of traumatic experiences, the intensity of which are deemed stronger than visual or auditory triggers (Vermetten & Bremner, 2003). Toffolo and colleagues suggest that olfactory memories are strong due to the location of the olfactory bulb (Toffolo, Smeets, & van den Hout, 2003). The olfactory bulb is contained within the limbic system which is associated with learning and memory. Repeated exposure of a single scent to a module results in an association between the scent and the behaviour, thus potentially triggering a detailed recall during exams.
In order to manipulate olfactory memory a studying student could carry a scented hanky to smell while studying or revising and then again in the exam. This method of revision may be particularly helpful when studying a degree with overlapping modules – such as a psychology degree.
2. Get your heart beating faster
Aerobic exercise is widely established as essential for everyday health; however a recent study suggests that cognition can benefit from such activity (Aguiar et al., 2001). Aguiar and colleagues were able to demonstrate the positive effects of exercise on healthy participant’s memories. Other research suggests that improvements can be demonstrated after 3 minutes of intense aerobic exercise prior to studying (Winter et al., 2007). During aerobic exercise the heart beat increases causing increased oxygen consumption, this signals for the production and secretion of the protein BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF encourages the formation and growth of neurons and neural pathways within the cortex and hippocampus, thus strengthening long-term memory (LTM) (Huang, & Reichardt, 2001).
The student is instructed to take part in aerobic exercise before revision, lectures and indeed exams to boost memory, recall and overall cognitive health.
3.Engage your brain.
Interhemispheric interaction could strengthen episodic memory according to Christman (2003). Christman and colleagues continue to state that episodic memory recall is dependent upon an interaction between the medial temporal lobes. Increased retrieval of episodic memories can be achieved through a technique of saccadic bilateral eye movements. The eye movements are thought to simultaneously activate the hemispheres and aid in the retrieval of long term memories (Parker, & Dagnall, 2012).
For maximum recall during an exam it is recommended that the student engages in the aforementioned eye movements when trying to recall information from a specific lecture. The student would have greater success if the revision also took place in the same place as the original lecture due to the content of memory which is available through episodic memory.
4.Flash your way to success
In order for students to pass exams they must remember lots of information from lectures and books, it is important for the information to be stored within the LTM. There are many learning techniques to acquire lasting knowledge. Arguably one of the most successful techniques is the Leitner system (Fuchs, 1997). The Leitner system is also referred to as spaced repetition. As the name suggests information is presented on flashcards at designated intervals to optimise retention of information. The success of the technique is repetition. The information which is not held within the LTM will continue to be presented until the storage of the information. Information which is held within the LTM is continued to be shown to prevent the forgetting of material as described in the learning curve (Ebbinghaus, 1885/1913, as cited in Wozniak, 1999).
To prevent forgetting learned material, revision tip number 4 advises students to continually read and reread work. Repetition is paramount for transferring knowledge into the LTM. Flash cards provide structure in learning and aid repetition ensuring acquired knowledge remains so.
5. Eat yourself smart.
The adult human brain requires at least 400 calories per day to function efficiently. A healthy diet rich in essential fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals is essential for good brain health. Studies have indicated that a diet high in flavonoids (berries, chocolate) is particular beneficial for memory and creative thinking (Messerli, 2012). Spencer (2008) posits flavonoids have been shown to effectively improve memory through specific cell signalling interactions, named the MAPK pathway which has shown to be an important factor in LTM. Omega-3 oils are crucial for the production of myelin which insulates axons and allows for speedy neural connectivity.
Eating a well balanced diet and ensuring daily calories are consumed is essential for brain power – particularly around the exam period. Finally eating a little bit of chocolate is good for you so enjoy it!
6. Get together
You cannot tell someone something that you don’t know! Trying to describe a theory or concept is a great way to test your own knowledge of a subject (Hendry, Frommer, & Walker, 1999). Discussing information with others and learning from a different perspective aids understanding and creates new connections to known knowledge. The more triggers for a memory stored in the LTM the more likely recall will be successful (Lage, Platt, & Treglia, 2000). Moreover auditory information is stored and retrieved from working memory with greater ease than after reading visual text (Moreno & Maye, 1999).
Study groups are a great way to cement new information. Revision tip number 6 suggests tapping into your auditory sense, listen and describe!
7. Think crude, rude and outrageously.
It could be argued the best way of etching information into the brain is to learn under an extreme state of emotional arousal (either positive or negative) (McGaugh, 2004). This is because the amygdala acts as a mediating structure for emotional learning, connecting with other memory forming structures such as the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus (LaBar, & Cabeza, 2006). Connecting new information with an emotional trigger results in better remembering. Emotive pictures, rhymes or words can transform meaningless words into easy to remember rhymes. This type of learning is named a mnemonic learning device. Schools teach children to use mnemonic to help to remember lists in a particular order such as Naughty Elephants Squirt Water/North East South West. The fun, familiar sentence evokes the emotion of humour which helps the children recall the new harder to remember words.
By applying mnemonics with emotion could be considered one of the best strategies for successful learning.
8. Take a cat-nap
Optimum sleep proves to be an effective revision tool. Sleep deprivation effects cognitive abilities, which include encoding, storage and retrieval of information (Chee, & Choo, 2004). Sleeping soon after studying allows the brain to reinforce its memory traces (Marshall, Mölle, Hallschmid & Born, 2004). Antony and colleagues (2012) hypothesize that during a period of sleep memories are transferred into more suitable areas of the brain for permanent storage. A recent study claims that a 6-minute nap is the optimum time required to give your memory a boost (Antony, Gobel, O’Hare, Reber, & Paller, 2012)
An afternoon cat-nap after a lecture could therefore help in processing some of the newly acquired data and aid the brains ability to find a suitable place to keep it.
9. Stay away from Facebook
Recently numerous studies are warning students to avoid Facebook when trying to revise and/study. Kirschner, and Karpinski (2012) observed a negative correlation between Facebook use and exam grades. The study’s results suggest that the more Facebook time you have the less time you study – resulting in lower academic grades. Furthermore a secondary problem with Facebook use was determined as lack of attention to task. Attention significantly effects memory. Flicking between Facebook and academic work causes that student to lose focus of the task at hand, consequently the revision which takes place is not adequate for the material to be absorbed into the brain, although this is disputed (Pasek, More, , & Hargittai, 2009)
In short the use of social networking sites and the internet in general (excluding research) is unadvisable until study time is over.
10. If the first nine tips do not work – you could postpone your studies!
Memory capability could soon be increased by 50 per cent. Currently Simmons and colleagues amongst other are working on memory wonder-drugs which could soon be on the market as human clinical trials are currently in process (Simmons, Rex, Pandyarajan, Fedulov, Gall, & Lynch, 2009). The medication acts as an agonist by increasing the post synaptic membrane. Boosting dendrites increases the post synaptic surface area for the neurotransmitter to bond with. The overall effect would be easier memory storage and recall.
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