Everyone of us has slightly different goals, although they are similar in many ways. This also applies to students in relation to studies and exams. Some are happy just to “scrape through”, others are dissatisfied with the average performance. But what is the actual process of learning for exams? And how can you make it more pleasant for yourself? We will have a look at the most common typology of learning styles, the stress factor as well as its management (coping).
According to some theories and studies, a slightly different learning style suits various types of personality. One of the best-known theories, based on thousands of hours of classroom observation, led us to the so-called VARK model (visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic), which classifies the learning style according to the senses involved in the process. Visual types of learning are preferred by those who tend to choose various graphic symbols, graphs, representations. They will most likely have their notes divided by size, colour, font. Another type of students learns most effectively when he or she can listen to the material such as a lecture recording.
The “R” in the VARK model represents those individuals who love writing and reading and use these techniques in the learning process – for them writing and reading equal learning. Kinesthetic style tends to be used by students who also use touch in the learning process. Because of that inclination they can also move, for example walk, during learning more than their fellow students. But above all, they use a combination of all the senses in learning much more and far more effectively, so it’s not like they just have to travel tens of kilometers in order to learn for an exam. It might be useful for someone to find out a learning style that is close to them before taking exams – but don’t be surprised if the result is that more styles suit you and that your type is not clearly “unambiguous”. You can easily find the VARK questionnaire on the internet.
However, in addition to our own learning style, learning is influenced by many other features – our personality, financial and other opportunities, support of the loved ones and so on. The question from the opening of this article – How to make learning more enjoyable – leads us to the concept of learning as something stressful and inherently unpleasant. Not everyone necessarily perceives it that way. But if you are among the “unhappy” ones, you can rejoice now – the internet is overflowing with instructions and manuals, which guarantee that they will help you to overcome stress … Or not? Realizing that stress is healthy and normal to a large extent, might serve you better than dogmatically follow specific directions. Find out more in the quotation from the article by Večeřová-Procházková and Honzák:
“The generally accepted view is that the optimal level of stress acts as a creative and motivating force that leads people to achieve incredible performance and goals (eustress). In contrast, chronic traumatic stress (distress) is potentially extremely destructive and damages mental and physical health and can be life-threatening. Reasonable levels of eustress increase performance, while the effect of psychosocial distress on performance is detrimental. “
Therefore, if we accept the division of stress to the “healthy” one and the harmful, long-lasting one, we can perhaps be careful optimists and perceive learning for exams through the lens of eustress. We believe that studying at university is not a matter of life and death, and (repeated) learning for exams does not mean the presence of chronic traumatic stress. Nevertheless, learning can be stressful and burdensome. In such a case, it is a matter of finding suitable coping strategies by which the stress of learning can be managed.
Neither the level of stress nor our ability to cope with it is constant. We learn to adapt to stress, to increase our adaptability if possible, and to reduce our level of stress and presence of stressors. If a person is no longer able to help himself, does not manage the degree of stress and decides to seek professional help, he can work on it, for example in psychotherapy. But what are the strategies for managing the stress associated with learning for exams and how to make your preparation more enjoyable – and, therefore, less stressful? Very often there is talk of a so-called reward system. Let’s have a look at rewarding ourselves as a coping strategy.
In recent years, we have experienced a huge increase in spending time and life on social networks. According to some authors, this trend is also due to a system using reward mechanisms – a system that, however, gradually changes rewarding into addiction. If you believe that social networks mainly mean never-ending browsing and scrolling, the reward system will not work well if it is based on these networks (including binge-watching on Netflix). However, time tracking may be recommended in general. If the learning does not flow on its own and you have to force yourself into it, cut it into smaller periods of time. And reward yourself during breaks. Sweets. One episode of your favourite series. A cup of coffee. A phone call with relatives. A walk with friends. A glass of wine. There is no single right guide to automatically become better students who always avoid stress during the exam period. You need to test stategies and gradually prioritize those that work. If possible, movement will almost never hurt. A walk is quite sufficient. Engaging in praiseworthy activities as volunteers can also be very beneficial – and, of course, not only for you. Volunteering itself helps to reduce stress.