It is always in the middle of exam session that you remember how tiring and boring studying can be. It is even more unnerving when, after studying day and night for weeks you do not get the results you hoped for. How did it happen, you might ask yourself, after all the work I have put into memorizing the whole course syllabus? Many factors may be to blame, but almost all of them can be clustered into some of the biases that occur in your minds while studying. In this article we are going to analyze some, for you to be aware of them when preparing for your next exam and have more chances to succeed.
Our first impressions are often the easiest to reaffirm and some of the hardest to readjust. We tend to anchor on the initial information presented during a conversation, lecture or reading. Therefore, when we have to re-learn a concept we already covered in previous courses, we might fail to apply it in a way that is relevant to the particular exam we are sitting and it becomes harder for us to answer novel questions about its topic. Being unable to see the notion from a different perspective, the likelihood of failing the test inevitably increases.
It is the instinct to seek or acknowledge only the segments of information that support your pre-existing beliefs and to parse or reject data that goes against them. It happened to me many times that one idea was so ingrained in my mind that I would automatically ignore every data that was even slightly against it. Sadly, this attitude caused many of my grades to drop, as I lost countless points from not being able to think critically and consider weaknesses to the argument I was making. Nevertheless, this bias is extremely dangerous when studying, as it may filter many useful pieces of information and bring us to make erroneous guesses while taking an exam.
Functional fixedness is a type of cognitive bias that involves a tendency to see objects and ideas as only working in a particular way, that usually is the more traditional and “inside the box” one. Therefore, it might limit one’s learning, as it prevents us from seeing all connotations of a notion, this causes our studying experience to be much more superficial than it should. It can also impair our ability to think of novel solutions to problems, since it severely narrows the options, we consider when approaching one, and so may cause stress and anxiety to exam attendees.
Many things can be said about studying, but that it is always an enjoyable activity is not one. How many times did an incumbent exam seem like a cage that keeps you inside while the sun is shining just outside your bedroom window? As we perceive this lack of freedom, we only want to do the exact opposite of what its source implies – that is, properly prepare for the test. This bias is known as reactance, and it creates in many students the impulse to do the opposite of what is asked to in order to preserve a sense of freedom of choice, mainly being distracted and procrastinating.
The Dunning-Kruger effect
It is tendency for incompetent people to overestimate their competence, and very competent people to underestimate theirs. Unfortunately, it happens often to be less prepared than what we think we are, especially during our academic life. By feeling confident about our knowledge of a certain subject, we tend to both study more carelessly and take the exam too lightly, and so increase the probability of making mistakes along the way.
On the other hand, if the opposite occurs and you feel less confident than you should during your test-taking, you might overthink your answers and panic more easily, even if, you are well prepared
Nevertheless, not all biases come to harm. There are some that may help us students during these hard exam-session-times.
People remember things better if they learn them in the context where they are applicable. Therefore, try to step back and understand the framework behind a notion as that is a great way to improve your understanding of the topic. This may also make the topic seem more interesting, as it makes it seem more useful to our daily and professional life rather than just a random fact that we need to memorize for an exam. If you find that the framework is too theoretical for you, attempt to make it your own by thinking of practical ways in which you can see this concept in real life.
Image superiority effect
If I were to ask you, “Do you have good visual memory?”, there’s a good chance that you belong to 65% of people who are visual learners. Words alone cannot compete with the potential impact images and graphs may have on our memory: a picture speaks a thousand words. We are more likely to remember information for a longer period of time if a text is presented with suitable images. Thus, us students should exploit this bias to make the most out of our notes, completing them with pictures, conceptual maps, and charts.
In conclusion, we can get the result we desire out of our academic performances even if our brains are plagued by biases, as long as we are aware of them and can limit their potential damage. As exhausting as exam sessions can be, the best way to go through them is to try keeping calm, not putting too much pressure on yourself and patiently working as hard as you can to obtain the outcome you wish. Good luck!