Whether you are writing for a PhD position, or searching for a research job, an academic CV can look a little bit different to a typical resume for any other jobs you’ve had before.
Here, there is a focus on research experience, writing and often a very clear structure that is expected.
However, we want an academic CV to captivate your audience. You need to catch the eyes of potential supervisors, universities or new employers.
Here is the template that I follow for my Academic CV. I am currently a PhD candidate and have scored myself multiple tutoring roles during my time as a post-graduate student.
The general idea is to make sure it includes your academic qualifications, research experience, scholarships (or funding you’ve received), awards, conference and teaching experience and research outputs.
General Structure of an Academic CV
Scholarships and Awards
If there are any sections here that you know you have no experience in, or that you aren’t able to fill yet, keep on reading – I have included alternative ideas to provide examples of your capabilities otherwise!
Hopefully this one comes easily to you! For an academic CV, of course, you need some academic qualifications. Whether you have just started a degree, or have an undergraduate already under your belt, this is the spot for it.
I usually like to keep it simple here, but also tailored. The key is that everyone with an academic CV obviously has some kind of degree or qualification. Thus, for more, just be straightforward. Most people reading it would have gone through a similar experience, so the bells and whistles here are not needed.
Further, unless you have a very shiny GPA (almost perfect), you probably don’t need to include it. Just include the name of the degree, year completed (or expected graduation) and if you had to write a specialised thesis (as in, completed an Honours year), add the title here too. This lets the reader know a specialty area of yours.
If you have lots of professional academic experience, this is where you would include it.
For me, this is where I detail any research roles/experience I have gained.
That is, time I’ve spent as a summer scholar, in research placements, or internships. I detail my job description, tasks I underwent and any specialty knowledge I acquired, alongside the name of the laboratory/university/company this was undertaken at.
Scholarships & Awards
This one is nice and easy, just simple list of awards you’ve gathered along the way, who from and what date.
This could include awards at conferences, commendations for your grades, or monetary scholarships won.
Whatever you can think of that deserves to be put on show, can be listed here.
My examples: 3MT (3 minute thesis) commendation or Best in Session at a conference.
Teaching Experience & Supervision
This will of course depend on how long you’ve been in the academic game and what tricks you’ve got up your sleeve!
For me, this section includes which courses I have tutored for, and the titles of my honours student’s theses.
If you don’t have teaching experience directly, you could include any things where you’ve volunteered your assistance. Before formally tutoring, I helped my supervisor teach a summer short course. Perhaps you’ve volunteered your expertise in university library sessions that aim to help out students in courses you’ve already completed.
Were you able to present at any conferences during your undergraduate degree? If so, add them here. This section could also include informal presentations. For example, during your laboratory’s meetings, or perhaps during a campus tour.
You could also call this section “Talks and Presentations” to better encompass all of the aforementioned experience.
This section should include any publications that are not formally peer-reviewed. For me, this covers progress reports created for my industry partners, which involve countless hours of work, but never get published as full articles.
I was also able to write up a small article for an undergraduate research newsletter (after presenting at a conference). I also like to include this in my CV to show breadth of writing capabilities. Journal article writing is one thing, but being able to take on multiple writing styles and media is great to showcase.
This is the most typical section that you will see in any academic’s CV: the pride and joy of scientific research.
Here is where you list any papers that you have authorship.
If you are in the process of submitted to a journal, you can also be a little sneaky and cite your work as inpreparation.
Further tips for your academic CV…
For some beautiful but simple CV templates, I suggest looking at Canva.
It is December 28th, 2020. I can officially say that I have come to the end of being a first year PhD student.
Miraculously, I have survived. I have made it far past my first week as a PhD! And I can honestly say that it has been an absolutely amazing learning experience and my self-development this past year has been at an all time high.
Running experiments (emailing and interacting with participants).
Attending workshops, lectures and conferences.
Supervising Honours students.
Teaching undergraduate classes and meeting with students.
Analysing Data (learning coding languages like python and R).
2. Industry partners can be great motivation.
As I’ve said before, completing a PhD can feel lonely. Especially if you don’t have a lab environment or specified PhD space to interact with other students or academics.
