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Beginnings are important. Whether it is a large introductory course for freshmen or an advanced course in the major field, it makes good sense to start the semester off well. Students will decide very early--some say the first day of class--whether they will like the course, its contents, the teacher, and their fellow students. The following list is offered in the spirit of starting off right.

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With only a few waking hours to go, how is it best you spend your time? You will have forgotten most of what you crammed within a week.

Cramming doesn’t work for retaining information

Research shows we overestimate our ability to remember information and underestimate the importance of actively learning information. We underestimate our need to learn and relearn information to be able to recall it when we need it. As an article in The New York Times put it, cramming is like jam-packing your brain:.

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But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out. Cramming can clog working memory and that can result in cognitive overload, making you feel overwhelmed.

Going to bed late because of a cramming session, overstimulated from too many energy drinks, then tossing and turning with an overloaded brain, could be worse for you than just giving up now and going to bed.

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A major reason for cramming is poor organisation of time. Time-poor students should use a planner to identify the times available for study and block out those times in the planner.

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Then actually be disciplined and use that time to study. Get a study binder — electronic or hard copy — and keep it organised.

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Use it regularly to store and review your study notes and materials. Being organised with your study materials helps you to be organised in your thinking, too, as you can easily access the materials you need to help you study in the time you have prioritised to study.

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Taking notes is important. An active note-taking process is important to help you transfer new information from short-term memory and then recall it more easily after it is stored in the long-term memory.

Things you can do in the first three weeks of class

: What's the best, most effective way to take notes? : What's the best way to take notes on your laptop or tablet? Going back to the suitcase analogy :. When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

When cramming, students often concentrate on one thing intensively for a long period of time. Research shows learning is more effective if the type of material being studied is mixed and study periods are spaced out over time.

Cramming and stress

: Why block subjects might not be best for university student learning. So once you have a good set of notes, what is the best way to interact with them?

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Self-testing is a powerful way to study and learn. Other tools you can use to help you self-test are to use mnemonics and flash cards.

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Mnemonics are memory devices that help you to recall information. Flash cards are a great way to self-test.

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Good organisation of where you store your flash cards and effective use of them are essential to maximise their study potential. If all you want to do is retain the information until after your exam tomorrow, a bit of cramming now might help.

When you wake up, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself you can only do as well as you can do, and it will all be over in a few hours anyway.

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But next time save yourself the stress and take the time to engage with the content frequently. And, finally, good luck! : HSC exam guide: maximising study and minimising stress.

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Return to Learn — Norwich, Norfolk. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. Dr Claire BrownVictoria University.

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Exams Exam stress effective studying.

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