Hello everyone and welcome to another Theory Thursday. Today’s #theorythursday is perfect for those who are heading #backtoschool and #offtocollege because today I am sharing the study tips I live by. I am talking all about how to study more effectively in shorter periods of time. Want to know how I do it? Keep reading!
I love learning and I really value my education however I always found studying rather difficult. I don’t like how some exams measure intelligence based on how well someone remembers and regurgitates information. I don’t think that spewing information that you have learned off by heart onto a page is a fair reflection of your ability and intelligence and the reason I thrived so much in college is because in college, all of my exams were focused on my critical thinking skills, on my opinion of and understanding of different topics rather than simply reciting stuff however, we all do have to survive exams and so I am going to share how I do that.
Are you sick of studying for hours and hours only to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted with a headache on top? Do you feel like it doesn’t matter how long you study because you still don’t feel prepared? Pay attention because I am going to share my study tips, and these tips got me through college. I got several distinctions and I was always extremely happy with my grades but guess what, I only study for two hours or less at a time. Let’s dive in.
Replace endless hours with shorter, structured study sessions.
I think that sometimes people feel like they have to participate in a ‘who studied the longest’ contest. People think it is impressive to say that they studied all day or all night or that they never have any free time because they are studying. I say good for them if that is what they want to do, but personally I prefer having a healthy work/study/life balance. Let me share a secret, I never discuss my grades but I have often done just as well or even better that these people who are chained to their desks and I’ve spent less time studying. It’s not about how long you spend at the desk, it is about how productive you are while at the desk.
Structure your time. Have clear goals.
Pick a study slot. I like to study from 4-6.pm.
I like to have clear study goals for each session. I always set out two or three learning objectives for each session and my goal is that by the end of the two hours, I will understand the topics that I set out to understand. Having clear goals means I’m not studying for hours aimlessly. I have a task and I am using my time productively to complete that task.
Be realistic about your goals.
You will not learn ten things in one session and unrealistic goals will set you up for frustration and disappointment. That is why I would say have two or three goals per study session and then you can spend your time working through the topics you have chosen.
Good Notes = Easy Study.
If you put the time and effort into making your notes pleasing to look at, it will become easier when it comes to going over those notes. Write clearly and concisely. Don’t overcomplicate your notes. Make them easy to follow and easy to read and that way the content of your notes becomes easy to understand and easy to remember. Use different coloured pens for different topics. If the notes are boring to look at then you will be bored reading over them. Different coloured pens will also help you visualise your notes when you are trying to remember them.
Mind maps are your friend.
I always create mind maps (or spider diagrams, whatever you want to call them), I use them for study for exams and for essays – I will dedicate a separate Theory Thursday to essay writing tips alone.
I state the topic e.g. Shakespeare’s King Lear.
I state my learning objectives in the middle of the page e.g. I want to identify the play’s key themes. I want to select two key scenes that I will talk about. I want to breakdown Lear’s character.
If I am studying for two hours and I follow this mind map, I will spend 30 minutes on themes, 30 minutes on two key scenes, and 30 minutes on Lear’s character. This leaves me with 30 minutes left to go over all three topics or I can spend more time on one of these areas if I feel the need to.
At the end of this session, I ask myself do I understand the topics I set out to understand? Am I confident that I can talk about these three topics? If so, great. If not, I take note of what I feel I need to spend more time on e.g. themes, and then the next time I study one of my learning objectives will still be themes.
This leads me to my study method that I would say has three sections; plan, write, review.
Plan. Write. Review.
Planning comes when you get given an indication of what will be coming up on the exam. Some teachers give hints, when I was in college we were always given a rundown of what would be coming up because lecturers made it clear that they wanted exams to be about critical thinking and they did not want anyone to feel caught out. So if you have a fair idea of what topics you need to cover that is great, if you unfortunately have to guess, this method will still work but it means you have to do it a few more times.
For example, I once knew that all the plays I studied over the course of the module would be coming up on the exam except for the two that already came up on our mid-semester essay assignment. So that is two plays crossed off. I don’t need to study those two. Now, if every other play is going to come up and I know I will have two hours to answer two questions (usually one from a section A and one from a section B), then it is time for me to pick which two plays I am going to study.
I pick my plays. I outline all the things I will need to know. The playwright, when it was written, the setting, the characters, the themes, the structure, the techniques used, the message and the play’s importance, and finally my own interpretation and thoughts about the play.
Once I know my topic and what I need to know within that topic, I start to plan my study sessions and I plan how I will organise my notes.