When you have to be working independently, it can be incredibly difficult to keep up the dedication, set your own goals and timelines and feel motivated to show up each and every day!
Therefore, a PhD project that comes under a larger project or alongside an industry partner can be incredibly helpful in keeping you accountable on your PhD journey.
For me specifically, I was having monthly meetings with the industry partners on my project. They wanted to be kept up to date with my progress, my results, and any issues I was having.
In this sense, they kept me accountable to make sure that I was in the lab everyday, and always chipping away at the project. Having someone else relying on the work that you do can be very beneficial in making sure you continuously show up!
If you are under the wing of a larger project, there will be deadlines and things that need to be done at certain time intervals to keep with the flow of the whole project.
However, I know that not every PhD project is tied to another larger project. If this is you, then make sure you are having the discussions with your supervisor and ask questions like:
What are the big deadlines I need to meet in the next 3/6/12 months?
What should I focus on this week/month?
What does the general outline of my PhD project look like?
It is so so important to make it clear what you need to achieve each day to reach the larger goal (and be consistent!).
3. Not meeting a deadline is not the end of the world.
In saying that though, having a clear deadline/timeframe can also make you narrow-minded. Of course, hitting those deadlines is amazing! However, missing them is not the end of the world.
For example, this lesson became very clear to me during data collection.
I had a goal of collecting data from 40 participants from June – October this year, and writing up a report in December.
However, with COVID continuously messing with everyone’s plans, and people being wary to venture out, I was only able to run a total of 9 participants through the experiment protocol.
I was worried this would disappoint my supervisor, but they were incredibly understanding. No matter how many people I asked, how many classes I advertised to, I just couldn’t get people to volunteer!
When December came around, I just wasn’t able to provide a full dataset and analysis. But, I was able to write up a progress report of where I was, challenges I’d faced and subsequent alteration of experiment protocols that had been done along the way.
Doing this thorough analysis of the little data I had collected means that I have a really good idea of the trajectory of trends/patterns we are starting to see. Also, I have code scripts prepared to run through all additional data that comes our way!
My first year PhD student experience has been incredible. More so that I could have imagined. I have enjoyed delving into research, but also lending a hand to undergraduate and Honours students when they need it!
It can be difficult to ace your university assignments. What assignment hacks could help? I hear you ask.
Well, assignments are always a little different: a report, an essay, a review.
It’s hard to get generalised tips that can help to improve your writing across multiple styles of assessments.
However, getting good grades (regardless of the assignment) relates to two key things: understanding what the marker wants and making it clear to them that you’ve included it.
You can take my word for it. As a PhD student, I’ve marked assignments for undergraduate courses multiple times.
There is limited time that can be spent marking each assignment, so it’s important that you are clear, straight-to-the-point and hitting the key sections of the rubric.
Here are 3 assignment hacks (from a university marker!) that you can use for any courses and subjects, to improve your grades.
Assignment Hacks 1: Be Clear on the Content
Understanding what you need to include in your assignment is the first big hurdle to getting a good grade.
I always thought this was a simple thing: include in your assignment what your lecturer/professor wants you to include.
However, I’ve marked some reports that have introductions going completely off-topic things (discussing literature/information that’s never been talked about in the course) and losing themselves a bunch of marks.
Being mindful of exactly what the content should be is so so important.
There’s a couple of things to be aware of here.
Is there a clear format to the assignment (paper, essay, report)?
Do you need to include specific topics/information from the course/lectures?
Do you need to include certain authors/papers in your discussion?
Do you need to write from one perspective? Or is it an argument/debate?
It’s crucial to be clear on the information you have to include.
For example, if the lecturer says that your introduction needs to discuss the ‘factors that influence attraction’ and you’ve had a lecture on ‘factors that influence attraction’ then you should be writing about those!
Don’t go and find a new set of different factors of attraction, or discuss the philosophy of attraction, or why you are very attracted to the course – you were asked to introduce the ‘factors that influence attraction’ so do just that!
Often, students will make it harder than it is.
if you’ve been asked to include something, then include it.
