It’s September, which can only mean one thing….a new semester!
And with every new semester, comes a new chance to make this uni thing work.
But studying is hard. Whether it’s staying on top of your course reading or preparing for an exam…the best intentions can soon go out of the window in favour of new term drinks, the first house party of the year or the latest Netflix show.
You know on some level that it’s all about studying ‘smarter’, not harder. But what does that even mean? And how can you start doing it?
We’ve put together 5 ways you can study better this semester, to get you on top of your game from the get-go.
From staying focused to getting organised, these tips will help you get your butt in gear so you can have a productive, worthwhile semester.
1. Don’t just ‘avoid’ distractions – eliminate them.
Avoid distractions might seem nearly impossible sometimes. But something can’t be distracting if it’s not there!
The key is to eliminate distractions – not just avoid them. Here are some ways you can eliminate distractions.
• Turn off your phone (or put it in flight mode) and put it in another room when you need to study.
• If you can help it, don’t study where you eat, sleep, play video games or any other form of relaxing activity. Instead, find a dedicated place to study like a room, a cafe, office, or a scheduled spot in the library. Treat it like your sanctuary. I.e. leave the world outside.
Our student accommodation in Liverpool provides a work station in every room, with shelves and a pin board, so you stay organised and have your own space.
• Keep your study area tidy. Many people underestimate just how unnecessary clutter and objects can interrupt smooth thinking.
Move all unneeded items to a drawer or another surface, keeping out only what you need.
• Study in shorter periods – like 45 minutes to an hour. When it’s time for a break, stand up, stretch, leave your study area and do something different.
• Consider using a website blocker to keep you from wandering onto unnecessary websites. For Chrome there is an extension called Timewarp, or you can use an app called Freedom for Windows and Mac, which blocks distracting websites for a determined period of time.
2. Train yourself to use the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique is a popular, traditional concentration technique often used for studying or tackling mental tasks.
However, many people either don’t know how to use it or don’t realise that this technique can take some time to get right.
More specifically, many people can’t handle such long focus periods, so it’s best to try it in shorter bursts first.
Here’s how to train yourself to use the Pomodoro technique.
• Choose a clear task and get ready to focus solely on that task.
• Set your timer to 10 minutes and start. If you get distracted by thoughts, don’t fret but simply return to the task.
• If a distraction pulls you away from the task, restart your timer when you come back to it again.
• Once you have completed a full 10 minutes, give yourself a pat on the back!
• Continue this way until you can effortlessly concentrate for ten minutes. Increase the timer slowly to 15, 20 and then 25 minutes. (The official Pomodoro timer is 25 minutes, with a five minute break.)
3. Stop thinking about the time needed to study
It’s not very motivating when you believe you need to spend hours all day studying!
Once you stop thinking about studying in terms of time, you’ll soon learn the benefits of studying smarter, not longer.
Here are some tips on how to do this.
• Use a timer to divide up your time, so you can allow your brain to focus in a more specific, targeted way.
• Try a mock exam paper or do the practice questions in a textbook. Set yourself a timer (as if it was a real exam) and go down the list until you have covered every question. Check your answers at the end.
• When learning new material for the first time, make a note of all the basic points. Then read them out loud to yourself – or even better, tell them out loud to a family member or friend. Note what you thought was interesting or important.
• Set study goals – one for each day. Stick it somewhere you can see it – on the fridge, on your wall, in your bathroom…anywhere you can see it
If you have a goal that’s clear in your mind, you’re much more likely to approach studying with a plan and an end point.
4. Take better notes.
‘Take better notes’? What does that even mean?
It might seem like there’s only one way to do note-taking. But actually there are lots of different ways, some of which could help you recall the information easier later on.
Here are some of the most popular.
• The Cornell note-taking system – there’s a more comprehensive guide to this technique in our ‘8 Revision Tips’ article. But it generally works by dividing your page up into three sections – ‘Key Words & Questions’; ‘Notes’ and ‘Summary’.
The keywords and questions can be used later on to form questions, which you can attempt to answer without looking at your notes. It’s most useful to use during lectures, podcasts or videos, but can be applied to written material too.
• Divide everything you learn into two categories – facts and concepts. Facts are things that can fall out of your brain that you made need help remembering, such as with a mnemonic. Concepts, on the other hand, are the ‘glue’ that holds everything together; the bigger picture. They explain why you’re studying what you’re studying, and will stick with you.
• Keep it simple – use single words if possible or shorter phrases and sentences.
• Write things in your own words – not verbatim from your tutor or a video.
• Use mind mapping to consolidate and understand whole topics. Mind mapping is a popular visualisation technique that’s used to join, connect, structure and classify ideas and concepts.
• Use the Smart Wisdom way of note-taking. This involves writing down only the essential words of a sentence in a ‘chain’, and then using ‘joins’ to replace the dropped words.
• Don’t waste time with outdated techniques. A report from the Association of Psychological Science showed that highlighting and underlining led the list of ineffective study techniques.
• Try writing information in a hierarchy structure. This will reduce the temptation to wander off track and write down unnecessary details you don’t need. It will also make the info much easier to understand and recollect later.
5. Take care with how you spend your overall time.
How you spend and manage your time in uni will significantly affect how you approach your study time, and how well you concentrate.
There are so many everyday distractions that take your attention away from studying and sap your energy. However, learning good time management in all aspects of your student life can really help when it’s time to hunker down.
• Don’t be afraid to neglect any non-essential tasks, which don’t have a deadline or can be done by someone else. Things like housework and tidying, for example, should be shared equally among you and your fellow house mates.
• It can help to keep a diary of how you spend your time throughout the day, to identify how much time is spent on non-essential tasks. Of course this will change over time depending on your schedule, but it will give you an idea of where you could be making a change.
• Keep a timetable of your lectures, tutorials, extra-curricular activities and other personal commitments preferably in more than one place. A diary, wall planner, your phone’s calendar or an app are all good ways.
• Keep emails and phone calls until after you’ve studied. It‘s very easy for these modes of communication to throw up more tasks or distractions that further take up your mind space.
• Remember, eating and sleeping is half the battle! If you’re well rested and never let yourself get too hungry, concentrating will be easier. Try to eat a wholesome diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, as well as seven or eight hours of sleep a night.
With spacious study areas and luxury facilities, Caro Student is dedicated to helping you succeed this year. Take a look at our collection of Liverpool uni accommodation.