I’m going to make a somewhat counter-intuitive claim about how to go about preparing for exams (or tests) which is – in order to be really well prepared for exams you need to almost completely forget about preparing for exams (or tests).

This sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But I’ll try to explain why I think this.

Exams and tests are a completely unnatural thing when it comes to learning. The anticipation of an upcoming test or exam can cause unnecessary stress and, in some cases, outright panic neither of which are any good for learning. The anticipation of exams and tests causes people to learn at a rate that is a fraction of the rate at which they are capable of learning because they will only ‘learn’ what they expect to be examined on – repetitively going over the same few, scanty bits of information trying to cram some poorly-understood and seemingly non-sensical facts into their heads – rather than challenging themselves and delving deeper into a subject to get a much greater understanding.

And of course, why bother to learn things if you won’t be examined on them? Who in their right mind would ‘waste time’ learning things that they won’t be examined on? Well that’s exactly the kind of viewpoint you will probably take if you see education and learning as nothing more than a series of exams and tests. And no wonder people with this attitude hate learning! So would I if that’s all learning meant to me.

But isn’t learning about more than just exams? Yes, I know that exams are an important part of your life if you want to go to university or become a chartered accountant etc. so I’m not saying that exams can be completely ignored – what I AM saying is that preparation for exams should not be the main focus of your learning. If you really want to learn more, learn faster and learn better then you need to be learning because you love learning about what you’re learning about and have a genuine desire to want to go further and acquire more knowledge simply because you can.

Does it sound weird to take such an approach to learning? Of course it does because no-one really encourages people to learn in this way in school. There’s constant testing week-in and week-out and so people only learn the bits of information that they need to know for the test, and as long as they can vomit up these bits of information in the test, regardless of whether they understand (which in many cases people know but don’t understand), then they get a good mark; a couple of days later and they’ve forgotten everything that they learned, rinse and repeat! And this approach is considered to be a good learning approach!!!!

If you are genuinely interested in what you’re learning and you’re learning because you love learning, then learning is easy and effortless. A depth of understanding will come to you that will never come if you see your learning as just learning to pass a constant stream of tests and exams. If you learn because you love to learn then you will pass the tests and exams with flying colours because you will be streets ahead of the rest of the crowd – you will learn at a rate that is unimaginable if you’re learning to just pass an exam and, moreover, what you learn will be much more permanent.

When I was learning GCSE maths I was learning to pass an exam – and it was hard, hard, hard! I hated it. When I was learning A-Level maths I was learning because I was excited about what I was learning – I learned way more than I needed to pass the A-Level exams and I didn’t even think about the exams until a couple of weeks before I sat them, at which point I realised, I didn’t need to do any revision specifically for my exams because I’d been doing it all along without even realising it! The outcome was that the exams were a piece of cake!

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