How to Study for Exams...and get a good grade too!

posted Jun 6, 2010, 2:28 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Jun 8, 2016, 11:37 AM ]
An average lecture course at TAU includes approximately 20-21 net hours of talk.  An introductory course ('targil') runs for double that.  There is also the bibliography to be read.
That's a lot of material.  The best way to study is to make a summary for each of the major subjects covered in class, each summary being no longer than two pages.  For example: 'Calvin', in two pages.  Once you have made the summaries, learn from them and not from your longer class and reading notes.  Within a short time, you will be able to 'see' your notes in your memory, and remember where the words are placed on the page.
Try to understand the Big Picture of each subject.  Remember that you have only a limited time in which to answer the questions on the exam, which is why you should do your summarizing at home before you come to class.  When you are faced with the exam, you merely adapt your summaries to the question.
The technique of memorizing material graphically was well known in ancient times, and was widely practised for centuries.  The ancient world knew the story of a Greek poet named Simonides of Ceos who was a guest reader at a party given by a local nobleman.  At some point during the festivities, Simonides went outside to meet two men (actually gods, as it turned out) who were said to be waiting for him.  Just as he left the building, it collapsed behind him, killing everyone.  When Simonides gave his testimony to the ancient Greek policemen, he was able to identify each person who had been at the banquet on the basis of WHERE he was sitting at the table.  This experience gave Simonides the idea of developing an 'art of memory' based on the same principle of placement.
According to Cicero [De oratore, II, lxxxvi, 351-4]: 
He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember and store those images in the places, so that the order of the places will preserve the order of the things, and the images of the things will denote the things themselves, and we shall employ the places and the images respectively as a wax writing-tablet and the letters written upon it.
People would memorize the structure of buildings, paying attention to particular corners and special features.  They would then imagine particular items placed in these corners and features, so when they imagined themselves walking through the buildings again, they would 'see' these items and remember what that item signified.
For example, if you had to give a speech about politics, you could memorize the first floor of Gilman.  You would then, say, place an imaginary anchor by the cash machine, which would remind you to speak about the navy.  An imaginary book by the elevator would remind you to speak about education.  And so on.  The system worked so well, that some people were able to remember a speech sentence by sentence based on a large number of imaginary objects placed in a real building, imagined.  It was said that you would often see people looking for new buildings for new speeches, choosing sites that were uncluttered, clean, and easy to remember.
You can study for exams in the same way.  Make a summary for each subject -- two pages, maximum -- and then keep studying the summaries until you can visualize the actual placement of the words on the page, graphically.
Even really big subjects can be studied this way.  Here is the entire history of Judaism on two sides of a page.
I understand that there are some summaries have been floating around in class.  Please be advised that I have not read them.  You should make your own summaries based on your own listening and reading, otherwise the Simonides System won't work.
If you want to learn more about this, read a really great book by Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London, 1966).