You can of course slightly extend yourself here and there. There could be alternate perspectives to factors of attraction but this would only be a couple of sentences just highlighting how there are alternate theories too.
The assignment should include what you have been asked to include.
Make sure that you are clear on what that is.
Assignment Hack 2: Make it Flow
It is so so hard to mark an assignment when a student doesn’t know how to write a clear sentence. It’s hard to follow their train of thought and know if they’ve actually hit the points in the rubric or if they are just rambling.
I know that writing is a developed skill. You have to put in the time to understand how to be clear, concise and straight-forward in your writing.
But – you really should put in the time to hone in your writing skills, because it’s easy to lose marks when your flow can’t be followed.
When I say ‘make it flow’ what I mean is writing with straight-forward sentences.
My key tips here would be:
The longest sentence isn’t the best sentence. I believe students often think they sound smart and fancy including overly wordy sentences. This isn’t the case. It often sounds like you don’t understand punctuation, and the writing comes across like talking. Have a look here at how varying your sentence length is so important.
Follow the instructed format. For example, introduction, body graphs and conclusion. If you need to know what each should include, have a look here. Give the marker a clear structure.
Each paragraph should have an opening ‘topic’ sentence, and a concluding remark on why it’s important to the current writing. It’s important to keep each paragraph discussing only one topic, so that you can adequately cover the points you need to, critically analyse the evidence and address the reason why you’ve included the information/why it’s important to the current argument. This is something that I often don’t see in undergraduate writing.
Assignment Hacks 3: Read the Rubric
You’ve heard me mention it a couple of times now throughout this article.
Read the rubric.
I say this because it is seriously the most crucial thing you can do while writing any assignment to make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of a high grade.
When I am marking, I will have the student’s essay open on the left of my computer screen, and the marking rubric on the right.
Marking involves comparing the student’s work with the rubric and determining if they have correctly, effectively and extensively covered what the rubric is asking of them.
When you are in the process of writing, keep the rubric in mind.
When you’ve completed the assignment, do exactly as a marker would do: put your document and the rubric side by side.
Go through the list of items, and see if you’ve ticked each box.
It’s also important here to be mindful of how many points each section is worth. For example, you don’t want to have one sentence to conclude your essay (albeit a great sentence) if the conclusion is worth 35% of the essay. It’s likely that you need to go into more depth, make more connections to the external world and re-highlight the importance of your work.
It’s been exactly one week since I started my PhD.
If you’re thinking about doing a PhD, you might be wondering what your first weeks might actually look like. What kind of skills do you need to make it?
Here is what I have learnt in the first week of a PhD.
What have I learned in the first week of my PhD?
1. You’re on your own.
You’ve got to be ready to tackle this PhD on your own accord.
On my first day as a new PhD student, I didn’t even see my supervisors!
But, I got in to the lab, set up my bluetooth keyboard, computer, and settled my pot-plant into its spot near the window – and then that was it. It was up to me to sort out what the heck I was doing, what my to-do list was, and what I would occupy my office hours with.
You have got to be motivated to get what you need to get done, by yourself.
There was no one there to tell me to complete my research induction, finish the workplace safety module or start reading hundreds of papers on my topic.
I am lucky enough to be in a lab environment, so I was super welcomed and congratulated on my first day by the other PhD students, Honours students and post docs floating around.
However, not a single person cares what I am doing at my desk.
There is no one telling you to get things done.
You have got to be 100% self motivated (which, I think mostly comes from starting your PhD for the right reasons, not just because you’re not ready to leave university!).
On the flip side, no one is telling you to get tasks done, which means you can focus on exactly what you want.
If one day you want to watch 10 videos about vaguely-connected-to-your-project physics concepts, you can. If you want to watch last year’s data science conference talks, you can.
Want to make three coffees? Sure!
It’s an incredible independence you would never have experienced during undergrad.
2. You’ve got to treat it like a full-time job.
Following on from being in charge of your own PhD, you’ve got to treat it seriously.
Treat it like a full-time job.
After the first week, I told my partner that, “I can see how people just never get anything done.”
There’s no one to tell you to get stuff done every second of every day.
But in six months, you’re going to have to check-in with the university and prove that you’ve actually achieved something towards your PhD.
