How to study for exams - Evidence-based revision tips

hey guys welcome back to the channel if

you're new here my name is Ellie I'm a

final year medical student at Cambridge

University and today we're kicking off a

new series where I'm gonna be sharing

with you evidenced-based

revision tips so I'm gonna be giving you

advice on how you can prepare for your

exams but hopefully I'll be backing up

everything I say with evidence from

studies that have been done in the field

of psychology one students like you and

me over the last hundred years no one

ever really teaches us how to study we

tend to just go with what feels

intuitively right and as we'll see the

research is shown that actually the

techniques that students think are the

most intuitive often tend not to be the

ones that are actually the most

effective so if you've got exams coming

up then hopefully by the end of this

video you'll pick up some techniques

that you can apply to your own studies

to make everything a little bit more

efficient and enjoyable so let's jump

into it this is gonna be the structure

of the video firstly I'm gonna be

talking about the three very popular

revision techniques that are shown to be

less effective in the literature namely

rereading highlighting and making notes

are summarizing those are by far the

most popular techniques but they're also

not very effective if you look at the

evidence behind them secondly I'm gonna

be introducing the concept of active

recall which is by far the most powerful

effective study technique and that

involves like testing yourself and

practicing retrieving information from

your brain because the very act of

retrieving information actually

strengthens connections in the brain and

there's like a load of evidence behind

this and finally in part 3 of the video

I'll be giving you some specific tips on

how you can actually apply this active

recall thing to your own study so

hopefully by the end of the video you'll

have some practical strategies that you

can apply if you feel like it as always

everything is gonna be time stamped down

below so if you want to skip to its own

bit of the video feel free but now let's

jump into it and let's talk about the

three common but not very effective

revision technique that students love to


let's start with rereading over here is

gonna be a list of some of the various

studies that have been done that showed

that students really love rereading as

like a really common revision technique

and if you you know look at what you've

done for your own exams and ask your

friends you probably find out that

rereading plays a big part of most

people's exam preparation strategy the

question is is rereading effective as a

study technique there have been lots of

studies done about this I will link some

of them in the description below but I'm

not gonna go into each of them in depth

instead I'm gonna be quoting from a

paper written by Professor John Loski

which was written in 2013 where he and

his colleagues analyzed like hundreds of

papers looking at all the research

behind 10 different ruin techniques and

this is what he had to say on the topic

of rereading he said based on the

available evidence we rate rereading as

having low utility

although rereading is relatively

economical with respect to time demands

when compared with other learning

techniques rereading is also typically

much less effective the relative

disadvantage of rereading to other

techniques is the largest strike against

it and it's the fact of the weighted

most heavily in our decision to assign

it a rating of low futility so this

professor who's a psychology professor

and he and his colleagues have looked at

hundreds of research papers looking at

evidence based revision techniques

regards rereading your notes or

rereading your textbooks as having low

utility he's saying that yeah there's

some limited evidence that rereading

does work it does improve retention

somewhat but especially if you compare

it to other techniques that you could be

doing rereading is pretty much a waste

of time here's another quote from a 2016

paper that again looked at the evidence

behind lots of study techniques and this

is what they had to say about rereading

they said a wealth of research has shown

that passive repetitive reading produces

little or no benefit for learning yet

not only was repetitive reading the most

frequently listed strategy it was also

the strategy most often listed at

students number-one choice by a large

margin so that's what I'm gonna say

about rereading for the time being I'm

very happy to discuss all the evidence

against rereading and against these

other techniques if you guys want to

hear about that just leave a comment

down below and I'll do it but I want to

focus on stuff you can do rather than

kind of just hopping on the stuff that

you shouldn't be doing so we'll close

that for now rereading generally

according to the evidence is pretty

ineffective it does sort of work but you

know compared to other things you could

be doing it's it's it's by no means the

most efficient study tactic secondly

let's talk about highlighting and either

we highlight ourselves or we know

friends who'd like to highlight their

textbooks and the notes in pretty colors

here is a list of studies that show that

highlighting is a very popular erosion

strategy and I'll link these

in the description below see if you

really want to read them you can but

let's go back to Professor Dan loskis

paper where again he looked at all the

evidence around these and this is what

he had to say about highlighting and

underlining he said on the basis of

available evidence we rate highlighting

and underlining as having low utility in

most situations that have been examined

and with most participants highlighting

does little to boost performance

it may help when students have the

knowledge needed to highlight more

effectively or when the texts are

difficult but it may actually hurt

performance on higher level tasks that

require inference making you know

