With college and university starting up again, it might be time to refresh the way you learn and study during this semester. This short list aims to introduce you to activities which are less time-consuming than conventional reading and note-taking, for the hours in between intense study periods when your brain feels almost too full.
Remember this list is only a guide and it is no use trying these things if they don’t work for you!
Tip 1: Organisation!
The start of every period of intense revision should be preceded by this: organising.
The most important things to consider when beginning to organise your time are:
Which is my weakest subject?
Which is my strongest subject?
How many past exam papers can I do?
Which books or resources do I need?
Are there any revision sessions I can attend?
How many lectures must I recap?
From this short list of questions, you can begin to assess important details like which units or modules to spend the most time on, where to get extra help, and how much reading material you must read per day.
Finding out your most productive hours can be paramount to making the best use of your time. From this information you can formulate a timetable of high-intensity learning at hours where you are most awake, and lower intensity learning in the hours that you cannot process information as well.
To me, the mere act of organising your time can be therapeutic and help you settle into university again.
Tip 2: The Little Things
In hours where heavy reading or exercises are too strenuous, like after a few hours of intense learning or a busy day, it's important to slow down to avoid burning out.
One way not to waste time while your brain is in economy-mode is doing very light but still stimulating activity. This, if you're an essay-writer, can be as simple as collecting books and journal entries for your essay and giving them a read-through. Do not worry about memorising the information yet, but simply highlight or take note of sentences or paragraphs which stand-out as useful to you.
Never fear scientists and mathematicians – this technique can be used for you, too. For those who have more numerical-based work, you can do as above and go over the core principles of the theory behind your formulae, or you can watch some documentaries or YouTube videos. A lot of videos on YouTube are dedicated to working through exam questions or explaining theory – and sometimes when you’re low on energy, watching someone else explain can really help your understanding.
Both artists and scientists (and those who are both), can benefit from watching documentaries about their chosen study. This is best left for hours in which you really can’t work, as documentaries are often long, but can be very relaxing and can enhance your studies. Be mindful that some documentaries significantly “dumb-down” information, and that things may be explained in odd or simple ways – but starting from scratch in your understanding can often help you visualise principles more easily in your head (especially scientific ones).
Tip 3: Learn With Friends
When study-stress has hit an all-time-high, sometimes learning with friends is what you need.
This might not be the best technique for more solitary learners, but if you have friends who are on your course, or even just friends interested in your course, meeting with them for a casual study session can be a really big help.
Exchanging knowledge with a friend, whether you share a course or not, can help both of you to evaluate your understanding.
It is common to hear that until you can explain a concept to somebody with no base knowledge, you don’t really understand it yourself. This is where friends outside of your course can come in handy. They can help you understand your subject, by asking questions from an outsider’s perspective and challenging your understanding, and you can do the same with them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Tip 4: Summarising
If you have completed step one: gathered resources and come up with a timetable of high and low intensity activity to prepare you for exams, the final thing on your list should be the exam papers.
In my method of learning, I like to recap the core principles before attempting exam papers – but everyone does this differently and all methods are equally good.
Once I have finished one section, or one topic from my course, I think it’s important to see how it translates into an exam context. Sometimes, especially with the sciences, exam questions seem almost plucked out of thin air compared to the content of the course. This is why it is so important to do all of the available exam questions before sitting the exam.
Try making a list of bullet points for each question so that you can recall the points you made during the exam. Writing too much while revising can be good for you – it means that even if you forget one bullet-point, you will get marks for all of the other parts of your answer.
Obviously practising in timed conditions is very important too, so once you’ve got clear ideas for each question, go through the papers again and see how much you can write in the exam’s duration or less.
Tip 5: Eat And Sleep Properly
It seems obvious and I bet you all saw this piece of parent-like advice coming, but eating, sleeping and relaxing is important.
The brain doesn’t function well when it hasn't had enough food, water, sleep or stimulation – so try and make sure you have time to do all of these things. If you struggle with making meals, try to make a varied meal-plan before exam season starts. Thirty-minute meals can be very useful when you don't have much time, and occasionally a takeaway or microwave meal is welcome too.
It goes without saying that a good sleeping schedule is essential – you don’t want to be having too many late nights, and you definitely don’t want to be staying up all night studying if you can avoid it. Try going to bed relatively early and rising relatively early to make the most of the day.
Make sure to get some activity in there too – it can be almost mind-numbing being in the same room all day, so make sure you take a little breaks for making yourself tea, getting food, or exercising. Exercise can also get you outside and help contribute to a good sleeping schedule for exam season.
As people will always say – life is about balance. It takes practice to get things right, so experiment with the tips above as you see fit. Not everything will work for everyone, so feel free to interpret and change things in any way that helps you. Remember to take regular breaks and message your friends, lecturers or course-mates if you’re struggling. But above all, try to ensure that you are happy and confident in what you are doing.
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