It’s easy to want to head home a little earlier, or skip a day of work (which you totally have the freedom to do, if you really need it!) but you’ve got to be careful to actually put in the hours you need to truly knuckle down on your PhD.
Don’t laze about and then be stressed in 1.5 years when you’re no where near where you should be.
One of my Honour’s supervisors said that the easiest way to get your PhD done, is to just rock up everyday.
Show up and you’re halfway there.
3. You need your workspace to work for you!
Part of your reason for showing up – should be how your workspace / desk make you feel!
You should want to wake up everyday, snuggle into your office chair, and knuckle down on some reading, writing, and analysis.
I know that some people aren’t lucky enough to receive their own dedicated space in a lab or university, but never-the-less, you should always strive to make your environment work for you.
I’ve brought in a calendar, a small wooden shelf, arrowhead pot-plant, snacks and coordinated my folders and customised my iMac.
And on top of just aesthetics, your environment is super important in habit forming and maintenance.
You’ve got to employ stimulus control techniques to ensure that you’re teaching your brain that sitting at your desk means ‘work.’
If you’re going out for lunch, go out for lunch and step away from your workspace.
Teach your brain that desk time is PhD research time.
And chatting, eating and socialising should occur outside of its bounds.
From the very first week of a PhD, make those rules for yourself.
4. You’ve got to sort out a meal routine.
Let’s be real: food is the most important part of any day.
If you’re going to start treating your PhD like a full time job, this means you’re going to have to start preparing food for it too.
The number one trap at any full time position is falling into buying lunch every single day.
Every bit of money you earn is just going straight to the lunch lady!
Don’t get sucked into the ‘buying lunch’ culture in the first week of a PhD.
Find something quick, easy and super yummy to eat everyday. It should be easy to prepare and something that you can prep for days in advance.
My favourite is hummus, tomato and cucumber on bread. I bring in a loaf of rye bread, large container of home made hummus, a whole cucumber and a couple of tomatoes. Chuck it in the lab fridge and it will last me the entire week!
5. Your first week of a Phd is flipping exciting.
I’m starting a full-time position, am completely in control of my everyday happenings and one step closer to receiving that ‘Dr.’ title.
Starting your PhD is an exciting time.
The first 6 months often include in depth exploration of your topic, organising methods and materials, and writing up your first proper research proposal. Here is exactly what I did in the first month of my PhD.
But on your first week, relinquish in your new duty. You earned your spot.
So you’re ready to learn how to read a scientific journal article? You’re ready to tackle the big bad world of science? You might want to read the latest research and get your head around rapidly evolving scientific developments.
Or, you might also just be here to get on top of your university assignments.
As I mentioned in my essay writing tips, it can be super daunting jumping into your first year at university and being told you can no longer use any old websites as references in your essays.
You have to use scientific journal articles (or scientific literature) to back up statements that you make.
You need to learn – very quickly! – how to navigate and understand a scientific journal article.
For some reason though, this is never taught in undergraduate courses – you are instead just thrown in the deep end.
And on top of this, you will probably have to start writing up your research reports in a similar format (if you’re in a scientific discipline).
So today, let’s talk about how to read a scientific journal article, section by section.
What is a Journal Article?
A scientific journal article is a piece of writing by a group of scientists, which tells you about specific experiments or research they have completed.
These articles can be found in Google Scholar, or any other scientific database that your discipline likes most (like PubMed or ScienceDirect).
Journal articles undergo a rigorous (and very lengthy!) submission process before being published. Articles are only accepted into a journal when they met specific standards and pass a peer-review process (where other scientists critique the work and make comments/suggestions).
Because of this process, they are one of the most highly regarded sources of information.
Journal Articles can take a few forms.
A typical research article will explain and document a particular experiment (or series of experiments), in a way that any scientist can replicate it. There is usually an introduction to the experiment (with all background information), a very detailed procedure, results of the experiment, and what it means for outside in the real world.
A review article is a recap of previously completed research, and doesn’t include a new experiment in itself. These articles collate and organise old research in the aim of answering a specific research question. They often include an introduction to the problem, and multiple paragraphs with subheadings to explore different aspects of the problem.
