From the Deputy Head of Senior School

Revising for Exams – Use Your Brain!
As exams rapidly approach, many students have been working to get ready. A lot of the Senior School are highly motivated to do as well as they possibly can. ‘Study smart, not hard’ is a mantra that has been around since exams began. But what does this mean and how do we do it?

There are many components to effective study, including:

  • being organised
  • knowing the content
  • finding and using the strategies that work for you
  • being efficient and removing distractions
  • being like a light switch, not a dimmer – you are either ‘on’ or ‘off’
  • getting plenty of exercise and maintaining your diet, health and sleep
  • being positive and seeing the exams as a challenge, not a threat
  • giving your best.

Another way to look at preparing for exams begins with a basic overview of the cerebral cortex – the outer layer that is the thinking part of the brain. There are four lobes of the cortex: the frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal. The three lobes in the rear part (parietal, occipital and temporal) have many functions, many of which are related to our senses – i.e. putting information into our brains, and processing this information to make sense of what is going on around us. In a highly simplistic sense, the frontal lobe – the area in front of a large groove on the cortex called the central sulcus, is the lobe associated with active production of ideas: planning responses and problem solving, producing language and initiating movement, as well as controlling our attention. It is about getting things out of our brains.

So how does this relate to exam preparation? In a very basic sense, exams test your frontal lobe – the information is already in your brain, you have attended the classes and listened, done reading and homework. The challenge is getting it out. So lots of active revision – using your frontal lobe to plan, problem solve, focus attention, produce language, and use the muscles required to get the information out (largely those that control our pens). In most exams you will be writing, not typing. In terms of revising, this equates to active revision – planning and writing summaries, making and testing yourself on cue cards, doing practice questions, and making mind maps to summarise concepts. One unifying theme of all these: have a pen in your hand and write it down!

Tom Rickards
Deputy Head of Senior School – Student Welfare