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Seven Tips to study efficiently and remember what you’ve learnt

To get the best mark you need to write well… and study efficiently.

Well before I started with the POPPIES project I kept telling candidates -regardless of whether they are Primary, Secondary or O. School English teachers- that the difference between:

  • one who consistently gets a good mark on the topic, and
  • another who one year gets a good mark and the following year fails

is that

  • The former never repeats like a parrot: She knows the topic and how to write about it, showing understanding and capturing the interest of the reader.
  • The latter tends to regurgitate what she has learnt. Probably providing an awful amount of data, but most often giving lots of unconnected sentences or paragraphs without explaining or showing the progression. Indeed, very often, the ideas jump from one to the next without rhyme or reason.
Writing well is an art and, like all crafts, to master it you need practice. Click To Tweet

Indeed, as the saying goes, Practice Makes Perfect.

In this post I am going to show you how to approach the studying of the topics by following:

7 tips so that you study efficiently and in a way that helps you to master the topic

The Curve of Forgetting

But first, let me tell you something I discovered while I was searching to collect the best tips I could find for you.

This is a graph I found at https://uwaterloo.ca/counselling-services/curve-forgetting and which is known as “The Curve of Forgetting”.

The black curve shows how much you remember after you have attended a lecture —or studied something. As you can see, the first day you remember 100%  —not necessarily of the whole lecture or topic, but 100% of what you have learnt that day.

Day 2, if you don’t revise, you remember between 50-20% of what you “knew” the first day and then, it gradually decreases until, a month later, you only remember 2-3% of what you had “learnt”. Now, this is a waste of time, if you ask me.

And how to remember

The yellow curve shows the amount of time you should give to “reviewing” what you’ve learnt. As you can see, on the second day you should review what you learnt for 10 minutes; then, a week later, revise it for 5 minutes and, finally, a month later you’ll only need between 2-4 minutes.

Now, I know what you are going to say: I haven’t got time for all that revising. Are you sure of that?


You can spend over one hour —probably more— re-studying things, forgetting them and coming back, and getting all worried because this is something you had studied but do not remember and the time of the exam is getting closer and closer and you have so many other things to do…

Or you can spend …but we’ll talk about this later.

I know it is tough to break old ways, but I hope you’ll trust me: Leave your comfort zone, give a try to my advice and suggestions, see if they work. You have nothing to lose and may have fun and success on the way.

Tip #1: Adopt the right sitting position

Sitting up straight is very important mainly for two reasons:

  1. It favours the oxygenation of your brain when you breathe in, which has positive effects on cognitive processes.
  2. It favours productivity and helps you reduce or eliminate back pain. But there are good and bad ways of doing it. To help you sit up straight but well, I’m leaving you this https://youtu.be/k1luKAS_Xcg to watch. It only lasts 6 minutes, and it is 6 minutes well-spent. The video is in English, so no time wasted for most.

Tip #2: Break study periods into chunks

I don’t know how long you sit to study in a row.

If you are a mum (or a dad, for that matter) with young kids, you probably find it difficult to get a long enough period. So, adapt what I am going to say to your situation and needs.

  • Never go on for longer than 90’ periods without a break. According to researchers, this is our body and brain cycle.
  • Have a 30’ break then, where you do one of the things we suggest below: physical activity is good.

Or even shorter

If you can only manage to have those 90 minutes when you are without kids and that does not happen often,  that is No problem. Because you should break those 90 minutes -unless you are practising drafting the topic.

  • Break those 90 minute periods -or the time you have available- into shorter chunks of 20-25 minutes, maximum. (I’ll explain more about this and document it when I publish an updated version of a series of posts on Flipping & Mastery I wrote back in 2012-13 on the Sls Hallam website.)
    • Give yourself a break of 5-10 minutes where you stand up, move around a bit or do some exercise: make a rotating movement with your shoulders, swing your body from the waist to the left and the right and your arms loose so that they swing with your body, etc.

Try this experiment: Write down a list of 20 items and try to remember them. Then, break it into two lists of 10 items each and see whether you can remember more or fewer items. Then, break it into 4 lists of 5 items each and see how many you remember. Let me know the results.

