Studying 101: 3 Encoding Skills You Need To Know

Knowing how to encode can help boost your marks!

There’s a difference between learning and studying.

Do you know what it is?

Learning is the process of decoding concepts to make sense of it. It is our ability to connect with, understand and apply ideas.

Studying is the practise of retrieving this encoded information from long-term memory.

This means we can’t study what we don’t learn.

Therefore, today’s blog is to share key ways to ensure you’re learning content well.

Luckily for you, Bettering Youth tutors are experienced at tutoring for 11+ exams, SATs exams, Year 8 Transfer exams, and GCSEs . We’ve supported hundreds of students through the exam process and we know how to help you manage your exam prep journey.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a Studying 101 blog series covering all ways to maximize your studying. Today, we answer: How to encode and how it helps with studying for GCSEs.

Be sure to click the links below in the table of contents to access the other parts of this Studying 101 series.

Table of Contents:

  1. The study habits that are counterproductive (I dish the deets on why)
    1.1 Re-reading
    1.2 Highlighting
    1.3 Summarising/Making notes
  2. How to remember more: Encoding
    2.1 Chunking
    2.2 Mnemonics
    2.3 Self Referencing
  3. The study methods that do help
    3.1 Spaced Repetition
    3.2 Blurting
  4. Organising your time
  5. How to overcome Performance anxiety
  6. Dealing with anxiety

How memories are created

There are three procedures for creating memories:

  • Encoding
  • Storage
  • Retrieval

Encoding is the way the brain takes the information you present it, and makes sense of it.

Storage is how it is stored.

and Retrieval is the ability to remember what you have learned.

Encoding: Why it’s important when studying

To encode is a process to make things easier to remember:

to change something into a system for sending messages secretly, or to represent complicated information in a simple or short way

Cambridge Dictionary

The process of encoding is important while studying because it is the process of moving ideas that you’ve reviewed from your short-term memory, to your long-term memory. This is helpful as it means you’ll be more likely to remember details when they are asked on an Exam.

Short-term memory can only hold 7 pieces of information at once. Therefore, moving what you’re learning to long-term memory is the only way to ensure it will show up when you’re writing your GCSEs.

Encoding: How we can improve our studying skills

Most of us believe the best way we can learn something is to mechanically repeat it (rereading a text).

As mentioned in Studying 101: 3 Popular Time Wasters for Studying, rereading is not an effective studying method.

Example: When someone tells you their phone number and you repeat it numerous times so you can dial it. Once you’ve dialled it, can you recall the number? What about a day later?

The chances are that you can’t remember the phone number. This is because the brain didn’t have to exert any effort to remember it.

So how can we improve our studying skills?

The more the brain needs to work in order to encode, the more active you are in learning, the easier it will be to transfer the information from short-term to long-term memory.

Quote for encoding and studying for gcses

Top 3 ways to improve your encoding skills

  • Chunking
  • Mnemonic devices
  • Self-referencing

How to use Chunking to encode:

To encode using ‘chunking’ is to group memories in similar groups:

“Chunking is generally defined as the compression of information during encoding, resulting from the automatic detection of known structures”

Lucas Lorch, 2021

For example, if someone were to ask you to remember this list: 3, triangle, 12, red, 8, rectangle, 20, square, purple, yellow, 15

It would pose some difficulty as there are more than 7 objects to remember.

However, if we were to group this list into three categories: shapes, numbers, and colours, it becomes easier: 3, 12, 20, 15, red, purple, yellow, triangle, circle, square, rectangle.

So while you’re studying, try and group together information into categories. It will help with your encoding, as well as your retrieval.

blog banner studying techniques

3 studying techniques that don’t work!

How to use Mnemonic devices to encode:

To use Mnemonic devices to encode is to connect new information with information that is easy to remember:

“Mnemonic techniques are considered to be strategies for encoding new information in memory in such a way that they can be more easily retrieved. “

Megan Mocko, 2017

For instance, while studying for my Biology exam, I remembered the biological classifications with this mnemonic: King Philip Came Over For Good Spaghetti (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).

While supporting students with spelling, we use mnemonics all the time! Because is a word that is often misspelled. This mnemonic helps us to spell Because properly: Big Elephants Can’t Always Use Small Exits.

Another way to use a mnemonic is with your knuckles. Which months of the year have 31 days? Just check your knuckles. Every knuckle is 31 days, while every space in between is either 30, with the exception of February (28 days).

You can also picture detailed images to help you remember key information. If you needed to know how the guard cells in a plant work, you could imagine a bar with a bouncer that only let in certain chemicals.

Lastly, mnemonics can also be rhymes or songs, or even dances. In Year 8 Biology, we needed to remember the expanded form of DNA. I thought it was hopeless as the word is so long!

But, my friends and I made a little jingle that made remembering it so easy… so easy that I single the jingle each time I need to say deoxyribonucleic acid.

As you can see, there are many ways to encode new information using mnemonic devices.

How to use Self Referencing to encode:

Self-referencing takes place when we apply what we’re learning to our own life.

“Information that is encoded in relation to the self”

Ross Lawrence, 2021

This takes a lot of mental exertion and is a great way to study.

For instance, in studying for a History exam, you can imagine that you are part of the stories you’re reading about. You can make up a character, and try to experience every part of what you’re learning, through their perspective. Next, you can imagine where they were and how they felt as they received news about the Blitz. You can think about the conversations they may have with Russian leaders on communism.

The more involved you become in the encoding process, the more easily, you will be able to remember the information.

Another method is how you can pretend to teach this to another person or child.

encoding method: imagine you're in the stories. Studying for gcses

Learning how to encode helps you to study more efficiently

How can encoding help you pass your GCSE exams?

Now that we understand what encoding is, and how it helps us with our studying, we are better equipped to study effectively.

The main idea is that the more effort your brain has to exert while learning, the more easily the information will be transposed and stored into long-term memory.

We all know that the point of school is to help you learn. Oddly, we don’t have a subject called “the science of learning”… though if Bettering Youth tutors have anything to say about it, you will!

Regardless if you’re preparing for a GCSE exam, Year 9 transfer exam, 11+ exam, or SATs exam… knowing how to study effectively is an empowering way to help lower your anxiety.

If you’re keen to learn more about effective ways to study, then be sure to check out our other blogs in this Studying 101 series.

You’re also welcome to get in touch if you’d like a Maths or English tutor to support you along your journey.

11+ Exam resources:

The Eleven Plus (11+) guide: Where to Start in Preparing for Entrance School Exams

What is the 11+ Entrance Exam? The Eleven Plus Explained

How To Make The 11+ Word List Stick: 14 Word Games

11 Plus Papers: 4 Common Mistakes and how to Solve them

Everything you need to know about the CEM 11+ exam: 2021-22 edition

Everything you need to know about the GL 11+ Assessment: 2021-22 edition

GCSE exam resources:

Top 3 Practical Tips to Smash your GCSE Exams

GCSE and A-Level Assessments: How to Trust Teachers to Award Marks


Everything You Need To Know To Successfully Pass Your GCSEs

4 Steps to Overcome Performance Anxiety: Ace your next test

Tutor GCSE English

Anna, GCSE English Tutor

Meet Anna, Bettering Youth’s GCSE English exam tutor

studying tips: encoding
Studying properly can help you avoid blanking out during your exam

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