Tag Archives: Memory

Help! My exam is in 3 days’ time and I haven’t studied for it. What should I do?

jameskennedymonash Beat Exam Stress

First, relax.

The priority at this late stage is that you enter the examination hall well-rested, well-fed and with an appropriate level of stress.

1. Sleep early every night

  • Go to bed before 10pm (or 9pm with an exam the next day)
  • Wake up naturally. If you’re waking up too late, go to sleep at 7pm.
  • Avoid backlit screens for one hour prior to sleeping. Backlit screens emit light in the 484-nanometre range, which excites melanopsin in the retinal ganglion cell photoreceptor. This disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake!

2. Eat healthily

  • Eat regular meals at regular times.
  • Eat plenty of fruit. (Five per day.)
  • Drink plenty of water.

3. Get some lighter exercise

  • Avoid exhausting sports around exam time (e.g. rugby).
  • Do more walking, jogging, and lighter sports at exam time (e.g. badminton).
  • Drink plenty of water(!) Aim to drink 3 litres per day.

Research has shown that you perform difficult tasks (such as a Chemistry exam) much better under moderately relaxed conditions. The famous Yerkes-Dodson curve illustrates this beautifully.

The Yerkes–Dodson law is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance level. Source: Uni of Minnesota
You want to be on top of that blue curve.

More information about the Yerkes-Dodson curve.

Light exercise will help you to position yourself at the tip of that blue curve, which will optimise your state of mind for learning as much as possible in the few days you’ve got left.

Second, do targeted revision.

4. Mise en place (get everything ready)

5. Spend 3½ hours doing a practice examination

  • Spend 3½ hours doing the exam in semi-exam conditions.
  • Mark it immediately afterwards.
  • Keep it for next time: you’ll use the incorrect questions to guide your theory revision (step 6).

6. Spend 3½ hours reading & annotating your textbook

  • Read and annotate the textbook chapters relating to questions you got wrong.
  • DON’T READ YOUR NOTES. Read the textbook instead: it’s much clearer.
  • Re-do those questions now you’ve learned the theory behind them.
  • Follow steps 1-4 on How to use a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow. This includes making vocabulary lists and beautiful, clear theory notes to go on your wall.
  • Repeat steps 5 and 6 (in this article) every day. (Study at least 7 hours per day.)

Finally, get help.

7. Get help!

  • Contact your teacher with any questions you have; exam content you don’t understand or worries you have about the exam.
  • Talk to a friend if you’re stressed about the exam.
  • Check out the resources below if your stress levels are still too high.

8. More resources

Book: Three Cups of Deceit

Three Cups of Deceit
Only use a cover this bold if you’re absolutely sure you’re right.

Demonstration of how malleable the human memory can be.
75 pages, ★★★★ (must be read following Three Cups of Tea)

In Three Cups of Deceit, author Jon Krakauer accuses Greg Mortenson of two major ‘crimes’:

  1. Lying — changing the sequence of events and making stories up, sometimes in stark contrast to the truth;
  2. Spending charity money irresponsibly — up to $23 million was spent on flights to exotic places to promote his own book, and the company finance records were patchy at best, and fabricated at worst.

I believe that both authors are telling the truth as they remember it. The discrepancy arises from the fact that Jon Krakauer has successfully altered his memory, and now believes this alternative version of the truth.

Human memory remarkably elastic. It can exaggerate events and fool itself into believing things happened differently to the truth. Books such as The Invisible Gorilla and Think! explain the science behind this process.

Memory-alteration is a very useful skill. We can delete troubling episodes, exaggerate happy ones, and re-write history to fit our goals in the present. People do it all the time to great effect.

Memory-alteration is troubling, though, and conflict can arise when people stubbornly believe different versions of the truth, with sometimes devastating consequences. The co-author of the original book, Three Cups of Tea, for example, committed suicide this month. I wonder whether accusations of ‘lying’ and ‘irresponsibility’ were among the stresses on his mind before he did it.

Read this pair of books to understand the flexibility of human memory. ★★★★