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May 21, 2012 | Exam Preparation Blog

Remember What You Study?

Remember what you studyMaybe it’s been awhile since you’ve been in school and now you’re faced with studying a 700+ page ACE Personal Trainer Manual along with additional technical publications filled with words, concepts, definitions and material that you’re having a hard time remembering.  It’s exasperating and maybe even stressful, especially when the certification exam is fast approaching.  You begin wondering if you should postpone the exam date.  The short answer is don’t (more on that topic in an upcoming post)!

Instead, use smart, well-tested methods to assure you will remember what you are reading – not only to pass the all-important ACE certification exam, but also to apply the wealth of information you’ve learned when working with future clients.

First, you need to challenge and replace erroneous thoughts such as:

Instead of telling yourself, “My memory is so bad, I can’t remember enough to pass the exam,” say, “I haven’t taken the exam, so how do I know for certain that I can’t pass it?”

And replace this, “All of these terms like anaerobic glycolysis and MET give me such trouble, I’ll never get them down,” with this, “I can use the study aids to help me memorize terms and understand concepts just like everyone else does.”

Start with a purpose.  Having a specific purpose, continually reminding yourself why you’re reading something, will help you stay on task and remain focused as well as help you constantly search for questions and rehearse answers. 

If you ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn from this section?” you’ll point yourself in theright direction. Purpose also enhances your memory through association, visualization, concentration and repetition.

Here’s how:

Association is when you take one concept and relate it to another.  For example, if you are trying to remember the steps in the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, you might associate “precontemplation” with “pre” meaning before contemplation, which is in fact the next stage.  “Preparation” might be associated with “Action” as in “prepare for action.”

Visualization will help you build a strong and very intense picture in your mind. This is simply thinking in pictures. It’s a form of association with mental images. Look at the highlighted words in the ACE Personal Trainer manual you are studying and “see” those highlights as mental pictures.  For example, if you are trying to recall research-supported outcomes for yoga and tai chi, you might picture the human being comprised of cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, psychobiologic, metabolic components – see the human being in its totality including heart, muscles, psychology and metabolism.

Consider an actor who “gets into character.”  He or she may not think in terms of mental images to recall a script but rather actually “goes inside” the mind of a character to understand what the character would naturally say.  Seeing terms, assessments, progressions, as “how would I actually do this with a client” is another form of association.

Concentration, or focusing your attention on one thing at a time, can be enhanced through thinking in pictures, insisting that you do whatever it takes to get the meaning of something the first time before moving forward, and of course keeping in mind the specific goal of learning a concept or term (“How will I use this with a client?”).

Association, visualization, and keeping in mind your purpose for learning a specific concept are tools of repetition that ensures you will recall the information you are studying. As you read and study, mentally rehearse how you will use the material in a real-life situation, how you may see it on an exam, how it relates to other material you’ve already studied, and paraphrase “chunks” of material before moving forward.  This mental repetition, or rehearsing, will strengthen your memorization.

Skimming a section before you carefully read it will help train your memory bank, accommodate your thinking to the material you will be studying and provide you complete comfort with what you will be reading since you have “seen” it already. 

If your attention span is short, study within that time frame and take essential breaks.  When you do take a break, bring your associations and mental images with you and “play” with them in your mind, talk about them with others, put music to your visualizations, find humor in the pictures, make up rhymes with them and of course create interesting pneumonic devices to help you recall lists.

By Michael Mantell
Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”

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