“Two posts in one day?!” You say? Crazy, I agree. But, I finished 6 hours of homework today & I’m currently in class on our break, so I was feeling especially inspired – which is a relevant sentiment because it’s always a good idea to seize the moment when your brain is ready to get to work.
In highschool, I was the studying-master. I took painstakingly detailed notes in class, then went home & rewrote them over, & over, & over again. I highlighted in 6 different colours, I used washi tape to make boxes around things, & I only used the finest point pens. I went to practice piano after school, then stayed up until 3 or 4 am perfecting my homework, only to wakeup the next day at 7:30 am to do it again. I don’t think I could ever have the energy to live that way again, & frankly I care too much about my health these days to make those kinds of sacrifices. Sometimes the + on the end of your A grade really isn’t worth all of that, even though of course aiming high is never a bad thing.
So that’s where I’ll start:
- Set goals. Set one larger goal that’s applicable to the whole year, for example, such as to finish with a certain GPA or to get a specific overall grade in a course. Then break it down into smaller, more easily attainable goals like “rewrite my notes every night”, “never come to class with my homework unfinished”, “dedicate __ of hours to studying for my exam”. It makes a large task much more palatable. Even when you’re sitting down to study, make a plan outlining what you what to accomplish first to achieve your larger goal of absorbing your course’s information.
- Create your ideal study space. I used to always study in bed when I got to University – tucked in, under the covers. Somehow I was still shocked when I fell asleep or suddenly felt too tired to focus & turned on netflix. It would be great if we all had desks, but if you don’t just clear some space at your table or even on your couch. Make sure you’re somewhere where you can spread out everything you need & look at multiple things at once, & in a chair where you’ll be sitting up straight so you stay alert. I like to have a whiteboard or a corkboard so that I can have my goals written out in front of me while I study, & so that if I’m studying for an exam I can use the teaching method I’ll be sharing later. The rest of your ideal study space really depends on what you like visually & comfort wise. Maybe you need a plush pillow under your bum, or perhaps you like to have an all-white aesthetic for a clear mind. It’s up to you, but just make sure your study space is a pleasant place to be, but doesn’t compete with bed for comfortability.
- Dress for success, which here means comfort. Does anyone really find jeans comfortable? Or blazers? Or collared shirts? It’s fun to look cute in class because you never know who you’ll meet, & if you’re like me & kind of a homebody it’s just an excuse to look nice when people are going to actually see you. But when it comes to studying, you want your focus to be on the tasks at hand, not on pulling up those tight pants or itching your neck under that fuzzy sweater. I recommend a pair of leggings, a cozy sweatshirt, & fuzzy socks, or some variation on this combination. My favourite exam season tip: start with black leggings & a soft black tee or tank. Pair it with fuzzy socks. Comfy right? Then just add booties & a faux-fur vest like the one pictured. Somehow you get away with wearing what you’d want to wear to hole up in the library or at home & looking cute. Vests are the busy-girl secret.
- Brain food is key. Although I really don’t recommend you go for longer than 45 minutes at a time without a break anyway (that’s how long our attention spans generally are), it’s best to minimize how many distractions are going to require you to get up & start doing anything other than study. If you’re trying to really get a good, long study session in, make a healthy snack & two drinks. I like to fill a water bottle & make either coffee (if it’s the morning) or tea (if it’s the afternoon or evening). I used to just grab a banana or a handful of nuts before heading to my desk, but for whatever reason focusing hard on something, even though it requires no physical activity, makes me really hungry! Now I like to make a little bowl of something, whether it be rice with some veggies, quinao, or granola. Eating also feels like a break without actually requiring a break. When a little bit of my focus is on putting some food in my mouth I find I absorb the information a lot more happily & with greater ease.
- Find your note-taking method. I like these two equally, but because I was forced to learn the Cornell method in highschool it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. & by the way, despite what the internet thinks you don’t have to take pretty notes at all. If making your handwriting super precise, highlighting in coordinating colours, etc. doesn’t actually make studying more fun for you or help you absorb what you’re learning, don’t bother! I just like to because for some reason it makes me hate studying just a little less, & it slows me down so I actually reread what I’ve written.
- Rewrite your notes. Regardless of whether you like pretty notes, you do need to rewrite the notes you take during class before you see that professor again. A prof says a million & one things in the span of a lecture, & it’s pretty difficult to sift through what you really need to focus on & remember when they’re talking quickly & switching slides. I take wildly detailed notes on my laptop in class, then I hand-write them when I get home, making sure I eliminate what isn’t super important (if I need it later it’s on my computer!), paraphrase what is so it’s kind of in my own words, & this is where I start to make things pretty.
- Reread your notes. Go back with stickies. Go back with a highlighter. Maybe, you’re even someone who learns best by rewriting things several times. The only way to figure out your more specifically beneficial studying methods is to study. Regardless, writing something out once or twice likely isn’t going to make you remember it for a test.
- Involve other people. When I say other people, I don’t mean your club-night bestie who might show up hungover with a million things to say about the night before. I mean someone who is like-minded, goal-oriented, & actually ideally not in your class (I’ll explain). I don’t like studying the same subject with someone for two reasons: the first is that my favourite way to test my memory is to teach others about what I’m studying. Using your handy-dandy whiteboard or corkboard, pretend you’re the professor & break all the information you need to know down for your studying partner. If they can successfully regurgitate the information back to you & have their own understanding, then you have learned it it well enough to explain it, which means you understand it well enough to demonstrate that to your professor. The other reason I don’t like studying with people from the class I’m working on is because sometimes it overcomplicates things & makes your understanding worse. Honestly, trust yourself to work hard & research enough to gain a correct understanding of your coursework. It is a terrible feeling to sit around a table with half your friends convinced a) is the right answer, the other half convinced it’s c), while you’re positive it’s b). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to your straight-A friend if you come to her with a question. But have faith in your own work & don’t seek out other opinions unless you need to.
That’s everything I can think of! Of course, you’re free to add other things into your routine to spice it up, like fun stationary, different note-taking methods & I even have friends who like to study hungover (I have literally never managed to do that in my life). You know yourself best, but these are some tips that I think most people will find beneficial.
Lots of love (& good luck this semester!),