We’re on the constant lookout for ways in which we can be our most efficient and effective selves and hacks aren’t a new concept. We use them to keep up and outsmart the challenges life throws our way. And with multiple subjects and tasks on our list hacks to prep for exams are no exception – so here’s how you can get the most out of your session.

When exam season rolls around, we try and find the best possible way to absorb as much info as we possibly can and sometimes it can feel impossible. Studying require students to use memory to remember ideas, concepts and material for test day and memory is basically like a muscle, one that needs constant exercise and support. The stronger your muscle the easier it becomes to prep and with the right tools and tricks you too can improve your way around your study notes and get through study material with a breeze.

How can I study and remember everything?

Ah, the question that often makes an appearance as soon as we sit in front of the study books; “How can I improve my memory?” or in a more, straight forward turn of events we point to our brain with: “How can I get ALL of this inside of here?”.

Memory and studying skills go hand-in-hand, that much we know, the one can’t work without the other. Your brain is an organ, one that, just like our hearts, lungs or kidneys need sustenance, care and exercises. You can’t expect to hike up a mountain if you haven’t prepared your body for the journey. Memory works the same way.  Our minds are full of memories and information that’s accumulated over time, memories that are organised in two folders:

  • Short-term memory = things we’re doing right now; very sharp!
  • Long-term memory = things we’ve done in the past; much duller.

The goal is to better encode information into your long-term memory, that way it becomes easier to recall the information for a test or exam.

Instead of asking: “How can I memorise ALL this stuff faster?”, learners should be asking “How can I use my memory more effectively when studying?”.  

Study hacks to boost exam preparation

It takes practice. One way of getting into the “mind exercise groove” is to regularly review material. Along with revision, there are some memory tricks you can use to help train your brain and improve memoryrecall.

Instrumental Music 

Did you know that listening to the right type of music can lead to more productive studying as it elevates your mood? A good mood means stress levels are down which means your brain power goes up. Avoid lyrical tracks and stick to high functioning classical tunes like Mozart or Bach.

Fresh air, walks and exercise

Any organ functions better when we increase its oxygen levels and the same goes for your brain. Research conducted by Dr Chuck Hillman of the University of Illinois proved that exercise can boost your memory and brainpower stating that about 20 minutes of exercise before an exam can improve performance, it also reduces stress levels.

Brain food

The foods you eat play a role in keeping your brain healthy and can improve specific mental tasks, such as memory and concentration. Here’s what should be on the menu:

  • Fatty Fish
  • Blueberries
  • Turmeric (Date balls with turmeric is a winner and they’re easy to make)
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Oranges
  • Eggs
  • Green Tea

Activate your senses

Did you know that smell can play a key role too? One study conducted by Anne-Lise Saive, Jean-Pierre Royet, and Jane Plailly has shown that smells can evoke memories. Spraying an unfamiliar scent while studying can help jog memories when sprayed again just before an exam. To avoid spiriting perfume all over the place the team also suggests chewing flavoured gum. For example, chewing mint gum in your biology class, won’t help you directly recall the makeup of a plant, but it will evoke the memory of being in that classroom, which may, in turn, help you recall the subject matter.

Efficient and fast material

From diagrams and colours to the fonts and spacing you use when reading notes – less chaotic study notes help learners fly through material faster. Ever wondered why Times New Roman is the default font on most applications? It’s known as an uncomplicated typeface. Make it easy for yourself to read through your material so you can get from A to Z that much faster.

Go beyond your books 

More often than not we limit ourselves to the study material provided to us. There can be many more engaging ways to learn about subject matterlike podcasts about World War II or visiting a museum and even watching documentaries. And who knows, you might even score an extra point or three for taking the initiative to do some extra reading.

Take breaks

Let’s get back to our exercise analogy, bear with us – breaks are just as crucial as a good study hack, they need to be taken regularly. Interestingly enough, your body and brain can tell you when it requires a break. You might become agitated; struggle to focus or find yourself reading and re-reading the same sentence. Don’t ignore the signs. Breaks in between 45 – 60 minutes of studying can help your brain absorb more information and it also keeps you motivated and focused.

Choose the right spot

Memory can be triggered by different visuals within your direct environment. Research suggests moving to a new spot if you feel like you’re hitting a wall. While we may be creatures of habit when it comes to our chosen seats in class, information retention improves when you have a variety of spaces for studying.

