How many times have you found yourself frantically revising the night before an exam, vowing you'll never leave it to the last minute again – only to find yourself doing the exact same thing the next time around? Or spent hours reading and re-reading a textbook chapter, only to come up blank when later asked a question about the topic?
We could all achieve more if we better aligned our study habits with how our brain responds to and retains information, says Dr James Gupta – who developed an app, Synap, to offer students a more efficient and effective way of revising.
James and Synap co-founder Dr Omair Vaiyani came up with the idea for Synap while at medical school in Leeds, after seeing classmates fall into inconsistent and often stressful study habits.
'It's natural – you're busy, you're on placement, and revising can become an afterthought until just before an exam,' says James. 'Most people do get by in this way, but the way medicine is set up, you're supposed to be constantly building on your knowledge. So you see people getting Bs, Bs, Bs until all of a sudden they start failing, because they don’t have that solid foundation of knowledge.'
Synap is a multiple choice quiz platform, with an algorithm developed following extensive research into neuroscience, memory and educational psychology. As you make your way through a quiz, questions you find difficult appear more frequently than questions you find easy – helping to identify the gaps in your knowledge and giving you more time to fill those gaps.
It's designed to be used at regular short intervals – ideally 10-15 minutes a few times a day, several times a week.
'People know intrinsically that this is how they should be studying – but it's a lot harder to do and keep up in practice. Synap isn't getting across a new concept, it just makes it much easier to stick to a schedule.'
People know intrinsically that this is how they should be studying, but it's a lot harder to do and keep up in practice
Students can upload their own quizzes or access a bank of questions and guides to help them test their knowledge. It also has a social aspect – students, tutors and professors can create groups, tailor their content and create a more communal learning environment.
The app has proven extremely popular all over the UK – 'at one point we had 30,000 downloads in 12 hours,' says James – and there are plans to grow and develop the platform beyond medical study and into workplace learning – for example, for taxi drivers revising for an assessment.
For the moment, says James, 'we're excited to be getting in the hands of more students, and more people generally. We want to better understand which areas of study people are struggling with.'
Top study tips from Synap
Spread it out
Aim for several 10-15 minute chunks of revision most days, rather than a four-hour cram session just before an exam. 'Stick at it, a couple of times a day, several times a week,' says James. 'If you can do that, you'll see the benefits.'
Turn it upside down
'One thing that served us well when we were creating Synap was flipping the revision process,' says James. 'Don't just begin with the textbook and test yourself on what you've just read. With Synap, you can start any quiz and identify gaps in your knowledge as you go along.'
Know when to move on
'When we were developing Synap we got really good at learning when something wasn't quite good enough, but rather than dwelling on it and losing time we'd move on and come back to it later,' says James. The same applies to study; 'Manage your time, and move on to the next thing rather than getting stuck.'
Keep your brain guessing
'When people study, they tend to focus on one area. Everyone goes straight to cardiovascular! But studying like this takes you longer to make good progress. What you should do is try to mix different modules and questions, so that your brain doesn't start expecting what's next. A lot of medical students will memorise an entire chapter and then won't be able to answer a question about it. You should be practising for randomness and chaos, and building up a more robust knowledge pattern. Force your brain to be challenged!'
Know when to team up or go solo
'People study in different ways, and most people will want to do a combination of revising by themselves and with others. For example, OSCE practice is difficult to do by yourself as you need feedback, but there are other times when you just need to get your head down. Synap lets you do bits of both.'