especially without subjective GCSE and

most subject to a level and definitely

everything at undergrad all of these

subjects require inference making so

highlighting presidentís key staying is

probably not a very good tactic he

continues he says future research should

be aimed at teaching students how to

highlight effectively given that

students are likely to continue to use

this popular technique despite its

relative and effectiveness

so he's conceding in his paper that

although you know the evidence shows

that highlighting is not very good to be

honest students are probably going to

continue using it and little later on in

the paper he describes highlighting as a

safety blanket that's just that students

like to have I've experienced as I'm

sure you've experienced this as well if

it feels productive doesn't it like you

know going through a book and

highlighting one thing in blue and one

thing in yellow one thing in orange I

used to do it all the time but you know

the evidence says it's not very good you

know we could be doing more efficient

things finally let's talk about

summarizing or making notes again a

really really popular technique that I

have been using pretty much all my life

and still used to this day but I'm

trying to face it up because the

evidence around summarizing and making

notes is you know a bit equivocal there

are some studies that show that students

that do summarizing well perform

slightly better on exams but it's really

quite hard to test this because as you

can imagine the quality of notes varies

massively between students and so that

makes it quite hard to actually test a

proper rigorous scientific study about

it in any case professor Dan Loski again

he and his colleagues tried they looked

at all the evidence around summarizing

and making notes and this is what they

said on the basis of the available

evidence we rate summarization as low

utility it can be an effective learning

strategy for learners who ought who are

already skilled at summarizing however

many learners including children high

school students and even some

undergraduates will require extensive

training which makes the strategy less

feasible what they're saying is that if

you already know how to effectively

summarize and make notes which you might

well do although it tends not to be

taught in schools or anything if you

already know that then ok summarization

is probably

help you but even if that's the case

even if you already quite pro at

summarizing it still Falls about the

middle of the pack when compared to

other more effective revision techniques

but I think in general the conclusion we

should draw from this is that we are

sort of wasting our time probably by

making notes now that's not to say that

if you enjoy making notes that you

shouldn't do it you know I enjoy making

notes like having pretty colors I like

you know doing trying to do a bit of you

know calligraphy on them you know taking

photos for the Instagram my friends

comment on like oh you know it's so

pretty but to be honest I wouldn't want

to make notes thinking it's an effective

revision strategy and I know looking

back on the school days a lot of my

friends who were really into their notes

you know that have these massive blue

folders for chemistry and have

absolutely beautiful notes those were

the students that would spend hours and

hours on a single topic and then kind of

complained sometimes about why stuff

wasn't going in so yeah making notes

summarizing sort of works probably

doesn't evidence is a bit iffy about it

I think we should be avoiding it

personally based on based on the results

of these review papers all right just to

sum up what we talked about so far we've

said that rereading highlighting

underlining and summarizing are probably

not very effective revision strategies

based on the evidence so yeah if we want

to make a revision more efficient we

probably shouldn't be doing these three

things that we will we all like to do we

had a lecture about this in our second

year of medicine and it was towards the

end of the year when we had exams coming

up and my mind was completely blown when

I found out that highlighting and making

notes was not very efficient and talking

to a lot of my friends we were all we

were all absolutely aghast that like you

know how could we have survived these 22

years of our life without knowing you

know effective study techniques and that

we felt that a lot of our own success

and exams had been in spite of our

revision techniques rather than because

of them so you know hopefully at this

point you're you're thinking that okay

maybe we should be spending a little bit

a little bit less time doing rereading

highlighting and making notes let's now

talk about active recall an active

recall is by far the most important

technique that you can and should be

using in order to make your studies more

efficient actually recall or active

retrieval or practice testing whatever

you want to call it basically involves

retrieving facts from your brain

retrieving stuff from your brain because

the very act of retrieving stuff from

your brain actually strengthens the

connections between the stuff in your

brain and this this was quite

counterintuitive to me like for me

anyway I'd always kind of assumed

learning was this sort of process

whereby you put stuff into your brain

and the only purpose of getting stuff

out of your brain was to you know ace

that exam or get that aced or whatever

in fact

cannot be further from the truth and

over a hundred years of research has

shown that we learn far better by

retrieving practicing retrieving stuff

from our brains then by trying to you

know put stuff back into our brain so

what's the evidence behind this let's go

back to Professor Don loskis review

paper you know the one where he looked

at hundreds of studies and you know

decided that rereading highlighting and

summarizing weren't very good this is

what these guys had to say about

practice recall active recall practice

testing they said on the basis of the