Information about the play such as the playwright, when it was written, and where it is set will go on one page. These are basic facts and while they are important, the understanding I have of the play is more important.
Structure and themes will go together because as I have stated many times, how a story is structured can lend itself to the themes the story is presenting.
Characters get their own section. I figure out which character I will focus on because I don’t have time in the exam to focus on all of them. Maybe I’ll choose two and compare them. I will do the same with themes. I will identify what I interpret the most important theme to be and that will be the lens I write my answer through.
Once I have my plan, writing is next.
I create the mind map. I choose my two or three topics for one study session so for example I will sit down one evening and my goal for the end of the study session will be to understand the theme I am going to discuss, the techniques used in the play, and which character I will be discussing as my example.
In a different study session, I will plan to understand the play’s structure and I will choose one or two key scenes that I want to highlight in my answer to back up the points I’m making.
After writing comes reviewing.
After I create my mind map and write my notes, I move on to simply revising.
Once I am satisfied that I have covered all the topics I feel I need to, and I have made clear and easy to read notes on each topic, I then will take some time to read over these notes. I usually will be in this revising mode closer to the exam itself. The key is to do the heavy work earlier on and so when it comes close to the exam, I am simply reading over information that I already know and fully understand. When I put the notes together, I end up with a little booklet of study notes for each play.
This neat little booklet is clean, easy to read, and easy to understand. Each topic has it’s own page and it’s own coloured pen e.g. themes in blue, and this makes it so much easier to just read over my notes because everything is in the one place.
This may sound like an awful lot of work but it is all very manageable.
If I am studying two plays, I usually need two writing sessions for each one. The writing sessions is where most of the heavy work gets done because I am researching, reading, and highlighting in order to make my notes and then when that is done, I give myself two revising sessions for each play and like I said, these revising sessions tend to happen closer to the exam so I go in with the notes fresh in my memory.
So when you break it down, it is four study sessions for one exam.
This breakdown is how I studied for my exams while I was doing my BA. We usually had a two-week study period before exams. I usually had four or five exams at Christmas and then another four or five exams at the end of the semester in summer.
So if I had four exams and I knew I would give myself four study sessions for each one, that is sixteen study sessions.
I would use the first week as my writing notes week and the second week as my reading over notes week and then the four exams were spread out over a two-week period too so it meant that after one exam, there were days off in between the next one so you could read over notes for whatever exam was coming up next.
This study method really saved my mental health. I was no longer bored out of my mind flipping through pages for hours and hours. I was no longer feeling frustrated with myself thinking that I’d wasted my day. Our study breaks were over our Christmas break and it can be very hard to set aside study time over the Christmas holidays because family comes over and there are different events happening and I am tired after a long semester so I want some downtime to recharge too. I was not going to miss decorating the Christmas tree because I was sitting at my desk with a headache. This study method allowed me to really enjoy my Christmas break (if it is not obvious, I am referring to pre pandemic years where leaving the house and social activities were a much more regular occurrence.)
If I wanted to be able to sit down in the afternoon and watch a Christmas movie, I could, and then after a lovely day I would go upstairs and study for two hours. If I knew there was something happening in the evening, if I was going to see a Christmas panto, then I would get up and study from 11-1.pm and then I would be able to close my laptop and enjoy the rest of my day without feeling guilty or worrying that I should be studying and fretting because work is piling up and it is getting closer to the exam dates. Work did not pile up because I was organised and structured. The two hours I spent studying were highly focused and very productive. If I wanted to take a day off I could and then what I would do is do two study sessions the next day. I might study from 11-1.pm and then go for a nice walk and have some lunch, and then come back and do another session from 4-6.pm with a clear head and fresh eyes. I left my desk feeling proud of myself and confident in my work every time and I walked into every exam feeling confident and prepared – and my grades prove me and my methods right every time.
Obviously everyone is different and we all know how we learn. My methods may not work for some people, just like how some of my friend’s methods do not work for me but I am sharing my method because I guarantee that someone will find it helpful. I am not going to pretend that studying is fun, let’s face it, it is not fun. It can be stressful and many people struggle to study but over the last three years I feel that I have perfected a method that really works for me and I now feel so much more confident when I am preparing for exams and so if I can help even one person feel more confident too then sharing my tips will have been worth it. I don’t think I will ever find studying fun but I have found a way to make it a much less stressful experience and I hope these tips help you do that too.
This has been Theory Thursday. These have been my study tips that I swear by. Are you like me where you study in shorter sessions? Have you figured out any study hacks that you’ve found really do make a difference? Let me know in the comments below.