Some experts also talk about breaking your learning process into RAM: Relaxation, Active Learning, Memory Activation.

Tip #3: Eat, Exercise, Sleep

Eat the right food: Omega 3 fatty foods are said to be excellent for giving a boost to your brain. So, you should eat things like kiwis, walnuts or salmon and avoid processed and refined foods. Chewing some gum, though not proper eating, can also be of help, apparently.

Exercise is also good, and it helps oxygenate the brain.

Finally, sleeping on what you have learnt, even if it is just a short nap after your learning period, will pay off. And if you are studying in the late evening or at night, revise the key points just before going to bed.

Tip #4: Listen to Music

Being an English teacher you’ll be familiar with Suggestopedia. And if you are eclectic, as I think all teachers should be, you are willing to pick things from different methods and approaches to learning. As you probably know and we saw in the Foundation Course, Suggestopedia uses music to lower stress and create a relaxing environment which favours learning.

We all know or have heard of the beneficial effects of music. I often use it, particularly at times when I feel stuck or need to concentrate. And this is what some experts recommend for

Active Learning:

And for Memory Consolidation:

Play the music softly. But if you still find that it “interferes” with your learning, play it very softly, so that it’s there, in the background. You can use the different suggested pieces to break your study time in chunks.

And, no, I cannot tell you why this music but not others, because I don’t know. I can only say that it works for me and that I find almost anything by Mozart very helpful both for studying and for work.  If you try something else that works for you, let me know. Indeed, I found that the soundtrack for The Pianist was also helpful.

Tip #5: Pay attention to the context

Do you have a place for studying? Do you always study in the same place? Well, experts recommend relating what you are studying to your surroundings. This can be done in two different ways.

If you tend to study in the same place, try to change something to make it memorable: sit at the other end of the table or re-arrange certain elements and pay attention to the arrangement while you are studying. You will be able to relate what you’ve learnt more easily to the different position or the new arrangement of things on the table, chairs, etc.

Much more important, perhaps. When you are practising for the exam, be it the topic writing in two hours, or the oral presentation of the syllabus and the unit, try to rehearse, as much as possible, in a similar surrounding to that in which the exam will take place.

If you are a practising teacher, use a classroom to rehearse and record your presentation, and write your topic under exam conditions -i.e. two hours for the whole thing, or two sessions of 1 hour each if you cannot have two hours at your disposal- in a classroom. This will prepare you better for the time when you are actually doing the exam.

Tip #6: Reward yourself

Yeah, that’s right! You’ve been working for 20 minutes, or a full hour and a half, and have learnt or clarified a few things. So, you deserve some reward. Tell yourself how well you’ve done. Be positive (remember the experiment with the rice I was telling you about on a previous post?) Give yourself something you like: a rest, a nap, some chocolate, a bit of dancing, a kiss…whatever you fancy!

Tip #7:  Say, Visualise, Write

Being teachers —and having done at least the first section of the Foundation Course, you’ll be familiar with the MI theory of learning. Which, incidentally, does not mean that we need to focus on “our specific” intelligence, but rather that the more stimuli we give our brains, the better.

That is why you should say things aloud. Read aloud, tell yourself what you’ve learnt.

You should also visualise what you are learning -and the more outlandish and absurd the better and more things you’ll remember.

…And write. Take notes, write out those notes in full.  Write your topic in two hours. And, mind! I say write, not type. I only ask you to type the topic in the Poppies Courses when you send it to me because we can then benefit from Google Drive and it allows you to check your written expression and your spelling!

This post is the fist part of the mini-course I am now including in all POPPIES Course. If you register to the blog posts, you will receive the 3rd part for free.

Sorry, although things may change in future, for the time being, only those doing one of the POPPIES Courses will have access to the second part, where we guide you on how to actually study and revise the topics so that you do so efficiently.

Other posts with tips on how to approach the Exam:

Text Analysis    Seven essential steps to draft your own essay   The Outline  Tips for the oral exam

Desde sus orígenes, el objetivo de PoppieS es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que tus alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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