Tips from a Professional Student
The limbic system, within the medial temporal lobe, contains the hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, amygdala, and the epithalamus which play important roles in recollection and encoding information. When you have to memorize large amounts of information for a test, the key to success is repetition. Comprehension is less important in these types of scenarios and will even slow you down.
Phase One: Familiarity
1. Bite Sized Pieces: break the information into no more than 5 pieces at a time. If you have 200 items to memorize, pick 5. If you have a particular learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, linguistic, etc.) that works best for you then use it. Keep it simple.
2. No Effort: the more you strain your brain the less effective at memorizing you will be and the more stressed you will become which further interrupts your ability to study. Relax. Just glance at the 5 items without needing to memorize and without needing to comprehend.
3. Repeat: glance at the each of the 5 items again.
4. 5 More Items: now take another 5 items and review them in the same relaxed manner. No effort. When you have done it twice then go back to the first set. You are now familiar with the first set even if the items are not cemented into your brain.
Next you add another set of 5, review, and then review all three sets. Continue this process of adding sets until all the information has been reviewed. Then you will repeat this entire process. Repetition is the key. Each time you review you will become more familiar with the item being reviewed.
Note: there are many apps and websites that are great for creating flash cards and many that have libraries of cards already made on specific topics. Quizlet was the one I used.
Phase Two: Mind Hooks
Mind Hooks are a layer of information mapping that may have nothing to do with the information. For example, you meet Paul and to quickly remember his name in the future you tell yourself "Paul is tall." The rhyme is the hook and even better if he's actually tall then that's a great hook too but Paul's height actually has nothing to do with his name. Mind hooks should only be applied after the stage of familiarity. Mind hooks should be very simple and are best anchored with humor, sex, stress, or the ridiculous. If it's exciting, you'll remember it.
Let's say you're memorizing medicinal plants and you review Angelica sinensis which has blood building properties, moves blood, has warming effects, but also a drug interaction caution for use with blood thinners. You might think Angelica the slutty sinner is too tired and bled all over her red sports car. Here in this simple mind hook sentence we have the Latin name, the anemia related fatigue, blood dyscrasia with the red, and warming/moving blood with the sports car.
Depending on how much you have to memorize and how big an exam you will be taking, you may need some advanced measures.
➤ Environment: consistency is better because you are going into "study mode" and need to minimize distractions in order to record information into your brain. The better the recording the better you will recall. Even better if, during the exam, you are able to alter your consciousness back to your study mode. This is kind of like remembering your happy place when depressed or scared. The study mode can work the same but you must create it intentionally and repeat it so it sticks.
➤ Music: symphonic music is my favorite for study time but you can pick tracks that are background music to be repeated and only used for study. For my licensing exam I studied 8-10 hours a day for 3 months. I listened to the Harry Potter sound tracks (which are all symphonic). On exam day, I was allowed ear plugs. Within the silence, I heard my study music and went into my "mode" where recall was effortless. In essence, I took the exam in Hogwarts (I know...what a nerd!).
➤ Mock Exams: If you are taking an exam lasting 2-8 hours then it is a marathon and you will need focus stamina. You must practice mock exams because you must build up a tolerance to focus for that many hours. During the exam your mind will drift. You will pop out of mode and if you don't catch yourself you will slip into autopilot where you begin to answer questions incorrectly.
➤ Physical Gestures: by pairing a physical gesture (like tightening your fist) with intention of focus you create a focus hook. Practice repeatedly during study modes whenever your mind drifts. During the exam, all you will need to do is the make the hand gesture and your mind will re-focus.
These are some great basic and advanced gems from my personal experience. For the larger exams, diet and supplements, rest, and exercises will need to be addressed unless, of course, you don't mind taking exams over.