How to study more effectively (and maybe enjoy it a bit)

*** DISCLAIMER: Please bear in mind these are tips I have personally used with success, they definitely won’t work for every one, you will need to test out what works best for you, whether that includes these tips or not, and use those methods for YOUR best success***

For a bit of background, I’ve been a university student for four years so far. I recently graduated my first degree in Human Biology, and I’ve just embarked on my second in a healthcare profession (keeping the subject secret for now as it will be my career and I would prefer to keep my hobby and job separate… and I fancy being a woman of mystery :P). Due to my age now, I’m now classed as a mature student – clearly whoever decided that didn’t factor in mental age! What I’m trying to say is I’m  a bit of an old timer when it comes to exams and much dreaded revision period, so I’m going to share a few of the tips that work for me personally in the hope it may help some of you!

My guess is if you’ve searched for study tips online, your exam isn’t that far away and you probably should have been revising for weeks now, you haven’t, you’re panicking, you swear to god you were never taught this stuff in lectures… I could go on. If this is you, don’t worry I’ll spare you the pointless “prepare months in advance” speech.

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  1. Its easy to revise stuff you already know, it doesn’t even feel that much like hard work. Thats because it isn’t and revising this way isn’t helpful. List all the topics on the exam, then order them by things you hate and don’t understand to the content you know or could answer without much revision. This way if you run out of revision time part way down your list you could probably have a jolly good try at answering any question, maybe not with total precision but at least to a pass level.
  2. The risky method. If your exam papers require you to answer only a few questions of your choice out of a selection of topics, and you really have left everything until the last minute, you don’t really have to learn every topic. For example if your course has 8 topics, your exam has 8 questions corresponding to the topics and you only have to answer 3 questions, then why learn all 8 topics? Protect yourself and learn 3 very well, and  maybe 2 or so more if you have time for a fall back. This will only work if your exams are set in this way (many of mine and my friends were), and you are prepared to take a slight risk (or don’t have any other choice).
  3. If your exams require you to reference literature you’ve read (usually including the author and date) try to learn references that suit any topic in your module. For example, I had a module about cancer biology so I learnt the author and date for our core text book which included biological information about all the topics in the exam. This way if I forgot an author of a specific paper I’d read about that topic, I could at least reference some of the biology back to that book. Of course, only reference what would actually be in the book (in this example biological explanations and concepts NOT specific studies). Putting references in your answer will always boost marks as it shows extra reading, which is often a major point in the marking criteria.
  4. If appropriate, watch reliable youtube videos to grasp the gist of certain concepts before diving into a book for the more in depth version. If you don’t understand a simplified version on youtube, you might not understand the technical text book version, so start simple then build on your knowledge. Most of the time, going straight for the nitty gritty and not understanding it will lead to frustration and then procrastination because you feel negatively about the subject.
  5. Work smart not hard. This is similar to the point above. Don’t rewrite your powerpoint slides word for word and expect to be able to apply those words to answering an exam question. For example, theres no point knowing the names of every different bone in the body, if you don’t understand what function and role the skeleton plays in the body. Learn to the overall concept, and add in fine details later. You will demonstrate understanding far better this way than just repeating a lecturers powerpoint back to them.
  6. Probably one of the most important things PAST PAPERS, PAST PAPERS, PAST PAPERS. Ideally you should have looked at previous exam papers before you started working, otherwise you set yourself up for a failure. 9 times out of 10 your lecturers will use some form of predictable pattern over several years, which might give you clues as to whats on the exam this year. Remember, lecturers are human and they are as lazy as we are.
  7. Make your study space a nice place whatever that means to you. If you’re into heavy metal and survive on cans of monster energy drinks, me telling you to put on classical fm and drink tea isn’t going to help you. For me personally, I ALWAYS, since writing my dissertation in third year of degree number 1, have a candle burning next to me because I like watching the flame flicker when I get stressed as it calms me back down again. I have a constant mug of tea on the go, which is great for the added bonus of needing to get up and make more tea and go to the loo so you get regular breaks! I also wear my comfiest clothes or pyjamas no matter what time of day, and wrap up in a blanket if its cold. I’ve been known to stay in my bed all day and revise there because I knew it just wasn’t going to get done anywhere else. Whatever works.
  8. Know when enough is enough. This is so difficult to recognise sometimes, but if you tell yourself you’re going to revise for 12 hours straight, you will either give up and feel worthless, or sit there for twelve hours with not much going in. Work hard, take regular breaks, and when you start to zone out and honestly aren’t taking it in, stop for now. Its not giving up, its recognising that you’re wasting time and undoing the hard work you did do. Come back later when you feel fresh.
  9. Be wary of revising with friends, if you have success this way and you motivate each other then great but most of the time I found we would spend 70% of the time having a competition about who was less prepared for the exam and how much we hated revision, 20% eating snacks or having a coffee break and 10% of the time actually doing anything productive. Be selfish occasionally , trust me your friends will definitely understand.

Really hope you enjoyed this post, and it helped in some way! Good luck with your exams!

(totally going to go do some work now because I should be studying too!)

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