evidence described above we rate

practice testing as having high utility

practice testing is not particularly

time intensive relative to other

techniques and it can be implemented

with minimal training finally several

studies have provided evidence for the

efficacy of practice testing in

representative educational context so

this review paper that's looked at loads

of studies again they've said practice

testing has very high utility and in

fact if you read the paper in their

conclusions they recommend that everyone

you know start testing themselves more

if they're not doing it enough already

now because this is really really

important I'm gonna be sharing with you

three different studies that actually

show this properly if you're already

convinced by active recall at this point

you can skip to this time stamp and then

at this time sample but we'll just be

talking about the specific strategies

that you can use to implement active

recall in your studies but if you're

interested in the evidence then continue

watching this video and I'll explain

some of the studies that have been done

that convincingly show that active

recall is by far a better revision

strategy than pretty much anything else

you can do so let's start with this

study from 1939 the start of World War

two you know this sort of research has

been going back literally decades and

decades what they did is that they got

groups of students and they made them

learn a topic and then gave them a test

either a week later or a day later now

half of these students just kind of

studied the material as they normally

would and these are their results so you

can see they were the results were about

50% for the high achievers and around

sort of 30% for the bottom third of the

group has decided by some other outcome

measure so that was half of the group

they just studied the subjects as they

normally would have done and they got a

test either a day later or a week later

now the other half of the class study

the content in exactly the same way

however they had a practice test at the

end of it and these are their results so

as you can see the guys that had the

practice test did far better you know

it's an increase of like 15% for the

high achievers an increase of like 10 to

15% for the for the bottom third of the

class just having a practice test at the

end of their study session in

prove to their performance by 10 to 15%

and I don't know about you but if I

could improve my exam performance for a

man abide by 10 to 15% just by you know

practice testing myself a bit at the end

of each study session I would certainly

take that but that's just one study

let's talk about another study a more

recent one

this one's from 2010 and again they

split students up into two groups one

group we're gonna have a practice test

and the other group we're just gonna

restart the material using whatever

method they wanted most likely rereading

highlighting and summarizing which as

we've seen from other studies of the

most popular revision techniques of

students and this study was interesting

because it tested students on both the

facts and concepts here is the group

that just re studied the material

normally and these are their results so

you know hovering between kind of thirty

and forty percent because they just tell

you the material once and then you know

had it had a test a week later and here

is the group that study the material had

a little practice test at the end of it

and then had the same test a week later

and these are their results and as you

can see you know they're performing

significantly better for some it's even

an increase of like 30 percent for the

first group a difference between 30% and

60% and again I don't know about you but

if I if I could get a 30% improvement in

my exam score by practicing testing

myself I would certainly take it and I

would yeah be doubling down on that stir

on that strategy as much as I possibly

could finally this is one my favorite

studies this is done from 2011 and what

they did was they split students into

four different groups they had to learn

some material and then had a test at the

end like a week later or something

without the first group was just

supposed to study the text the chapter

once the second group was supposed to

study at four times a third group read

the text once and then made a mind map

and the fourth group read the text once

and then just tried to recall as much of

the contents of the text as they

possibly could so we've got these four

groups here are the results so on

verbatim questions are you know

questions specifically from the text

about factual things mentioned in the

text the group that studied the ones

performed the worst as you can see the

active recall group performs

significantly better than the group

that's that re studied at four times

this kind of tells me that you know if I

just practice testing myself once that's

probably more effective than rereading

the chapter four times and rereading a

chapter four times is such a common

strategy that you know it's pretty

pretty insane that you can get better

results by just testing yourself once

but just reading it once and there's

trying to recall as much of it as you

can okay so that was verbatim questions

let's take these same groups of people

and ask them inference questions the

questions that require you to kind of

understand the text a bit more not just

retrieve isolated facts from it and here

are their results as you can see the

group that studied it once performed the

worst as you'd expect because the only

study at once the active recall group

performs the best

and you know the other groups perform

perform all right again active recall

practicing just writing down as much as

they could remember from the text

improve their results significantly more

than the students that have read the

text four times so I think there's a

pretty solid evidence that print that

active recall is a really really useful

strategy but these guys being clever

psychologists they had a third phase of

