Cast your mind back to the last time that you were introduced to somebody whose name you realised immediately afterwards you couldn’t remember. On the other hand, think of a time when you were introduced to somebody you were very interested in. You had no problem remembering their name did you?
So what’s the difference? Paying attention! Or not!
And it’s the same in your revision. If you pay attention while you’re revising, you will have a much better chance of remembering what you’re trying to learn. Unfortunately, not many people know how to pay attention or what sort of attention to pay. So how on earth are you going to get better grades than the ones you’re currently getting if you don’t know how to do things differently.
So for example, when advised by a trainer to read and reread your manual, if you don’t know any better and instead try to follow their advice, you will find, over and over again that you’ve read a paragraph and can’t remember a thing that you’ve just read – just like being introduced to a new person and seconds later being aware that you couldn’t have been listening carefully, because you haven’t got a clue who they are.
Some people have a strategy for remembering names when they introduced to a number of people in one go. They deliberately create associations with the name, the appearance of the person, the type of job they do, and link them to events in their own past – in order to remember.
Paying attention is in fact a very complex mental process, which requires some effort. On a chemical level it’s the neurotransmitter dopamine which encourages the focused attention you’re looking for, while noradrenaline creates a state of fight or flight sort of vigilance and attention to potentially threatening distractions.
So it stands to reason that anything that can lower your noradrenaline levels, to relax you, while raising your dopamine levels so that you can focus, is likely to help you pay the right sort of attention when you’re revising so that you can remember the information you need in your exams.
But some ways of doing this are healthier than others. Yes, it’s true that amphetamines and some ADHD drugs such as Ritalin and even caffeine can help you achieve this state of relaxed focus, but is that the sensible approach?
Perhaps a better alternative is to make sure that you get a good night’s sleep and that you eat well – forget refined carbohydrates, and think low glycaemic index. Exercise also helps.
Setting up your revision to avoid distractions also gives you a better chance to pay attention. It’s thought that it takes more than 15 min to get back to where you were after a distraction such as a telephone call. And this whole notion of multitasking is really a misnomer. We really can only do one thing at a time. It seems women are faster at switching from one thing to the next thing but nevertheless are still doing one thing at a time. So set yourself up to revise efficiently for those better grades that you want by avoiding making your brain switch from one thing to another.
Instead give yourself the best chance to pay attention to what you’re doing and set yourself up for success.