Case Studies look over one particular instance of an event, disease, or person in order to better understand and document one specific phenomenon.
Typically, you will be most likely met with experiment or review articles.
As a Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience major, I am most familiar with the format of articles in these fields, but there is typically a standard structure in which most articles follows: abstract, introduction, method, results and discussion.
I will take you through each section so that next time, you know exactly how to read a scientific journal article.
So what’s included in each section?
How to read a scientific journal article: section-by-section.
Research articles can sometimes be very long – so it’s important to know what you’re looking for and what you need when you are researching.
Each section of the research article will tell you something specific about the work, and sometimes you won’t need to read all of it, so it’s important that you know where to look.
The abstract sits at the top of the article and will give you a run down of the entire paper in less than 300 words.
It is basically a very condensed version of the entire research article, with a sentence summarising each sub-section of the report. It will give you a super speedy overview of the background of the project, the method and all of the results.
If you are searching on Google Scholar or other databases, this is the part of the research article that you will be able to read before downloading the whole thing.
It gives you an insight into the rest of the article.
Reading the abstract will let you know whether the research article has what you are looking for, and whether a full-length read will be worth your time.
If you are unfamiliar with the topic of the research article, the introduction is where you need to be.
These first few paragraphs will give you background information about the experiment.
Here, the researchers tell you why they decided to create their experiment.
The introduction often explains other research work, in order to create a basis for the current experiment. They talk about what has previously been found, and what is missing from knowledge.
This section will also likely explain why the research is important to society – how would the world benefit from this experiment?
It also often gives the rationale for the way in which the experiment was conducted.
The introduction should be written in a way that seems almost like the first chapter of a novel, setting up the scenes and the context for what is to come.
After reading this section, you will have a better understanding of the larger field in which this research is based, but you can also use other work that the researcher has referenced here to expand your knowledge.
This (often short) paragraph let’s you know who was involved in the study, how many, where they were recruited, their ages, gender, and any other criteria that was important for the study.
How participants are included/excluded is very important to the results, and heavily influences what conclusions and generalisations can be drawn from the research.
Participant numbers are also very important in making sure that you can make larger, over-arching conclusions from research.
Materials and Design
This section is the recipe for the experiment!
It lets you know what materials were used (questionnaires, EEG, computer paradigms) and what you might need to replicate the experiment.
It is important that scientists document exactly every little detail of their experiments, in order for others to critically evaluate their work.
While scientific journal articles are rigorously reviewed before publication, some methods or ways of working may be more ‘correct’ than others.
It is important for this information to be shared, so that people can make informed decisions about the results.
It also makes it easier for other scientists to build on past experiments, or tweak certain aspects to answer new questions.
Here is the exact step-by-step for the experiment.
This is what the researchers did, and when, and how far apart, and on what day, and with which piece of equipment.
This part will be important for you if you’re looking to replicate the experiment for yourself.
It’ll also be the place to be if you need to critically evlauate the experiment (say, for an assignment) as you’ll need to pick apart exactly what was done.
If you’re reading an article for the results, this isn’t the section you need.
Finally, something new and exciting!
The results section gives you the numbers.
After the scientists ran all of their experiments, and crunched the numbers, this is what they got. It might also show you some pretty pictures (figures and tables).
It does little to explain why, and simply presents all the statistics and calculations that were done. If you like maths, it’s where you want to be.
If you are unfamiliar with statistics, this section can be very overwhelming.
It contains the results of t-tests, ANOVAs, means, standard deviations, effect sizes and p-values.
If you want to learn more about statistics in science, have a look at my blog post here.
Otherwise for now, just know that all the heavy numbers are here. While you might need them to break down the experiment and truly assess it’s validity, often times you can be safe just skimming this area, if you are simply looking for the meaning behind it all!
If you are just starting your psychology degree, rest assured that as you continue through, you will become more familiar with these terms.
The results section often includes figures.
Figures are diagrams, graphs or schematics of the results or are sometimes also included in the methods section to better explain how to run a procedure.
A figure should convey a maximal amount of information using the smallest amount of ink, and give readers an opportunity to see the data in a different way.
