4 Month Study Guide
But don’t worry, you can adapt it to any timeframe!
We are very good at procrastinating. Very good indeed. We wake up in the morning feeling good about the day of study planned ahead, yet find ourselves merely an hour later re-grouting the bathroom tiles. A job which has been slipping down our to do list for the last 6 months and somehow, just three weeks from the exam, it seems like the perfect time to tackle it. But fear not, there is a way to fight this monster and it’s with a clear, but flexible study timetable.
This timetable is based on a 4 month period but you can be flexible with your timings. If you have 8 months to go – congratulate yourself on being so organised – then just double the amount of time you are going to spend on everything. If you have less than 4 months, reduce the time on each topic. Or if you are already confident in several topics, simply cut them from the timetable and expand the time you are going to spend on the other areas. But do all of these alterations first and create a new timetable. Don’t do it “on the fly”, as you end up eating into your study time every time you re-create your schedule.
You’ll also notice that you will spend more time on some topics than others. Take a look at our “hotlist” where we have ordered all the topics by the most commonly occurring in the exams. Any topic that comes up more frequently (i.e., those that are red on the hotlist), will be studied in more depth than those that come up less frequently. The most time will be spent on the common red topics, a little less time on the less frequent amber topics, and the least amount of time will be spent on the green topics which appear least in the exams.
Download a copy of the hotlist for personal use Hot List.
Allocate your time in advance and plan your study time as early in the day as you can. If you leave it until last thing you may find your day has taken over and eaten a large chunk out of the time you set aside. Your day will be more enjoyable if you know your study is complete too. If you don’t, your day will often end up like this…
The timetable is split into 3 sections. First you will study all the topics, then you will revisit them all again, but for less time. Finally you will revisit them all a third time but for an even shorter period. This method of spaced repetition is a very effective way to learn and store information in long term memory. It is much more effective than studying one topic entirely and not revisiting it.
You’ll also notice that the topics are in a specific order. Once you learn a piece of information it is much easier to add more information to it than to start on a new topic. For example, learning words from a foreign language you have never encountered before is very difficult indeed. But learning some new French words, when you already spent several years at school learning French, is pretty easy. You already understand pronunciation and sentence structure, so you can pick up new words quickly.
Retaining information is also promoted when new memories are connected to other stored memories. As a result we have ordered the topics so in each section where possible, you are building on the information you have learnt before. This makes it both easier to learn and easier to store in your long term memory.
An essential part of this study format is active recall. This is where you start your session by recalling as much as you can about the topic you are about to study. This is really important for several reasons. First (though it may not feel like it), you will remember more. And secondly, you will instantly find out where your weaknesses are and what you don’t know. This method avoids the temptation to study what you already know (which is very tempting because it makes us feel good and misleadingly builds our confidence).
This is how it works. Take aggravated damage as an example. Grab a piece of paper, and before opening a text book, write down everything you know about the topic. You can use whatever format you prefer. Define the offence, who commits it, whether it is an offence of intent, result or both, when the offence is complete and if there is a defence. We’ve prepared a checklist for you to use each time you do this – you will find it at the end of this guide.
DO NOT OPEN A TEXT BOOK until you’ve recalled everything you can. This should be hard and should tax your brain. It’s like going to the gym and lifting a really heavy weight – you should struggle. If you start by opening a text book and reading and re-reading a topic (as most people do), you are actually spending time becoming familiar with the text and tricking yourself into thinking you know it, rather than actually learning it.
Once you’ve recalled everything you can, then open the text book and start going over anything that was incorrect or missed; these are your weaknesses.
My first attempt at active recall might look like this:
Then, when I review the information from the text book or legislation, I will add in everything I missed or recalled incorrectly in red. These are my areas to focus on:
This is how it will work at the beginning of every topic.
- Start with active recall;
- Open the text book;
- Check your work;
- Focus on the incorrect and missed areas.
Each time you do this, you should be able to recall progressively more. It’s also important to have a gap between topics. So, rather than spending 4-5 hours on criminal damage all in one go, you are going to actively recall what you know, then spend 1h 45mins working on your weak areas. 4 weeks later you are going to actively recall (you should be able to recall more this time), and dedicate 1h 10mins to your weaknesses. Finally you will revisit criminal damage for the third time 9 weeks later, actively recall and then spend 35mins on any areas of weakness. This method of spaced repetition is more effective than sitting down and learning from a textbook all in one go.
Exam Questions / Flash Cards
After your third and final session working on a topic, dedicate any spare time to practicing exam questions and flash cards. This not only prepares you for the exam, but the flash cards highlight very specific areas of weakness and the exam questions help you practice working out what an exam question is actually asking.
- Plan out your revision before you start;
- Start with active recall;
- Open the text book;
- Check your work;
- Focus on the incorrect and missed areas;
- Revisit each topic at progressively longer intervals;
- After the final revision of a topic, practice exam questions.
- Offence of intent or result?:
- When the offence is complete:
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Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. Murre JMJ. Drop J. Plos one 10(7). 2015.
Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Karpicke JD.Blunt JR. Science, 331(6018), 772-775. 2011.
The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Karpicke JD. Roedinger III, HL. Science, 319, 966-968. 2008.
Why testing improves memory: Mediator effectiveness hypothesis. Science, 330(6002), 335. 2010. Pyc MA. Rawson KA.Hot list 2020