You asked and I delivered! The overwhelming majority of you guys who voted in my poll on Instagram the other day requested that I do a post about my top study tips. So, here we go.
By nature, I am a very studious person. I always have been. Throughout secondary school, while doing my Alevels and even now in uni, I’ve kept an interest in wanting to dive into the books and an eagerness to ask questions in order to try and get any task done as best as possible. If you’re in Secondary school or A levels, I was in your shoes not too long ago, so I know that the pressure is on. The environment is very competitive and these last few years of your young education will play a big part in determining what you do later on. No biggie, it’s only the rest of your life. If, like me, you’re facing the new and daunting university challenges of having to balance a dedicated study system and an active social life, then… to be honest I’m still trying to figure that out! But one thing I do know which applies across the board, is that it’s not as daunting as it may seem; people are constantly doing it, so all it takes is some hard work. Okay no, a lot of hard work, and a few other things. I’m no expert but I know what works for me, and I hope that you can find something here that can help you on your journey towards academic success. Here are my top 10 study tips:
- Set realistic goals. Only you are able to know the style of study that works best for you. In school they often tell you to make a study timetable, set out your aims for the week, a time during the day (usually a couple of hours with 10 minute breaks in between) for each subject, to get a certain piece of work done, in order to make sure you get a good balance of all your topics in time for the next lesson. What I used to do in the evenings is work for a few hours and take 15 minute breaks in between so I wouldn’t burn out. I’d get started at 8pm and go all the way till 2, something 3am. Obviously that doesn’t work for everyone. People say they need their beauty sleep. I understand this, and so do I, but especially in A levels and uni, where the time goes by so fast and you have to learn a bunch of new concepts, it takes hard work to get good grades (unless you’re a genius) and part of hard work, unfortunately usually involves burning the midnight oil. They’re not kidding when they say the jump from Alevels to university is massive. Because not only are you adapting to new study goals, you also have to set social goals, ie. time to chill out, settle down or make friends. I no longer have the same schedule as I did in Alevels because at uni, classes are at the most random times of the day. The most unexpected things come up that go with independent living that setting a weekly daytime timetable is almost impossible. So I have to adjust the goals that I set for myself. I don’t study during most daytime hours. MAYBE I’ll do some light reading and tutorial prep, but all of my hard work is done between 8pm and 3am. And I study one topic a night. Over the weekend it can be a bit all over the place with trying to make plans so I wouldn’t advise setting a daytime study timetable for the weekend but maybe set it in your diary that whatever it is you do, you’ll be home by 9pm (not every weekend but on most weekends) to start getting to work for the evening. And I know it can sounds a bit unappealing, like the weekend is meant to be to go out and I get that, I go out too, but when you finally sit down and realise that you feel terrible for being behind on the reading and for not having done it bit by bit throughout the term, you’ll think of me.
- Get colourful stationary: Bear with me on this one. One of our favourite things about going to school between the ages of 5 and 13 were the joys of taking out our multicoloured My Little Pony or Spiderman pencil cases with all its gorgeous themed contents. My argument is, why does it have to end?! No, I don’t own a My Little Pony pencil case, but one of the things that always entices me to get to work, is laying out all of my fluorescent highlighters and sticky notes, my pastel pink Zoella pencils, pulling out my massive ring binders with the funky patterns and my notebook with the inspiring quote. If your work station is vibrant and bright, it’ll set your mind to sitting down at the table longer. It’s all psychological. Hopefully if you’re writing with a vibrant purple pen on a bright blue sticky note, that equation you’ve been staring at for the past 20 minutes will start to make some sense. The emphasis being on ‘hopefully.’
- Use flash cards or write (at least some of) your notes by hand. The biggest issue with my generation I think is that no one writes on paper anymore. Myself included. And I think that’s super sad but not a topic to be discussed here lol. Unfortunately, at least where I’m from and where I am now, there hasn’t yet been developed a completely computerised system of exams. Which means that at least some of your exams this year will be in writing. What I’m about to say may sound a bit confusing and crazy but hear me out. One of the things I found is that when I write things down, it’s easier for me to remember exactly what my hands have carved onto the paper, than it is to remember something that they’ve typed onto a keyboard. If you write something down once, in my experience I find that it’s easier to recreate that in an exam paper. Writing out flash cards with short quotes and headings and formulas and making mind maps by hand all help to make the process of studying less mechanical and more personal. Being able to flick through your handmade flash cards before an exam is also so much better than having to cram everything that you’ve typed and printed in Times New Roman on a piece of A4. Also, it’s good practice for your handwriting skills, which let’s admit, is not exactly calligraphy.
