Only 3% of IB Psychologists will get a 7. That means if your goal is a 7, you need to be working harder than 97% of all other IB Psychologists. Are you? If you’ve read the other 9 exam tips, you might be. Following this final tip could be the decider.
In my experience, there seems to be one factor that separates the 3% – their notes. Students of mine who got top marks all had comprehensive, hand-written notes. They took the time to go through the course materials and textbooks, topic by topic, to write detailed study notes. They didn’t just rely on pre-existing revision guides, flashcards and workbooks, but they made their own. Here are a few reasons why writing things down with pen and paper boosts your exam scores.
Firstly, there’s a lot of evidence showing that the deeper you process information the better you’ll remember it. This is called levels of processing theory. Writing by hand makes you really think carefully about what you’re writing. You’ll read the information more carefully so you take the least amount of notes possible. This makes you process the information on a deeper level. When you’re typing, there’s always the temptation to copy-paste or write too much.
Another reason hand-written notes are useful is because they’re easier to access. You can sit at your desk and have them in your hands within seconds. You can also skim through the entire contents in a matter of moments, re-familiarising yourself with all the topics and content of the exams. With typed notes, this takes much longer and it’s harder to get the perspective of the course when you can only see one page at a time. This is the same for digital vs. print reading – studies show that reading a physical book improves your comprehension over digital readers, because it’s easier to figure out where you are in the book and put things in context.
Because laptops are so ubiquitous in schools and universities, experiments have been done to assess their relative effectiveness for note-taking compared to hand-writing. In one famous study, “the pen is mightier than the keypad,” psychologists found writing by hand led to better comprehension, especially for abstract concepts. You can read more about that study here.
Finally, I’m willing to admit it might be a case of correlation not causation. It might not be the type of notes that separates the 3% but rather their willingness to put in that much effort. There’s no escaping the reality that achieving amazing results takes a lot of sacrifice. You will experience pain. You will experience discomfort. You’ll have to miss out on some social events, experience some FOMO. You’ll need to delay a lot of gratification, because our feelings of success can only be matched by the level of suffering it took to achieve it. Think about it – you don’t experience feelings of success after walking around the block because it was too easy to achieve. But you would if you ran a marathon. You won’t experience great satisfaction at finishing this blog post, but you would if you read a novel or your psych textbook cover to cover.
So sit down, turn off your phone, get your books and a pen and paper, shutdown your laptop and keep going (or get started). Good luck.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.