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Alternative Tips for Surviving Studying

With the last few weeks of Trimester B coming to a close, you’d be forgiven for finding the subject of final exams an unwelcome thought. For those of you who’ve only just realised how late into the year it is, I apologise – you should also probably check the exam timetable here…

When it comes to studying, I’ve developed certain habits that I’ve found work for me, but wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone else. So whenever I see tips like “start preparing months in advance”, or “study earlier in the day”; I panic simply because I always find myself doing the opposite. I worry that for me it’s the wrong way to go about it. But sometimes, doing the opposite seems to work for me. It’s taken me until university to actually realise that this is okay, as long as I’m getting the grades I need.

*Quick note: Before I go into this, obviously these aren’t pro-health tips. They are not going to work for everyone, so this should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s just an alternative take on the topic; everyone is different and you need to find what works for you!


TIP 1: Take time to find out how you learn.

This seems ridiculously simple, but it took me years to realise that not everyone can learn in the same way.

In high school, we had to do a class called “Learning to Learn”, which didn’t really make much sense at the time – because how can you learn to learn? It was just confusing. The whole concept tripped me up too much to take it seriously. But anyway, it turned out that the whole idea was to help us figure out what kind of learners we were and then go on to find the most efficient ways for us to learn from there.

Looking back, it was actually incredibly helpful. It showed me that just because I couldn’t learn straight out of the textbooks like my teachers wanted, it didn’t mean I couldn’t handle the coursework. I learned that I take in information in a different way to others, and that turned out to be through writing out the information over and over again until I’ve memorised it (lengthy process, but it works!). By working out the most effective technique for yourself, it can save a lot of time and lessens the risk of the information not going in. If you know you struggle to learn with a method that’s been suggested to you, don’t try and force it to work – especially this late on!


TIP 2: Don’t worry about the typical advice being given.

Throughout my high school exams, my mum would occasionally hit out with this advice: “proper preparation prevents poor performance”. From her point of view, she felt that I should have started studying ASAP to make sure I didn’t end up having to cram before exams.

She still comes out with it every so often, but I’ve since come to learn that while this may be true for a number of people, it doesn’t actually apply to me. I’ve realised that I, in fact, retain more information and perform much better in exams when I really push myself to study – the only way I can do this is by leaving myself a small amount of time. It sounds stupid (and running off of stress obviously isn’t the healthiest of options), but when I know I don’t have much time left, I force myself to sit and really focus on what I need to do; when I know I’ve got plenty of time, I’ll procrastinate and get nothing done.

Same goes for the claim that you can learn better early in the day compared to later at night; I find that I can give my full attention to the task at hand when everyone’s asleep and there’s nothing going on, whereas during the day there’s too much happening to get anything done. If you find that traditional advice doesn’t work for you and your learning experience, don’t be afraid to go against it and try something different!


TIP 3: To-do lists are fab!

I make lists for EVERYTHING. I can’t even prepare for travelling home without making a list of everything I need to clean or tidy away before I leave. Obviously, that’s before the page-long checklist of clothes. While I’ve said that everyone learns differently, I am yet to find someone who hasn’t at least understood the beneficial impact of a good to-do list.

Simply writing a list of things such as the tasks you need to do, the topics you need to cover or the layout of the course’s syllabus will allow you to physically view everything requiring completion in black and white – doing this makes me feel a lot more in control of my workload as I can see exactly what is to be done. It keeps me way calmer than I would be otherwise. Plus ticking items off one-by-one is a huge stress reliever!


TIP 4: Sleep, at least before the exam.

Boring one, I know. Everyone reminds you to get plenty sleep when you’re studying. It is important of course. But I can’t honestly say I take this advice, so it’s not something I can tell others to do. In the run up to exams, you are very likely to find me pulling an all-nighter in the university library, heading home at 7am for a couple hours’ sleep and then getting up in the afternoon to head back up. My flatmates are constantly telling me off for it, but I just find it works for me.

Here’s the thing though, you will need sleep immediately before the exam. I accidentally (seriously, it was accidental) stayed up all night before my last exam in January and convinced myself I’d learned enough to get an outstanding mark. I left that exam hall feeling totally confident that I couldn’t have got anything less than an A. I was dead certain that staying awake right through to the exam was the secret to success.

Thing is, just five minutes later I couldn’t recall what any of the questions had asked, let alone what I answered them with. When the results came in I’d actually only got an upper C. Pull as many all-nighters as you want when you’re studying, just make sure you ultimately get a healthy amount of rest in time for the big day!


Feature photo credit: Neil Alexander