- Be organised. Your work space should be organised and tidy. Use labelled ring binders and folders to separate subjects and individual topics. Use coloured tabs to differentiate pages. Make sure there is some order on your shelves and on your desk. Stack your books in piles according to subject. This will have an effect on how easy it is to sit down and get started with what you have planned for the study session. On the other hand, it’s not only about organising your physical work space but your brain as well. Use flow charts and diagrams to carefully lay out all your ideas and your plans in an organised manner so you can assess them and tackle them better.
- Be inquisitive. Ask questions. And by this I don’t mean just to your teacher or lecturer, but especially to yourself. Engage with your material especially if it’s something you’re enjoying. Ask yourself questions about why things are the way they are, are you sure you completely understand the issue at hand and whether there’s a recent development in the area that you could read about. Sometimes there won’t be answers to your questions, especially the one’s that go ‘but why is it like this?’ Sometimes the answer is just, ‘because it is!’ but it never hurt anyone to wonder, and it helps build your ability to question this world that we live in, in order to find solutions to make it a better place.
- Organise to study with a friend. Now be careful with this one. This friend has to be someone you know actually wants to work. We all have that friend who we love, but if we invited them over to study, they would ask if we were hungry 15 minutes into ‘studying’ and you’ll end up ordering a pizza and watching Riverdale. Your study buddy has to be someone who’s keen to get down to business and actually motivates you to stay focused.
- Take snack breaks. The moment you feel like you’re getting hungry or fidgety (which makes you think you’re hungry when you actually aren’t), set yourself 10 or 15 minutes to finish the chapter or topic you’re on, and then get up and get a snack. I’m not saying devour an entire tub of nutella by yourself but especially if you’re going all night, have some snack options in your fridge or pantry. Your mind is going to drift after a couple of hours and if you don’t satisfy your little cravings then you’ll never be able to get back into the zone and you’ll forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. If you’re not feeling hungry but your mind starts to drift to abstract things, plug in your earphones, jam out to one or two of your songs of the moment, dance it out if you must, then take a deep breath, and start again.
- Make the most of your teachers, lecturers and seminar leaders. You are at these institutions for YOU. Not for your parents or your friends or any of the staff. You’re there to build the best intellectual version of yourself and so make the most of the people who are there to help you. Nobody wants you to fail and they are there to answer your questions. No matter how ‘stupid’ or no matter how many times they’ve been asked before, if you still don’t understand or if there’s a new point you want to raise, do it! At uni, there is this conception (at least that’s what I felt) that there are very strict and robust interactions between students and their lecturers and seminar leaders. But I’ve come to discover that it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. They’re not as scary and daunting as they are always perceived. They’re humans too and they have a sense of humour, they have children and most importantly, they love to engage in conversations where you can show them that you’re interested in the topic and want to know more; regardless of whether you think your question is ‘stupid’ or insignificant. It’s okay to be selfish, if you see that others aren’t making the most of their contact time and you have an issue on your mind, bring it up and make sure you discuss it until you’ve got the most out of the conversation. And most importantly, it’s okay to say you don’t know.
- Do past papers. I cannot tell you how this is the most useful hack I could ever have been told. In Alevels they drilled this into us every chance that they got. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I saw the exact same question repeated in multiple question papers. At uni obviously it’s different but even here, by doing past papers you get a taste of a basic structure (especially in law) and style of questions and by reading the feedback you get an idea of what your examiners are looking for in your answers.
- JUST DO IT. There’s no golden rule or magic trick or overnight fix. No one is going to do the work for you. Yeah cramming the night before an exam sometimes does the trick, but more often than not, it leads to a coupled of tears and a massive migraine which could so easily be avoided. Some people hate to read, some people can’t sit still for long periods of time, some people don’t like this topic or that topic, some people would rather be doing other things. Trust me, I completely get it and this may sound a bit harsh. But don’t make excuses. There’s no point in spending an hour procrastinating, telling yourself you’re googling hundreds of study tips and hacks if at the end of it you just decide to give up and put on Netflix. You’ve got this. Sit down and get it done! And at the end of the road, when you get into the university of your dreams or that first class degree, you’ll give yourself a good pat on the back.
I’ll say it again, you’ve got this. You’re the boss of your own success. If you think I’ve missed anything out or you want to share any of your study tips, please leave a comment below or comment over on my Instagram. Oh and good luck with everything!
Sit back, grab some Oreos and let’s see what life has to offer us next.