Studying for the O Level or A Level examinations is no easy feat. In fact, it can feel like a gargantuan task with no end in sight. While Zenith can’t eradicate all the downs of preparing for the examinations, we can share with you some tips and tricks to make your hectic life as a student easier! There are actually a ton of really simple yet effective things you can do to streamline your learning process and make learning a lot less miserable. In this article, find out the top five recommendations on how you can study smarter by the top JC and secondary school tuition center in Singapore, Zenith.
Method #1: Make your own notes.
At Zenith, we know that it can be incredibly hard to stay awake in class on some days. Perhaps you’re suffering through that dreaded food coma after a heavy lunch, or you simply slept too late the night before. One way to stay awake is to actively take notes in class. Instead of passively listening (or worse still, zoning out), you are forced to pay attention to what your teacher is saying.
The best thing about taking notes in class is that it also helps you to learn more effectively. You will also be able to pinpoint on the spot which concepts you don’t quite understand. Indicate these confusing concepts with an asterisk. Then, make sure to clarify your doubts immediately after class, instead of letting them pile up till the week before your O Level or A Level examinations. Finding out where your misconceptions and weaknesses lie when taking notes during class helps you to work on them within a shorter time frame, instead of procrastinating till your examinations are just around the corner. Furthermore, with the amount of content and number of subjects students have to grapple with at the O Level and A Level examinations, you might even forget to clarify your doubts if you don’t do so quickly.
Making your own notes during class time also has one added benefit––you don’t have to trawl through your textbooks or lecture slides again when doing revision on your own. You are likely to have consolidated the most important information in your notes, and this will probably save you more time than you think.
On that note, here are some simple ways to make your notes more easily digestible and useful:
Colour-code your notes.
Your favourite Mildliner highlighters do more than just make your notes look aesthetically pleasing. It can help to make your notes easier to understand and access. This means that you won’t have to read your entire set of notes just to find that one fact you were looking for.
For example, one could do the following for their Chemistry notes:
- Yellow = key formulas to remember
- Orange = key explanations (e.g. how Ionic Bonding takes place)
- Green = explanations which need to be accompanied with diagrams (e.g. graphs)
- Purple = concepts you tend to have trouble with
When you next revisit this set of notes, it will be much faster for you to find the information you’re looking for, as they have already been categorised by colour.
Make mind maps.
Mind maps are a useful resource for you to discover (and recall) how the topics you are studying are linked. The minimal number of words you can fit into a mind map also forces you to simplify what you are learning, breaking them down into more easily understood, succinct tidbits of information. Research has also shown that students tend to remember information better when there are fewer words to memorise, and if relationships between different concepts can be grasped without difficulty. Discover the types of mindmaps you can make to improve your A Level revision flow here.
Method #2: Put your knowledge to the test.
The ability to retrieve information from your brain is critical to how well you perform during your O Level or A Level examinations. Some students are expert memorisers of information, however, a lack of practice in active recall means that it is difficult for them to apply the right concepts to specific questions. This is typically accompanied by students “going blank” during examinations or their tendency to merely regurgitate everything that one has learnt, without clearly assessing if the information is relevant to the question at hand. To prevent this from happening, it is advisable that students practise recalling what they have memorised. This is preferably done in chunks, where students are able to separate individual concepts from one another and explain them individually.
Flashcards are typically two-sided. You should put a prompt (i.e. the question) on one side of the card and its description (i.e. the answer) on the other. For example, you might be struggling to memorise, for A Level Mathematics, when ax^2 + bx + c is always positive. This is then what you will put on the flashcard:
- Question Side: When is ax^2 + bx + c always positive?
- Answer Side: ax^2 + bx + c is always positive when no real roots exist, and a is positive. The graph of the polynomial will always lie above the x-axis (i.e. the graph of ax^2 + bx + c , when always positive, will not intersect the x-axis at any point).
Flashcards are useful because they force you to identify a particular piece of information during the active recall process, rather than simply repeat whatever is at the top of your head. When randomised, they also help you to make sure that you can recall information in any given order. This is important as some students might find that they only remember certain concepts in the order they memorised them. However, questions at the O Level and A Level examinations are set in a randomised order!
Adopt the Leitner system.
The Leitner system advocates spaced repetition. Here’s how you can implement it:
- Create a set of flashcards.
- Get four boxes and label them A, B, C, and D.
- Box A will hold flashcards that you test yourself on daily.
- Box B will hold flashcards that you test yourself on every other day.
- Box C will hold flashcards that you test yourself on once a week.
- Box D will hold flashcards that you test yourself on once a month.
- Place all the cards in Box A.
- Test yourself using the flashcards.
- If you remember what is on the flashcard, it moves to Box B.
- If you do not remember what is on the flashcard, it remains in Box A.
- Repeat the process until all the cards are in Box D.
By the time the cards are in Box D, you should have etched them into your memory. This is because the Leitner system, by demanding that you constantly revise information you are less familiar with, helps you to internalise it in a shorter period of time. It also helps you save time as you are able to identify which concepts you have already understood and hence, spend less time on them. A more efficient allocation of your study time means increased productivity and more done in less time!
Click here for a comprehensive YouTube video on how the Leitner system (also dubbed the Leitner box by some) works! It shows you how you should categorise your flashcards according to whether you remember the information written on them. Do note that Zenith is in no way affiliated with the channel.
Method #3: Attempt practice papers and link the concepts you’ve learnt to one another.