the study and what they did was they

like before doing any of this they asked

the students what they think the results

of the study would be so they asked the

students to kind of have a guess at you

know which of these techniques would be

the most effective and these are the

results of that so as you can see the

students rated repeated study as being

the most useful technique and they rated

active recall as being probably the

least effective one so this kind of goes

to show that our own intuitive idea of

what makes a good study technique does

not match up with the evidence at all we

think that you know reading something

over and over again of course that's

gonna you know increase our

understanding increase our retention of

it but actually just reading it once and

then just practicing testing yourself

it's just so much more efficient that is

it's insane that this isn't taught in

schools more often and there's a really

good book called make it stick which

I'll link down in the description below

and which will pop up over here that you

can read more about these sorts of

techniques if you want and they go into

more in depth about the exact evidence

behind these techniques but even then

you know they say that the two most

important things are active recall which

we're talking about in this video and

spaced repetition which we'll be talking

about in the next video hopefully I've

convinced you that rereading

highlighting and summarizing / making

notes are not very effective revision

strategies as just by the evidence again

links in the description to that if you

want to read it for yourself and

hopefully I've convinced you that active

recall or practice testing is a really

really useful technique and it's far

more efficient than these are the

techniques that students enjoy using now

we're going to be talking about specific

strategies that you can use to apply

active recall or practice testing in

your own studies and the first thing to

say is that this is not really rocket

science pretty much anything you do that

requires you to use cognitive effort

like use brain power to retrieve

information that you have learnt once

already pretty much anything is going to

be really really efficient for you but

having said that I know a lot of you

guys benefit from specific strategies so

here are three that I find useful

firstly number one is an app called Anki

and Anki is a flashcard app that you

might have heard of like loads of

medical students use it the idea behind

that is that you make a flat like an

online flashcard and then it comes up

and in your like

to session but the special thing about

hanky is that once well once the

flashcard comes up you can mark it as

being easy medium or hot and depending

on what rating you gave it

it comes up later on depending on what

that rating was so if you found a fact

really easy to recall maybe they'd ask

you again in a day if you found it hard

to recall that I'll see you again in 10

minutes if you found it impossible to

recall that ask you again in one minute

and this kind of learns from your

behavior it kind of changes over time so

as you progress through your studies as

you progress through your revision some

facts that are really easy you might see

them in two months time because the

whole algorithm changes and it really

uses this whole space repetition thing

to great effect I think I think hankies

really good for two things firstly I

think it's really good for memorizing

particular facts so I used it a lot for

Anatomy back in the day where is that

you know what's the nerve supply for

particular muscles things like that and

used it a lot for pharmacology so

learning the names of drugs and what

they do and what the mechanism of action

is in my third year when I was doing

psychology as a subject I also use danke

I like a lot to memorize particular

paragraphs for two likes talking to my

essays on one side of the flashcard I

would have copy key and blunt to 2011

and on the other side of the flashcard I

would describe the study that they did

and the evidence behind it and what I

was going to say about it so therefore

in the essay in the exam when I wanted

to recall the copic in blunts tally I

would have kind of the information about

it already memorized it so I used it to

memorize chunks that I could then drag

and drop into my essays effectively one

of my friends is a Cambridge medic he

it's got like first class every year he

uses Anki for pretty much everything and

he said that he can't imagine getting

through Cambridge without having used

Anki and instead of making notes and

lectures what he started doing now is

just going directly to making the

flashcard though yeah if you're

interested please do check out Anke it's

free I think you can pay a few pounds

for the iOS version but even if you

don't want to pay you can use the web

version completely free of charge I'll

link it here and in the description

below secondly something that I like

doing because like because I still can't

quite break the habit that you know I

enjoy making notes is that making notes

with the book closed so not like having

the textbook open and making notes and

making all pretty and copy from the

textbook like I used to do but I

actually like learning a topic and then

closing the book and then thinking okay

how would I explain this topic how would

I kind of make my own notes on it so

then I write down as much as I can

remember about the topic in a nice

fashion with like pretty colors because

that makes me feel good and then

afterwards I open the book and see the

bits that I missed and actually when I

was preparing for my third year exams in

in third year I did psychology I ended

up that was by far my best performance

like ever

in my life on any exams and I think the

reason behind that was that because I

very aggressively used these two

techniques of spaced repetition and

active recall so what I did I made about

50 different si plans initially earlier

on in the year and then in order to

