Ten steps to effective studying

1. Try not to become obsessed about the time you spend studying or revising. Concentrate instead on what tasks you must achieve. Allocate a specific amount of time to each otherwise it may take hours to complete what should take minutes.

Organise a revision timetable and follow it religiously. Firstly, see how much time you have available for study (when do you arrive home, mealtimes etc? ). Then construct a grid with sessions of 25 minutes or 45 minutes if your concentration is good. Leave a five minute break between each session. Do not forget to set aside time at the weekends. Once it is planned and you know what you are going to study in these short sessions you should make progress.

Next, weigh up your subjects in order of difficulty and need and allocate a number of sessions to each subject. Now, fill in the blank study spaces with your subject. Make sure you have variety in your timetable. Do not leave the difficult subjects until late at night and try to keep similar ones apart.

Tick off items as you complete them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment.

2. Be sure to check the exact format of the exam. Know how many papers you have for each subject, which topics are covered in each paper, how many questions you must answer and identify the questions which are compulsory and the topics to which they relate. Also, know how many marks are allocated to the entire exam, each paper, individual questions, etc. Read the instructions and plan to do exactly as you are asked.

2. Know the time allowed to complete each paper. Bearing in mind the marks involved decide the length of time you will be able to spend on each question in the exam. Know, too, precisely how many marks are needed to secure a pass in each paper and to obtain your target result.

3. Make a list of the key words used in examination questions. These include compare, contrast, criticise, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain, illustrate, interpret, justify, outline, review, summarise, trace, etc.

4. Use as many senses as possible when learning. (i ) Actively see the writing on the page in words and diagrams. (ii ) Jot down briefly what you learn. (iii ) Close your eyes, take deep breaths, flex and relax your muscles, note the time and aim not to let your attention wander for 15 minutes. If you achieve this goal, repeat the routine, lengthening your time goal.

5. The key to improving your memory is to realise that your brain finds it much easier to recall visual images than anything else. When studying, assist your memory by writing down points (always make notes ), reading your lists (ideally aloud ) and re-learning. Remember, the brain can record up to 86 billion pieces of information each day so it is easy for it to devour a few text books! Experts say your ability to retrieve information when you need it is directly related to the amount of time and trouble you spent when you were storing it.

5. Take regular breaks for food and exercise. Not eating enough can cause memory and attention problems and lead to poor reaction times. Eat a well balanced diet. Include fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, wholegrains, pastas and proteins, such as meat. Firstly, make sure you eat breakfast. This meal breaks your long overnight fast and aids concentration (it is believed to help people address problems more creatively ) as well as laying down the foundation for healthy eating for the rest of the day. Research reveals that the omission of this important first meal of the day results in poor physical and mental performance later in the day. Wholemeal or bran cereals with milk and topped with fruit give a good start to the morning together with an orange or unsweetened juice and some wholemeal bread. Avoid skipping meals if you want to keep your memory sharp.

Keeping blood sugar levels stable is important to ward off fatigue. Some experts suggest eating something every three to four hours. This will help sustain your energy levels and prevent you overeating at one sitting.

6. Taking a break away from your desk will leave you feeling refreshed. Exercise will sharpen your brain and reduce tension. Running, walking, swimming, yoga or playing football are just some of the activities that will help.

7. Have suitable study facilities. Choose somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Avoid distractions, such as the radio, television, laptop or iPod. Have a good work surface with plenty of space for books, notes, pens and writing paper. Encourage your family not to move your materials or else you could waste valuable time trying to locate them.

Wear warm comfortable clothes and arrange good lighting, ventilation and adequate heating. Have a clock/watch/phone on hand so you can time your study periods. Always be aware of your peak effectiveness periods. Some students study better early in the morning while others perform better at night.

8. If you have neglected to study much until now and do not know where to start, select the vital areas at this stage. Try to build on what you know, no matter how sparse your knowledge is. Be flexible, try to remain calm and use study guides if your notes are less than comprehensive or do not exist at all. Enlist the advice of teachers and clever students who may be able to give you shortcuts to success.

9. Sleep is essential. It plays a vital role in your health and well-being. It recharges your batteries and helps your brain prepare for the next day. Research indicates that a good night’s sleep improves learning. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Aim for an average of eight hours shut-eye nightly. If you study long into the night and try to survive on minimal sleep you may cover a lot of material but lose valuable concentration the following day. Fatigue may impair your judgment and blunt your thinking.

10. Stay hydrated. This can help prevent tiredness. Water is an essential nutrient and is best taken between meals or half an hour before or one hour after. The recommended daily amount is two litres but even a few glasses throughout the day will help prevent dehydration.

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