During your O Level or A Level examinations, the questions from every topic are jumbled up. For instance, the A Level Economics essay questions are not labeled “Central Economic Problem”, “Price Elasticity” or “Comparative Advantage” and so on. You have to figure out for yourself if a question is about Scarcity or not. As another example, the A Level Mathematics questions are similarly not labeled—the question won’t tell you if it’s on Binomial Distribution or Normal Distribution. You could face a huge problem if you don’t know if a particular type of distribution in a question is Binomial or Normal. Students typically face such problems when they do not view the topics they are learning in relation to one another, and stick only to doing topical practices. When you attempt an O Level topical practice on Enzymes, your brain is predisposed towards knowing that a question will definitely be on Enzymes. Therefore, you naturally skip out on assessing what topic a question falls under because you already know. However, this is not going to be the case during your O Level or A Level examinations. Therefore, it goes without saying that it is equally important that you attempt practice papers as a whole, where you’ll need to identify for yourself which concepts are being tested for in a question.
Moreover, many examination questions now require students to understand how, for instance, in O Level Chemistry, the topic of Ionic, Covalent, and Metallic Bonding is closely related to the topic of Acids, Bases, and Salts. Such knowledge of how various topics interact with each other ensures that you are able to introduce the necessary concepts to secure all your marks, instead of being restrained to the idea that each question is directly and linearly related to one topic only. To practice linking your knowledge of various topics, you can adopt both the mind mapping and colour-coding methods. You can visualise through mind maps how topics are related to one another and indicate on your notes in a specific colour (e.g. pink) the concepts which are also relevant to another topic.
Method #4: Be flexible, but stick to a weekly schedule.
It goes without saying that life doesn’t stop during the year in which you sit for your O Level or A Level examinations. Most of you are likely to be caught up in your CCAs and other activities till June of your examination year. This is great, but you don’t want to find yourself struggling to catch up with your academics only in early July because you didn’t dedicate any time to it amidst all the training sessions, competitions, and after-CCA dinners!
As Singapore’s top secondary and JC tuition center, Zenith shares with you how you can manage your studies well while still having some fun!
Plan your weekly agenda.
At the O Levels, make sure that you dedicate at least 1-2 hours to each of your subjects each week. This evens out to around 1.5 hours of studying each day, depending on whether you are opting for 8 or 9 subjects.
At the A Levels, make sure that you dedicate at least 2-3 hours to each of your subjects each week. As students only take 5 subjects at the A Levels, this will even out to a maximum of 2 hours spent at your study desk each day.
To put things into perspective, you are likely to be spending more time on your CCAs and socialising each week than you are on each individual subject you are studying. With minimal distraction and high focus, it is definitely possible for you to cover all that you have learnt for a particular subject in a week within 2 hours, and even attempt some practice questions.
Sometimes, things might not go your way. You might be busier on Tuesday than you are on Thursday, which perhaps means that you could study for 4 hours on Tuesday but only have 30 minutes on Thursday. Instead of harping on this and insisting that you have to spend 2 hours studying each day, just put in the time when it is possible. Don’t set yourself up for failure and drown in your frustration by being inflexible. In a week where you have CCA matches on three days, in the late afternoon, it might be unproductive to study when you are physically worn out. You could choose to put in more time on the weekend when you are more well-rested or make up for it in the early parts of the next week. The important thing is, control your timetable, don’t let it control you. It is supposed to help you, not hinder you.
Method #5: Adopt a variety of study methods.
There are many ways to learn in the age of technology––some students prefer listening to lectures because they are auditory learners, others find visual aids extremely important in facilitating their learning. While most people tend to stick to their favourite studying method most of the time, switching things up once in a while can keep your learning process fresh and interesting. This might be more helpful than you think! Researcher Judy Willis shares in this book that “The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means students will have more opportunities to pull up all of those related bits of data from their multiple storage areas in response to a single cue. This cross-referencing of data means we have learned, rather than just memorized.”
With that, we have covered the last of the 5 very easy yet effective ways in which you can study smart with Zenith! In sum, here’s what you can do:
- Make your own notes
- Colour-code them
- Make mind maps
- Review them regularly
- Put your knowledge to the test
- Use flashcards
- Use the Leitner system
- Link the concepts you’ve learnt to one another
- Stick to a weekly schedule that has some flexibility
- Adopt a variety of studying methods
Keen to equip yourself with more tried and tested study hacks? Click here! We love to see the Zenith family excel, and are more than happy for you to join our family of students who work hard and play hard. We can’t promise that preparing for your O Level or A Level examinations will always be a breeze, but we do vouch that we will make your learning as fun and enjoyable as possible.
At Zenith, we also understand that the O Level and A Level examinations can be extremely challenging––there’s no shame in needing someone to guide you through your learning. This is why, at Zenith, our students can drop our tutors a text message at any time. Our tutors will aim to get back to you as soon as possible, instead of waiting till the next lesson to clarify your doubts. Students who prefer face-to-face consults can also opt to arrange one-to-one or group consultations with their dedicated tutors. Simply drop by at our centers at the arranged time and get your questions answered! Since all our locations in Singapore also have dedicated study areas with well-stocked snack bars, students can feel free to stay at our centers after their consultations to study and do their revisions. Take a look at our awesome results (Fig. 1) and fantastic welfare (Fig. 2)!
Fig 1. The Zenith family’s Promo/Prelim results for 2021
Fig 2. Zenith’s Sept/Oct Welfare Report––See more on our Instagram @learnatzenith today!