1. Develop skills in written and verbal communication.
Without the ability to communicate what you know clearly and competently you will be penalized from the start. But communication goes further. You have to be able to persuade, run a strong argument and deal with counter-arguments effectively. Without excellence in communication your career will be disadvantaged in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on the use of language.
2. Motivation is the essence of learning.
And motivation flows from interest, a compelling interest, in what you study. Whatever the source of that drive which pushes you forward and gives you the energy and commitment to work well and competently, you will not perform well if the subject bores you mindless. To maximize the potential of study, select subjects that you are motivated to learn about through interest.
3. Plan the school or university year.
Do this in the light of other personal commitments, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. There is much more to the intelligent process of study than bulldozing your way intellectually through mountains of work. This is a developmental experience, on in which you are laying the foundations for your later interests, career and personal potential. Setting out at the beginning of the academic year to plan your workload, allocate available time to best effect and provide for physical fitness and adequate rest and recreation is a part of that experience.
4. Organize notes and learning materials.
You must be able to retrieve the information easily and quickly so that when the time comes, revision and the preparation of memory joggers is simplified. By working towards a one-page summary of everything you know about one subject, and memorizing these trigger points before the exam, you have everything you need to retrieve the data you need from your own mind.
5. Discard the dross.
Concentrate on what is relevant in all your learning. You cannot hope to bring back to consciousness everything you know, or have assimilated, during the year. Don’t even try to do that, but trust your mind to deliver the flow of associated ideas when needed. At the same time you can make the process simpler and more straightforward by not cluttering up your mind with piles of irrelevant information that will neither serve your interests nor add to your marks in an exam. How do you discriminate between the dross and the relevant? Be guided by compelling interest.
6. Take time to think, reason and apply your own judgment.
This applies as much to essay writing and exam technique as to the task of learning what you need and want to know and to ‘real’ life. A good teacher develops the student’s own capacity for intelligent thought and reasoning and it this quality above all others that the educational experience seeks to emphasize. At the most extreme, if your teacher is a confirmed creationist and a member of some charismatic religious order who is misguided enough to attempt to misdirect his or her students, you have to be able to see beyond the propaganda to a rational and acceptable view of the world.
7. Teach yourself to manage exams.
Develop competence in the techniques of working within a fixed time-scale, presenting your answers in a visually attractive and clear manner and thus maximizing your marks. As in most areas of life, there are tricks of the trade and simple practical techniques which, when applied to the examination room, can maximize your results.
8. Revision is affected considerably by the methods employed.
Refine your swotting technique until you revisit only those facts, ideas and processes you need to excel. Organizing your mind is more important than organizing your notes and files. Once your mind is in order, the rest of the retrieval process is a breeze. The critical point here is to create a system, a formula, a technique, that works for you and is easy to use.
9. A degree of exam tension keys you up.
Being nervous gets you to the point where your mind’s alive and working well, so use this tension to good effect. Going beyond that stage to blind panic means that you are not confident in your own ability and have not trained yourself appropriately for the task before you. You are probably overtired and cannot perform well because your mind is not sufficiently clear to disgorge the facts you need.
10. Be realistic about your shortcomings and limitations.
Work during the year on removing all the handicaps to good performance. Teachers or tutors may highlight some of these problems but, in the end, only your self-analysis and self-criticism will refine your exam skills. This also means that you must not overreact to external criticism nor become self-critical to the point of destroying the basis of your self-confidence. While nothing succeeds like success, nothing is so galling as failure.