There is nothing worse than having geared yourself up to study, and then finding yourself staring at a blank page. It can cause any motivation we may have mustered up to simply vanish. Once we have decided to study, how do we start? How do we keep the momentum going once we do start? Below are some tips that might help you put some structure on your studying, and help you to feel like you are in control of your study plan.
Break down your to-do list to the smallest do-able action. This might sound pedantic, and there is a risk beyond a certain point that you could end up spending your whole study period creating an itemised to-do list. However, spending a short time planning your listing the tasks you need to do can help you to prioritise, can help you feel like you know where to start, and can help you keep momentum while studying.
Get into a routine – this teaches your brain what to expect so that it doesn’t fight you as much when your motivation is flagging. Try things like getting up at the same time every day, taking your lunch or dinner breaks at the same time, and finishing at the same time every day where possible. Try to separate the spaces where you study and relax as much as you can so your brain doesn’t start to learn that being on your bed means its time to focus on work. If you need it, the library on campus will have extended opening hours during exam times.
That said, allow for flexibility within your routine and schedule. Sometimes things come up that we cannot plan for – maybe the internet goes down, or there’s a day where you are feeling well and resting is a better option than pushing through. Build gaps into your schedule – for instance, if you feel like a particular topic is going to take one hour to cover, allocate an hour and a half, or two hours to it. That way, if you need the extra time, its there and you don’t need to compromise on something else. If you end up not needing the extra time, then you have it to use elsewhere – either adding extra time to other study topics, or extra rest time.
Take a bird’s eye view of what you have to cover during your study time. Try and allocate chunks of time to each item you need to cover, and give extra time to each one if you can as mentioned above. Do one bit at a time, and try your best to avoid thinking about all the things you’ve got to cover and focus on the one at hand. Don’t panic if you go off schedule – this can happen for many reasons; you can’t give 100% of yourself 100% of the time, and that’s ok. If you have a day where you feel like you’re falling behind for whatever reason; reset either in that moment, after a short break, or the next morning, and go again. A bad day does not mean you’re not able to study, or that you’re going to fail.
Plan your breaks into your timetable – and plan movement breaks as well as rest breaks. Moving your body helps preventing you getting sore from sitting still all day, it helps to dispel stress that might have built up, as well as helping your brain to process the information its just been taking in. If possible, get outdoors during some of your breaks, and try to do so during daylight if you can. Even if you are taking only a short break, and you don’t plan on much movement during the break, try to move away from your study space as much as possible during breaks.
Now that we’ve got the general planning covered, there are also things that you can implement during your study that can help.
The people in your life can both help and hinder you during the study process. Try to let those around you know that you are studying. They might be able to help by being quieter and not interrupting; they might be able to support you, or spend time with you on your breaks to make sure you’re taking them, and if you are having trouble concentrating, they might be able to act as a body double for you. This is where someone else works either beside you or online alongside you (via streaming etc). The presence of someone else working can help us to concentrate ourselves. However, do try to ignore those around you who are taking about how much studying they are or aren’t doing – you know what you need to do, how you work best, and how you’re feeling about it, so what other people are doing might not be the same as what you are doing or what you need to be doing.
Our brains can maintain good concentration levels for 30 – 45 minutes at most, although everyone is individual and will differ slightly. Try to stick to roughly this time and avoid cramming, as you will overload your brain and likely will not retain all of the information correctly. Set a timer if you need to. Put your phone out of sight or on silent, or limit access to apps that might distract you both on your phone and laptop (there are apps available that will do this for you if you need a bit of help). Once you have done this, just start – your notes don’t have to be perfect, if your brain is drawing a blank, just start, even if it’s with very rough notes. Once you start reading or writing, it easier to keep going. If you’re still having trouble, check out our post on motivation.
Build rewards into your study plan; reward yourself for making yourself try, even if you don’t get as much done as you’d like to. Some of the apps mentioned above for limiting access to other apps on phones and laptops can gamify the process too.
If you’ve read this, and you’re still struggling to study, reach our for help to your lecturers, tutor, librarian, SU, family and friends, campus counsellor or GP for help. You don’t ever need to struggle on your own.
No matter how you feel an individual exam our the overall exam period has gone for you, remember that is not a reflection of who you are as a person. You are important and of value, and no exam or assessment is worth compromising your wellbeing. If you are struggling with your mental health in a way that is impacting your life, please reach out for help. Sources of support are available here.