Figures are often referred to in the paragraphs, but allow researchers to show their results in a more straight-forward way.
Tables may also appear here!
These allow researchers to present a large array of numbers, percentages or measurements in as few lines as possible.
They are often included as additional information as they show means, observations or values from a larger number of individuals or show all results when only a few are meaningful or important.
In many cases, these are ‘read more’ options, and not compulsory to forming a basic understanding the research article as a whole.
Ahhh, finally the good stuff!
The discussion is where it’s at.
Time to learn what the results actually were (aside from the maths), and get a deeper understanding of what they mean for the world outside.
The discussion section usually starts with an overview of the results (in normal non-number talk).
“The study showed that this was higher than that… these people scored better than this… this chemical was better at doing that….”
The researchers will explain whether their findings are similar or in opposition to previous research that has been conducted.
If their findings are contrasting, they can often try to explain why this might be the case.
Whether consistent or contrasting results are encountered, researchers will explain what these mean for the wider community.
Do the results have negative or positive impacts… and what should be done because of the findings?
For example this might include: how do the results change any of our previous beliefs about the world? How should they change treatment choices? How should they direct government funding? How do they change health recommendations?
Each study may have numerous effects on the world outside the lab.
In this section, researchers will also explain any short-comings in their experiment. Nothing is ever perfect. Things can always be improved.
Researchers may also give recommendations for future research and questions still unanswered. They could also suggest ways in which their study could be built upon.
The discussion will also conclude with a sweet little paragraph summarising the whole article. This last paragraph will sum up exactly what the researchers want you to take away from their work.
As I previously mentioned, scientists may reference other scientists when introducing you to their project, or when attempting to explain their results.
An experiment may also have used questionnaires, paradigms or equipment created by other people (that requires referencing!).
That is why all scientific articles will conclude with a reference list. This gives readers easy access to other sources of information, which they can fall down the rabbit hole with!
The scientific world is a constant state of iteration.
Developing new ideas and building upon old work involves the constant sharing of information, and by allowing people to explore every old idea and building block themselves, it is hoped that articles can spark new ideas in budding researchers.
If you haven’t, make sure to look at my referencing guide to learn the best way to create your own reference list for essays. It will make your assignment writing a breeze!
And that’s it! You’ve made it.
Now you know how to read a scientific journal article.
It can be at first be a tricky maze to tackle.
But as you continue on, you will find yourself becoming a more experienced explorer. You will very quickly develop a better understanding of which sections are important for you and your own research.
There is no doubt if you have ever Googled “best study techniques”, you will have been bombarded by people talking about active recall
But what does active recall actually mean? What is the testing effect? And how will it make you better at remembering stuff?
Today, let’s talk about the neuroscience of active recall.
What is active recall and the testing effect?
It is highly likely that someone on the internet (probably Ali Abdahl) has already told you to use active recall to enhance your exam grades.
Active recall is a process of learning.
Often, students like to re-read course materials, highlight or summarise class notes when preparing for exams.
However, none of these are truly effective ways to get material into your brain.
Active recall means asking yourself questions, testing yourself and prompting you to think about the concepts on your own.
Testing yourself encourages your brain to recall information from the dark corners of your mind.
And essentially, this process of testing allows you to practice exactly what you need to do in an exam, recall information.
Compare to other study methods…
Studies have shown time and time again that active recall leads to better learning and retention of information compared to any other study technique.
This review by Roediger and Butler, shows how researchers since 1909 have shown that active recall out-performs all other study methods.
Even Artistotle mentioned that “Exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory.”
Six classic studies by Gates, Jones, Spitzer, Tulvig, Glover and Carrier and Pashler demonstrate how students (from school-aged to college) are able to perform better, recall more information and forget less by intermittent re-testing before a final exam.
They concluded that active recall provides a much better basis for remembering information than other forms of passive studying.
The students were split into two groups: one that re-read the cognitive psychology information after initial learning, and a second group that was tested on the material six different times (with feedback).
After this, a final test showed that students who were previously tested on the material scored significantly better than those who simply re-read the information.
