This article is about how you can effectively cram for exams. I am going to give you the exact strategy I used to get one guy to drop a year’s worth of studying into his head in less than a week.
The Set Up
A year earlier my client had put his name forward for a set of professional exams. The normally study time was a year part time and we are taking about some very heavy duty complex content.
Being typically disorganised and not actually invested in taking the exams he forgot all about it. That is until two weeks before exam when he was sent a reminder of the date and the location details. Since he wasn’t that invested in the exams he just decided to ignore it.
A week before the exams, he had done no studying and had almost decided that he wasn’t even going to turn up. He had been talking to a colleague of his who told him that the professional body for the exam will bar your entry to the exam for the next year if you drastically fail the exam. The pass mark was 75% a failure of less than 50% was considered a drastic fail and obviously a no show was marked as zero.
His colleague also told him that it was professional suicide to drastically fail. It was not only seen as a problem for promotion but it was also seen as an indicator about having enough knowledge to do his current role.
All of a sudden he realised that he not only had to attend but also get at least 50% for the professional body not to bar him from retaking the exam next year and satisfy his boss that he wass competent for his current position.
Accelerated Learning NLP Coach to the Rescue
It was at this point my client came to me. As you might have already guessed I know this person quite well. I agreed to help. He took four days holiday to study and we set about working on cramming the knowledge into his head.
The Scale of the Problem
The exam was to test two aspects. The first is having a detailed knowledge of the subject in question and the second was to apply that knowledge to typical scenarios. So knowing the information was not enough, he had to be able to apply it to a situation.
The exam was a multiple choice exam with a 75% pass rate and he needed a minimum of 50% to not drastically fail. I had decided he should really pass but initially he was quite resistant to thinking that way. Normally I would have reframed their beliefs and held them until they were ready to accept going for passing.
But because the time was short and I already had his agreement to study I thought I would leave the belief change about what was possible until he had started seeing results and he could at least accept the possibility.
The normal study time for the course was twenty weeks of two hours classroom time and then you were expected to put in at least the same amount of your own time in homework, reviewing and self-study. That is 80 hours, or two full working weeks if you tried to do it all in one go.
We had four days and very generously you would only be able to do ten hours a day. At maximum we had half the recommended study time. My client was panicking.
The NLP Techniques
The first thing I need to do with him was getting him to relax, concentrate on the task at hand and build his confidence. I taught him a specific trance technique that you can access through your peripheral vision.
Just search for the technique through my articles you will find that I have written about this quite a lot and it features on several of my courses. The benefit of peripheral vision is that it is like a trance feeling but where you are still fully conscious and able to absorb information. It is a great accelerated learning state.
I then taught my client to mind map. Again just search the internet for five minutes and you will find lots of great material on how to mindmap. So you can find out about this for yourself. The only thing I would add is when you are studying stay away from mindmapping software.
Being able to mindmap on your computer / laptop / tablet is great because it means you can file and fully access the notes at a later date. But the physical relationship between you some pens and a bit of paper cannot be overstated. If you don’t believe me just spend a few minutes taking notes on your computer and then do the same thing with a bit of paper. If you do the exercise the contrast will immediately hit you and you will be in no doubt about the value of hand written notes.
Mindmapping is a very visual way of note taking and your visual memory contains the most information of all of your senses. And once you have the hang of it this is the fastest note making and note taking system.
Chunking and Sequencing
Learning is most effective if you go from the big picture to the detail and from the known to the unknown. It is like filling in a jigsaw puzzle. By getting the framework, the edges and the corners and working towards the middle you always have more context to hang the new information on.
Using this idea I had my client creating mindmaps that were connected and sequenced. It was like there would be a master map with all the information but in no detail. But each branch of that map would be a map in its own right and that branch map would have maps for each sub branch. He kept doing this until the entire content was mapped from big picture to fine detail on a series of around fifty interconnected maps.
The Strategy of Chunking and Sequencing
But hold on a moment. There is another part to the chunking and sequencing. The issue is that the content was not important on its own…he had to be able to apply it to scenarios. What we did at this mapping stage was to get hordes of past papers. We would take the scenarios posed in the papers and connect them to the bits of information he was learning.
As he was mapping them out he would imagine himself in those scenarios enacting the right answers. The general sequence was he would imagine the scenario he would then imagine starting from his master map going through the maps in the right order to the bit of information he needed and then take the information and apply it to the scenario.
My client would practice this constantly until he was automatically going through the information and applying it in this type of strategy.
Chunking, Sequences and Timing
I think attention spans are going down generally. I know mine is far shorter than it used to be. But the average attention span used to be between twenty and forty minutes. So we planned out a programme where he would work intensely for twentry minutes and then have a five minute break. After he had three sessions he would take fifteen minutes. In this way he could keep going for several hours at a time.
There are several other things that are important in this type of approach. The breaks had to be well away from the study, both physically and mentally. As a result my client also learnt to juggle including all sorts of fancy tricks and his guitar playing improved considerably over those four days. We used a timer and kept strictly to the timings.
The other thing is your memory works best when it has repetition and reviews. So the formula for each of those twenty minute sessions involved mini reviews about what he was planning for the next sessions at the start and a mini review about what he had covered and how it fitted into the whole at the end.
This might sound as if you don’t have much time to do anything in the middle but if you mindmap these reviews can take less than a minute once you have the idea.
Starting with an End in Mind
Normally I would start by getting my client to set goals. So we know where we are heading, why it was important and what it will do for us. I didn’t do this at the start because my client was only interested in not failing too badly.
That was being generated by fear and stoked by the fact that he didn’t think it was possible. Within a few hours of going through this system he was getting the idea that it was entirely possible to totally pass the exam. So that was the point to properly take about the goals and his intentions.
In these circumstances I have a few questions that sort out goals real quickly. Here are a couple of them:
- By the end of this sessions what will you be saying / doing / thinking / able to do that you weren’t at the beginning?
- Why is that important to you?
Those two questions sort out the “what” and the “why” of a goal in this context very quickly.
The Difference that Makes the Difference
But this is the really cool part. One of the things that can dramatically increase your accelerated learning is to separate out different purposes. In this situation learning, applying and memorising the information are three separate tasks and should be treated as such. And they need to be done in sequence.
You can more effectively memorise things that you understand and you won’t understand things unless you have the knowledge in the first place.
Go and have a look at the sequence we went through in this article. We started by taking and mapping the knowledge in context. Then we started applying it to scenarios and now this end part is just about memorising it. BTW notice we have also just done a mini review as well.
To do the memorisation part we used the spelling strategy system to very quickly stuff the knowledge into his head. Staying with the system from the general to the detail and going from the master map down through the branch and sub branch maps we kept putting the mindmaps in a specific visual memory spot.
He would bring up the image of the map in his mind compare it to the one he had drawn and when he got them exactly the same he would fire off a huge feel good feeling. And just to check a few hours later he would try to draw the map entirely from memory. If he could we knew he really had got it in his head.
In the space of four days he went from desperately hoping he might be able to scrape a fail that didn’t embarrass him to being entirely confident in passing the exam. In the end he got a distinction.
The Spelling Strategy
The two big NLP Techniques that we used are Peripheral Vision and the Spelling Strategy. They are both fully explained in detail on the Spelling Strategy Course as well as discussions on how to mind map and other elements of what we have discussed here. The course gives yo enough detail to be able to use this material for yourself and to be able to teach it to others. Click through and find out more here: