"Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit," Sukhothai, Thailand
Unusual but Effective Ways to Prep Students for Exams
It’s that time of the year again. Students knee deep in exam prep grind their teeth at night. They’re up to their waists in past papers. They’ve chained themselves to desks with paper clips. Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t happen so often. But a student’s stress around making the grade for Bio 101, her fear of blanking out on a law exam or her anxiety of losing her only annotated copy of Measure for Measure are common. What ways can we prep our students for exams and encourage them to pull out less hair in the process?
Thanks to developing education technology, we’ve nearly bid a few of those exam-related worries adieu. The increasing use of etextbooks means core material never goes out of stock. Etexts link to elibraries and cloud filing systems that store limitless revision notes. Teachers and students alike can keep a host of material on a blog or a free open source learning management system (LMS). With edtech systems and tools, our students face fewer worries about access to material. If they miss the slides of lecture, it’s on an LMS. If they need a core text for an test, it’s in an elibrary. And with e-notes, no longer will our students accidentally feed their revision notes to their pets. Everything appears effortlessly in tact in the digital commons.
To add to the ease that edtech delivers, recent brain-based research into learning gives us fresh insight into how our students learn best. Companies like Kortext consider the latest research when designing etextbooks. They know students’ brains have specific requirements and challenges, such as visual impairment or a preference to see ideas acted out in imaginative role play. Etextbooks offer the option of text-to-speech narration for those who don’t see 20/20. Many ebooks now provide links to online video tutorials that dramatize difficult material in playful ways.
Also, new research into the brain gives us insight into ways to prep for exams with less anxiety and more pleasure. Mark Robert Waldman writes about these new strategies his 2017 Neurowisdom: The New Science of Money Happiness and Success. Taking tips from “brain-based experiential learning and living,” or BELL, here are a few innovative techniques to try with your students. Integrate unusual but effective ways to prepare your students for exams using the tools of etextbooks.
No human brain, not even Albert Einstein’s, can put its pedal to the metal for more than a few miles at a time. Neuroscience tells us brain needs rest—even for a few seconds—several times an hour. Think about it. If you continuously ride the clutch, wear and tear happens to the bearings, disc and flywheel of your car. Your neurons too need downtime in your brain. Luckily, etextbooks tell you how long you’ve been reading and how much time remains in a chapter. Encourage students to schedule in brief study breaks a few times an hour with online tools and apps that give audio cues to pause, yawn and a stretch. Remind students to cool off so they don’t risk wearing and tearing their neurons. Teach them to disengage the clutch so the flywheel of their minds works effectively over the long term.
Inspire Deliberate Daydreaming
“What?” you might say, “Encourage my students to daydream? Don’t they do that enough already?” Well, researchers at the University of Edinburgh discovered in 2014 that “people perform better on tests ... if learning is followed immediately by a short wakeful rest.” Wakeful rest here is another way of “daydreaming.” The latest neuroscience research suggests the human brain can experience different forms of wakeful awareness, and deliberate daydreaming is one of them. “Mind-wandering facilitates introspection,” Waldman writes, “it’s a necessary component for problem solving” because it allows your brain to “imagine new ways to improve future outcomes.” Think of the possibilities for exam prep. In the recently published Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, Harvard M.D. Srini Pillay challenges traditional notions about how we learn and suggests we ought to harness our mind’s tendency to wander. Great etextbooks inspire open-minded creativity. Tinker with ideas by using hyperlinks and colourful highlighting tools. Dabble into the connections between fields of research by cutting and pasting a section of a literary text for a biology major to read in learning forum. Doodle in the margins of with creative, dialogical notes. All that helps neural connections, new insights, pleasurable creativity and taps into positive brain frequencies to remove obstacles and find new answers to old problems. That’s where we want our students to be at exam time, isn’t it? Full of insight, creativity and connections.
Prompt their Pleasure
The idea that exams will never be anything more than “double, double toil and trouble,” to quote a witch from Macbeth, is one that we can leave out of our prep. Encourage the play and pleasure in learning. Waldman writes: “without enjoyment, life loses most of its purpose and meaning.” When the brain receives regular doses of dopamine, students learn to associate enjoyment, not drudgery, with exams. Inspire their M-drive, “the motivation and reward” pathways, amongst their neural connections. Etextbooks often come with fun activities to consolidate learning at the end of a chapter. Start online forums where students can debate and role play core material. Ask students to create what Waldman calls a “Pleasure List." Tell them to copy it to an e-sticky-note that bookmark their core etextbooks. Invite them to bring themselves to the process. Some students might find pleasure in dance; others might find it in singing; a few might get their dose of dopamine from a splash of cold water across their face after their brain circuits have been running all hour. With the right strategies, eventually our students might start singing the periodic table elements or dancing the literary theory of Ludwig Wittgenstein! Stranger things have happened.