Engineering was fun, but hell. Balancing a full mechanical engineering load with various other things was never easy…
Fortunately though, I learnt a few tricks along the way that helped.
Here are a few to get you started – tips that may be able to help you study more efficiently and get you through an exam block with your sanity intact.
1. Plan your study period at the BEGINNING of SWOTVAC and put it up on your WALL.
Day 1 of SWOTVAC? By and large, one achieves pretty much nothing. That’s okay.
USE the first day to FULLY PLAN OUT your exam block.
ONE. Picking your study station for the next three weeks. YOU WILL LIVE THERE. Ideally a quiet place (if that is your thing), with enough space for all your gear and where you can set up uninterrupted for hours on end. Your bed is not a good study station. Don't mix sleep and study.
TWO. Write down your study schedule (see point two) AND PUT IT ON YOUR WALL. Split it up PER DAY.
THREE. Print off the tutorials/lectures/whatever else you will need in advance (download that TV series…)
Now at least you are all set for the block and you can feel like you have achieved something. Take the day off.
2. Plan study for your exams BACKWARDS.
Say you have exams A, B, C and D in that order. Study for D first, then C, then B, then A.
That way, when you have JUST finished studying A, you will do the exam, rather than study for it first and then forget everything you’ve learnt by the time the exam comes around. After A, study for B (and if you have time, C)…and so on and so forth. Put this schedule on your wall (see point 1).
Here’s a little example - you get the first Saturday and Sunday off as a treat ^^:
3. Work in 30 Minute Blocks and TIME YOURSELF
we I have the attention span of a goldfish. The moment I would sit down to study, I would suddenly remember my desk needs cleaning, emails need replying, dishes need washing… you get the gist.
To make it less daunting to sit down and START (and then actually do something!), aim for 30 minute blocks of UNINTERRUPTED study.
Switch your phone off, close Facebook (use Leechblock if you have to!), shut down your email (and maybe even disconnect the internet?!)…just for half an hour.
It will be hard at first, as your mind won’t be used to concentrating for that long. After half an hour though, give yourself a break. Leave the desk, talk to someone, walk around…then come back for another half an hour.
By working in short uninterrupted spurts, you are much more efficient at actually learning, and your mind can concentrate a lot better – and possibly for longer.
I like to think also that sometimes information needs to marinate a little (my brain = tender lamb chops) so that I can actually understand it. By taking breaks, it gives my brain muscle time to marinate and rest.
Also, it’s gratifying to know that half an hour was PURE STUDY.
You can also use this timer :)
4. Schedule in breaks
Pick a night a week. I always took Friday nights off.
Not only should you give your brain a break every half an hour or so, but you should also have a “break day” every week of your exam block. Even if it isn’t an entire day but an evening or morning, force yourself to leave your desk and get some fresh air.
Even the week before my thesis was due, I took Friday night off. I shut my books/computer at 3pm and didn’t look at anything until the next day. It’s an important part of being healthy; a change of scenery will not only refresh you but motivate you for the next burst.
As the weeks roll on by, don’t be afraid to take a break for a couple of hours a day, to do something different. Your brain will thank you.
Just try not to have a break too often – and don’t forget to stick to the plan…! :P
5. Give yourself a daily hours study goal and STICK WITH IT!
When I first started timing myself, I realised I would work only 30% of the time I sat at my desk.
Lord know what I would do – surf the net, read the news, watch series (every exam block would be a new series…).
The best cure? Giving myself a goal of the number of hours that day I wanted to study (PURE ACTUAL STUDY) and sticking with it.
When I started this, I realised I was sitting at my desk all day and doing only about 3 hours. By the end of fourth year though, an average study day was probably 5 – 6 hours.
A really good day? 8 hours.
Thesis due next week? 10.
Once my daily goal was done, I was off the hook for the rest of the day (a good incentive to get the hours out early…).
But remember, you can’t cheat! Time the number of hours that you actually study for. If you pick up the phone? STOP THE CLOCK. Open Facebook? STOP THE CLOCK.
It’s a brutally honest way of showing yourself how much time you actually study and once you have a baseline you can work from there. Don’t get disenchanted, just keep working at it.
Part 2 of Study Secrets will be out at some point in the future! Stay tuned…but in the meantime please share – what are your tips to get you through your exam blocks?