Thursday, 21 April 2016

University: Studying for Finals - Tips, Tricks and Struggles

When I got out of high-school and went into Univeristy, I struggled to find studying habits that worked best for me. I tried index cards, re-taking notes, reading the textbooks through and through; but there always seemed to be some kind of barrier between me and a letter grade higher.
However, with dedication, struggle and finally success, I found a few methods that worked best for me. These are just a few tips that to help you study better, take in more information and feel more confident about your impending exam!

Note: These tips can be used for any level of education (high-school, college, university, grad-school, etc.) and are not specified to any in particular. These are strategies that work best for me and are not set in stone, they may work for you too or other strategies may work better to help you study.

Find Your Study Spot and Study Sound
I've realised over the last little bit, that I study better in certain spaces. I don't study well at libraries or at school, I get distracted by absolutely everything. I've tried every single room in my house to see where I study the best. That spot is in my bedroom, at my desk, or in the living room on a certain couch in a certain spot. I also put on a GooglePlay playlist that is all instrumental music (classic, ambient, something calm or mellow), or I put a song on repeat so it becomes background noise. Both work really well for me. I think it's really important to know where you are the most focused and with what sounds that are around you, this helps you put yourself in the right mood to study the most effectively.

Study in a Clean Space
I'm sure you've heard the saying "messy space, messy mind", and I believe it's 100% true. I cannot study if my bedroom if it is messy or if I know I need to do laundry or some kind of chore. These are things I find myself doing to procrastinate. So instead I clean up my room, I get my laundry done and anything else before I study. This way I have no distractions and no way to 'proactively' procrastinate.

Put Away your Phone
This seems simple or even frivolous to some people. What if I'm waiting for a call from my mum? What if I'm using it for music? That's all fine and dandy, but make sure you aren't texting from friends, or responding to notifications that pop up; because those are distractions, and next thing you know you'll be playing Candy Crush on your phone and an hour just passed without any studying. Turn your phone over, turn off the sound, put it away; so it can't distract you.

Make a Schedule of When you will Study What
Part of making sure you take in as much information as possible is studying properly and over a period of time. Especially when all the class material is looming over your head and will be on a final cumulative exam. I usually use Post-it Notes, write the day on it, and everything I want to get done in that day, study wise and in general. That way I can cross things out, add things and satisfyingly crumple it up after when I've completely everything for the day!

Take a Break When You Need It
Some people like to take a break every 30 minutes, or 2 hours but I've found an hour is when my mind starts to wander or I start to get that burnt out feeling. I don't keep close tabs on the time either, if I'm really charging through and doing well I might wait till an hour and a half, or if it's the end of the day and I'm starting to die, I might take one every half an hour. It really depends on how you feel and where you're at. The same goes for the length of the break, sometimes I'll watch an episode of something, sometimes it's just a quick snack or facebook check. The important thing is that you take a couple minutes to forget what you were studying and just relax. Otherwise after 3-4 hours of pure studying you'll be burnt-out and done for the day, instead of being able to study for a solid 5-6 hours with a couple breaks in between. It makes a difference.

Condense your Notes
This is the main way I study. I will take my notes from the class, go back through any notes the teacher has posted and fill in any blanks, then I go through them all and add in area's I don't understand and condense notes in places there is too much information. I'll do this process of condensing about 3 or 4 times till I'm satisfied. This usually ends up being about 20 pages of notes going down to about 10, with the most important information in them. This works best for me because I go through all the course information and analyze what is important and what isn't, what concepts and theories I'll need and which ones I won't. In this way, I end up studying everything, and all the important stuff a few times over as I condense and then I'm left with a detailed study guide to review with.

Do the Least Amount of Work for Optimal Success
This one's tricky because it depends on the course, the teacher and what you're studying. But basically, if your professor said chapter 5 won't be on the exam, don't study chapter 5.
Or if your professor gives you 8 short answer questions and says 5 will be on the exam and you'll have to write on 3. Only study 6 of them, that way if the 2 you didn't study are on the exam you prepared for the other 3. Basically, don't waste your time studying things you don't have to, ask your teacher what will be on the exam, get them to clarify. If you don't have to focus on something, that means you have more energy that can go towards other area's while studying.

Don't Cram the Day/Night Before
This is an oldie, but it's important. If you only studied the night before, expect to fail. Like the tip above says, you need to make a plan to study over a period of time. Also don't stay up late cramming all the information you have been studying. I usually do a thorough review after dinner and then I relax for the rest of the night. You need to relax and let your mind rejuvenate a bit so you aren't burnt out for the exam. You should make sure you've done enough studying before that point to feel confident for the exam

Get a Good Nights Sleep and Have Breakfast
Again, another oldie. I usually try to get to bed around 10-11pm and sleep until around 7-8am (If I'm not up at 6 for an 8am exam). This way you'll be well rested and not passing out during the exam or have a clouded mind. Also breakfast. I'm not saying eggs, bacon, toast, waffles, pancakes, sausage etc. Just get something in your stomach to give you some fuel, this is usually yoghurt, toast with cheese and a coffee for me. Food will energise you and help stimulate your brain.

Don't Study the Morning Of, Just Relax
This depends on what time your exam is at, but if your exam is before 12, just relax. I might do a quick scan-through-review of my condensed notes, but I will watch some TV, read a non-related book, talk with family and friends etc. Get your mind off of the material at least 2 hours before the exam so you don't confuse yourself or overthink things. Also, make yourself laugh before hand. I've had a lot of teachers who try to make us smile or laugh right before the exam because it helps us relax and not be so tensed and stressed. Stress is not your friend during an exam. Relax, laugh and go into confident.

I hope these tips and tricks helped! They work well for me but if you have any tricks please share in the comment box! I'd love to have some new ideas and we're all different learners so we can all learn and benefit from each other!

Happy studying and good luck!


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