Study spaces are often up for discussion with regards to what works best and what doesn’t. Check out how you can set up your space in the most efficient way here: The ideal study space at home

Go to bed

It comes as no surprise that your mother was right – all-nighters are not conducive. Sleep is vital for memory and a study by Rasch and Born who studied sleep’s role in memory demonstrated the importance of REM sleep – the deepest stage in the sleep cycle and how it helps in stabilising memories. Sleeping allows your brain to assimilate the information you’ve learned, and research suggests doing revisions or studying before bed as your brain is better able to process complicated information during sleep.

Recall and revise

The part of the memory we want to unlock is the long-term filing cabinet which is why revision is so important. Review material after you’ve studied and make notes on the information you’re still struggling to recall. This all comes back to Ebbinghaus’ “Forgetting Curve” and how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to reinforce it.

For more on the “Forgetting Curve” and how to counteract it read up on Study Techniques backed by Science

Revision platforms can also come in handy. Paper Video is an online platform that covers subjects like Maths, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Accounting from grade 8 to 12. With past exam papers at your disposal and access to over 11000 video lessons that follow step-by-step explanations of different exam questions and answers. The platform gives you access to expert teachers in the field to help with your tutoring and revision, so you don’t have to go by trying to understand the work on your own. 

Need help? Visit Paper Video and book an online tutor or get started on that revision.

Improving your concertation

Concentration is sometimes confused with attention span which refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something. Here are a few quick tips to consider helping improve your concentration:

  • Assess your mental focus first
Your focus is good if… It’s easy to stay alertYou can set goals and break up tasksYou’re able to take breaks and get straight back to itYour focus needs work if… You daydream a lot You struggle to ignore distractionsYou lose track of progress
  • Switch off your devices: The less distractions the better.
  • Limit your focus: Multitasking is your worst enemy, chose one task and complete it.
  • Be in the now: Don’t think about your previous grades or what it’ll be like to ace a test.
  • Practice mindfulness: Meditation and being able to tune out.Use aps like Mindspace to help.
  • Keep practicing!

Brain fitness: Memory Techniques to help you improve

The “strengthening your mind” and “strengthening your body” analogy is so close that’s it’s not so much an analogy as a description of reality. Just like physical exercise, memory and mind need to be stimulated and made stronger.

Information visualisations

Visualise the information beyond the page by using your imagination and engaging as many senses as you can. Maybe you’d like to remember countries, continents? Close your eyes and think about the sequence in which you would travel, what would you eat and smell.

Acronyms &acrostics

Acronyms help us memorise the order of operations and they’re an easy shortcut to remembering things from chemical processes and math equations to historical events. Similar to acronyms are acrostics where you would create a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, message or the alphabet.

Speak out loud

It might make you look and feel crazy but give it a try. Hearing the content tour loud will help you push beyond just reading but understanding.

Information chaining

Having a series or chain of things to remember means you can connect them with a story or concept as ridiculous or as realistic as you want. This helps chain unrelated ideas together. Here’s an example: Henry’s heart belongs To Oliva. This silly statement helps you remember the compound for Water (H2O)


Tried and tested and probably as old as the first-ever classroom, flashcards help retain vital information. To get the most of your flashcard sessions you can follow a technique that’s known as The Leitner Technique which uses several boxes to help track the flashcards you need to study. Each box represents the amount of time and effort learners would need to spend on certain cards.

Our Fiver Favourite memory games

Sharping up your memory doesn’t have to be draining, just like a game of Hacky Sack improves hand-eye coordination so too will fun memory games and exercises. Try these out for size:

1. Lumosity

A cognitive training programme looks at fun and interactive ways to train your brain and learn about how your mind works. (4½ star-rating on Google Play)

2. Braingle

An online platform where users need to solve puzzles, brush up on trivia and play games that give their brains a bit of a workout with specific emphasis on theWord Search game, Sudoku, Code Breaker, and Math Path.

3. Elevate

The app helps improve students’ ability to acquire and retain knowledge in the long-term and trains their brain with quiz-like games, asking questions on Discounting (Math), Processing sentences (Reading), Memory and Speaking.

4. Mind Games

A strategically developed app where each game is focused on developing a particular cognitive skill. There are a wide variety of games to choose from, fromAttention Training and Memory Racer to Memory Flow and Word Memory.

Revision and extra classes might not seem like fun and games, but it’s one way to get your brain’s muscles flexing. Solving problems and working through content that’s covered in class is another way to help you prep when tests and exams come around.

Visit Paper Video and find out what works for you. With online tutors, teachers for support and over 1100 video lessons that cover subjects like Maths, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Accounting all on one platform – learners can rest assure that there’s something to help. 

Visit www.papervidoe.co.za or contact us on 061 357 2304 for more information on how to get started.

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