When you’re a student and you’re gearing up for a big exam, you need all of the help you can get. Unfortunately, academia is an art and not a science – right?
Wrong. It turns out that scientists have carried out plenty of studies and experiments that have the potential to change the way we think about academic performance. These science hacks are right there for you to take advantage of and listed all over the internet – you just need to push yourself to take advantage of them.
Better still, these aren’t exam hacks which rely on the power of the mind – they’re practical tips that you can go out and do. Here are five of the best of them to get you started.
Baylor College of Medicine carried out a study in 2009 in which they asked students to chew gum during a mathematics test. Perhaps surprisingly, they found that the gum chewers scored significantly better than the non-chewers. This is thought to be because chewing gum stimulates the brain by increasing blood flow. So if you’re allowed to chew gum during your test, do so – and if not, chew some gum as close to the start of the test as possible.
We’re not just saying this because sometimes studying can put you to sleep. The real reason for studying before bed is that when you’re asleep, the brain reinforces the memories you make. If you learn something new before you go to sleep, there’s a better chance of your brain retaining the information. This is based on a Harvard study which grouped students into two teams, with some learning words after waking up and some learning words before going to sleep.
This concept draws on the pioneering work of Hermann Ebbinghaus, who described the loss of new memories over time as the “curve of forgetting”. Crucially, this applies only when people don’t go out of their way to retain what they’ve learned, and it can be combatted by re-reviewing things after you learn them. Every time you learn something new, you should revisit it later that day and then continue to revisit every day for the next week or so until it’s committed to your memory for good.
It might seem as though multitasking is a more efficient use of your time, but the truth is that it just distracts you from getting things done. For you to study as efficiently as possible, you’ll want to follow the findings of a study from Stanford in which a group of scientists showed that multitasking reduces overall recall and actually stops you from being productive. Instead, turn your phone off, log yourself out of your favourite social networking sites and clear your desk. Lock your family out of the room, turn off the TV and any music and just focus on getting the job done. This tip is favoured by many professional writers including John Bates of Top British Essays, who goes so far as to say, “We could miss out on the next Harry Potter every time a new season of Stranger Things arrives. Multitasking and procrastination mean death to productivity, as the Stanford study shows.”
If you’re working on an essay and you’re short of the word count, it’s better to bulk it out than to leave it short. Your English teacher might hate us for saying it, but statistically speaking you’ll get a better score just by adding more words. According to Les Perelman, director of undergraduate writing at MIT, longer essays score better than shorter essays 90% of the time. Crazier still, this trend continued even if the longer essays were factually incorrect. The result is that if you can reach your word count with your first draft then that’s a great result, but if you can’t then you’re better off bulking it out instead of leaving it on the shorter side.
You don’t need to be a scientist to take advantage of science. There’s plenty of information available online for students who want to get a leg up on the competition, and new studies are coming out almost every day.
Ultimately, academia isn’t an art and it isn’t a science – it’s a mixture of both, and the most successful students are the ones who remember that. That choice is up to you.