commit this to memory I just drew spider

diagrams with with the book closed so I

would have a spider diagram for each si

plan and I just as drought as much of it

as I could possibly remember and then

afterwards when I was done with it I'd

look at my actual asset plan and fill

out the bits that were missing and I

repeated this over over the course of

like two months leading up to the exams

and by the end of it by the by the time

the exam came around I had these fifty

really really good essays in my head

that had like 10 references each and was

able to just kind of vomit them onto the

paper in the actual exam so I would

fully endorse this whole making notes

making spider diagrams with the book

closed as being a really effective

method of active recall and and and

there is actually some evidence behind

this again it's in the book make it

stick it's also in Professor Dan loskis

paper you can read it down below finally

I want to talk about a third strategy

and that's an alternative to making

notes I know that this whole making

notes thing it's really hard to not make

any notes these days if I'm in a lecture

or if I want to learn something instead

of making notes from the lecture or from

the textbook what I instead do is that I

write questions for myself and I think

this is called like the Cornell

note-taking method I came across that

earlier today when when we when

researching stuff for this video the

idea is that you've write questions for

yourself based on the material such that

when you revise the material you look at

your questions and you try and actively

answer them in your head or on paper or

out loud or whatever the point is that

instead of passively rereading or

highlighting the information like we are

tempted to do we have to engage in

cognitive effort to retrieve this

information from our brains and that

strengthens the connections between the

information it makes us more likely to

remember it and to understand it so I

actually gave a talk about this

evidence-based revision thing like three

years ago when I was when when I was a

third year and a friend of mine who was

a first year medical time after this

talk he had about two months left until

the exams and he decided that the only

technique he was going to use was to

just write questions for himself so for

the entire Cambridge first year medical

syllabus he wrote himself like a list of

100 and something questions and each

night before bed he would just kind of

go through them and his revision

technique was pretty much just answering

these questions and he ended up coming

second in the air out of like the whole

cohort he's very intelligent in itself

but I thought but I talking him

afterwards he he put a lot of faith in

this method of writing questions for

yourself because writing questions for

yourself makes you engage in cognitive

effort and kind of the more the more

brainpower it takes to recall a fact the

strengthen that connection seems to get

according to the evidence at least so

yeah instead of kind of writing notes

from the textbook or from the erosion

guard from the lecture notes maybe try

this method where you're writing

questions for yourself and then when

you're revising the topic using

hopefully spaced repetition which we'll

talk about in the next video when you're

when you're revising the topic then you

can just answer the questions in your

head and I find this to be a really

really effective strategy for getting

lots of information into your head very

quickly and hopefully you can find it

useful as well so that brings us to the

end of this video I really hope you

found some of this useful just to

summarize we've talked about why

rereading highlighting underlining and

summarizing / making notes are probably

not very efficient revision techniques

if you're using them I'm not saying

you're doing it wrong I'm just saying

that you know if you're using these

techniques which most of us do and you

think in yourself that you're revision

is not very effective or you're not

really getting the results that you want

then maybe it's time to rethink some of

these strategies feel free to continue

using them but you know what I would say

is that use them but alongside do

practice testing test yourself more and

then use spaced repetition and

interleaved practice those are the three

things we were talking about in future

videos as well so yeah hopefully you

found this video useful we talked about

why those three particular strategies

are not very effective we talked about

some of the evidence behind active

recall I quoted three studies at U and

I've given you lots of links in the

description below if you want to read

more about this the book make it stick

is really good as well and there's also

a few podcast episodes that I've been

listening to recently in preparation for

this video that are linked below so you

can find loads and loads of people

around the world who looked at all the

evidence or saying exactly the same

thing they're saying that most revision

techniques that students like to use

like rereading haunt aligning and making

notes are not very effective and they're

saying that by far the most effective

techniques are active recall and spaced

repetition so hopefully you can apply

those to your to your own revision and

I've given you three possible ways to do

it but to be honest pretty much anything

that you do that requires you to

retrieve information from your brain is

going to be an effective revision

strategy so yeah I really hope you like

this video thank you very much for

watching if you liked the video if you

found it useful please give a thumbs up

or leave a comment down below that would

be really nice if you have any questions

at all again leave a comment down below

and I'll try and be as evidence-based as

I can in my answers to you guys so yeah

thanks very much for watching please

subscribe to the channel if you are not

already subscribed and I will see you in

the next video and all the best with

your revision I really hope you smash it

bye bye