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Exam Preparation Part 1 – Emotional Learning

Exam Revision

Research indicates there are two main factors in memory storage – that is, we learn best through emotional and/or repetitious learning. As put by neural and systems complexity specialist Dr Fiona Kerr, “the activity of our brains could be likened to the ocean – memories are below the surface and conscious activities above” (ABC News).

Whilst we’ve looked closely at useful Study Apps, effective Study Habits and Study Hacks for the Exam Period, here are a few alternate study techniques to linear note-taking which have proven to be extra effective when studying during the exam season.

Mind-Mapping & Doodling

More of a visual learner?

If you’re an enthusiastic doodler (or ‘drawer’), good news – research has shown that those who doodle or are visual learners in general recall more information than those who don’t. Images are also considered easier to recall than written information – in cognitive psychology, this is known as the ‘Picture Superiority Effect’ (Thomas Frank).

By doodling or drawing, the research suggests, stronger neural pathways are created and therefore facts, abstract concepts – and even whole topics – can be more easily remembered!

As paying intense, continuous attention can at times put large strain on the brain, free-drawing – by contrast – provides stress relief, creates new associations or links between concepts, and helps keep your brain more awake, alert and (ironically) on task. Doodles can be random, but it’s even better if your drawings are related to the topic you’re studying.

But what if I can’t draw?

‘I believe everybody can draw certainly well enough to make learning memorable’, says Graham Shaw in his Ted Talk, ‘How to Draw to Remember More‘. You can easily get started simply by building a very simple ‘visual toolkit’ (that is, using very simple shapes and symbols to illustrate key concepts).

Remember – by creatively interpreting, engaging with and reinterpreting your study material, you’re building, linking and strengthening strong neural pathways, making recall much easier.


Just as there are infinite ways to draw or illustrate an idea, there are also infinite ways to mind-map – take one look at Youtube and you’ll find hundreds of videos on the technique!

Unlike straight-forward linear note-taking, a mind-map is a more visual representation of information where ideas are laid out in the form of a diagram. Often, mind-mappers will start with a main or core concept (a heading), then branch out into other, smaller concepts (sub-headers) which relate to the main or core idea. Mind maps are creative explorations – so they can include drawings, words, symbols… anything that comes to mind!

  1. Begin with a main concept
  2. Branch out with subheadings relating to the core concepts
  3. Branch out again with sub-sub-headings relating to the subheadings, etc
  4. Be creative – add supporting symbols, drawings, banners, etc
Mind-mapping techniques are individualistic and different for everyone.

The key is not to be precious, but to be creative – experiment and see what methods work best for you. Making a beautifully illustrated mindmap might be lots of fun, but the main idea is to engage with the core concept you’re exploring – not to procrastinate! Remember, the idea is to present your information not in the most beautiful way, but rather in a way which best helps you engage with your topic and remember your key points.

Make Efficient Flash-Cards

Flash cards are a common and useful way of revising information. To make more effective flash cards:

Make your own cards. Although using flash-card apps or taking premade flash-cards off the internet might seem like a time-saving solution, by not making your own cards you may ‘deny yourself an entire part of the learning process’ (Thomas Frank). By making your own cards, you can more effectively intake information, process it, then reinterpret it in a way that not only makes more sense to you but strengthens your familiarity with – and creates unique neural pathways leading to – that information.

Add images and words. Again, by drawing pictures – no matter your skill – you engage with your topic and recall information much more clearly (remember the Picture Superiority Effect?). Adding keywords beside pictures helps to strengthen associations between the picture, word and your core idea.

Create Mnemonic Associations.Mnemomics‘ are ‘systems – such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations – which assist in remembering something’ (Dictionary.com). Whether it’s a silly picture, song or riddle – the wackier the idea you link with your study topic, the more likely it is you’ll remember it, and the better you’ll recall information. Remember, it doesn’t matter how silly or strange the ideas are – your associations only need to work for you.


Continue to Part 2 of our Exam Preparation Guide – Repetitious Learning