On top of this, the researchers found that a person’s general working memory ability (how well you can hold information in your mind short-term) didn’t change the beneficial effects of active recall during study.
This study by Karpicke & Blunt examined students’ learning across three different study methods: re-reading, concept mapping and retrieval.
While those who produced concept maps did perform better than those who simply re-read their notes, students who used active recall methods performed up to 50% better in the final test! (Time to throw away your mind maps).
This study by Karpicke & Roediger showed that you can even get these benefits by testing yourself only on things you couldn’t initially recall correctly.
They taught college students lists of foreign word pairs.
Different groups participated in different re-test conditions. Some were re-tested on all word-pairs, whereas other students had words dropped from their subsequent practice tests when they were correctly recalled.
Interestingly, there wasn’t any difference between the different conditions.
Repeated studying of material didn’t improve performance later on.
So how does it work?
In 2015, Broek and other researchers reviewed studies of active recall to uncover how the testing effect actually helps to improve memory.
They found that active recall is thought to improve learning through several different mechanisms.
Firstly, testing yourself and retrieving information is thought to change semantic networks in your brain (connections between meaningful stored information).
By activating these pathways when testing yourself, you are strengthening their connections by creating additional associations (as you are re-thinking of this information in a new context).
On top of this, testing yourself can also promote more streamlined thinking.
Practicing to answer a certain question with a specific target response, allows other irrelevant information to be set aside (that time you talked with your class mate about how it would be funny if ethanol was created when we did anaerobic exercise? Gone! You don’t need that information for the exam).
Further, instead of the textbook or class notes ‘cueing’ your remembering of the content, you are practicing using the question as a cue for your brain to remember the information.
Exactly what you need to do in an exam!
Overall, it seems that active recall helps to strengthen memory representations (and get rid of irrelevant stuff!).
How to Use Active Recall: What you Should Do
Think about it, at the end of the day, you are studying for an exam. You are studying to retrieve answers from your brain when you are presented with a question.
You are not studying to retrieve answers from your brain while reading class notes.
Stop re-reading your notes. Get rid of your mind maps.
While you can still gain benefits from simply attempting to retrieve the information, feedback can further improve performance! Knowing what is right and wrong can help you to correct your responses or maintain ones that are already right.
Slowly increase time-lengths between testing.
Testing yourself every 30 minutes everyday will not necessarily improve the amount of exam information you retain.
The best way to use the testing effect is to first, check something is correctly ‘encoded’ (memorised) by testing yourself shortly after initial learning.
This might be a quiz after reading a textbook chapter.
Then, give yourself another test the next day.
After that, test again in another 3 days.
Studies show that consistent, shorter intervals between testing don’t actually further improve test performance. You can slowly give yourself longer and longer intervals between testing, and you will still see the benefits.
If I told you that the best thing you could do for your upcoming exams was to take a nap – you probably wouldn’t believe me, right?
You’ve heard it all before: the Cornell method, active recall, spaced repetition.
But sleep may be one of the most important things you need to add into your study schedule.
I can see you rolling your eyes – but seriously, you want to read this.
Anyone can tell you that you are likely to perform better if you are awake, alert and feeling great after a good night’s sleep.
But that’s not all.
Sleeping may actually be the difference between you remembering an answer or being lost for words on exam day.
Read more to learn why sleep is the best study technique.
How Sleep Improves Learning
Studies have shown that sleeping after periods of learning improves later test performance later on.
One of the earliest studies in this area, run in 1924, taught people a list of nonsense words (words that look and sound like English words but aren’t actually).
People were better at remembering the nonsense words when tested after sleeping, compared to those that stayed awake for the same length of time.
Even with just one hour of sleep, people could recall 7 nonsense words compared to 4.5 if they spent the same time awake.
This effect is increased as the time of sleep lengthens.
With an eight hour sleep opportunity after initial learning, an average of 5.6 words were correctly remembered.
However, if staying awake for eight hours after learning, it was rare that even one was recalled correctly.
That’s a big difference!
These first results have been replicated again and again in sleep research.
This study taught native English speakers a list of 24 German words and found that those who slept immediately after learning could remember more words 48 hours later when compared to those who were sleep-deprived.