I wholeheartedly believe that the most difficult part of an essay is the psychological side of “OMG, I need to write 5000 words.” The thing is, the essay is intended for you to analyse, explain and interpret content that you already have access to, and to thaw out ideas that are already in your head. You just need to know how to put pen to paper, or in 2016, put fingers to keyboard. Be it an essay or studying for an exam, Nike knows what’s up. Just do it.
1. Take it down
You’ve heard it before, and it’s obvious as all hell, but good notes will save your revision time by ten-fold. Do you really have time to reread every chapter and referenced video/reading/study from each class? Yeah, me neither.
Start a fresh page for each class, keep any handouts organised in a folder, and don’t bother taking down fill sentences- key words and concepts should be all you need to remind you of what you listened to in class. If however you’re like me on occasion, and find yourself staring at random words and acronyms you’ve just invented, you might need to add more detail to jog your memory. Don’t leave it for a week until you revisit these notes either. Do it as soon as you get home while it’s fresh in your mind and you’re able to absorb it properly. If you wait, you’ll essentially have to relearn it from the start again. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
It’s not hard. Just have a folder, and use it. Don’t ‘over-organise’ and don’t waste time sorting through different bags, books and draws in every room of the house. A significant amount of time is thrown away when you’re trying to find what you need to even begin studying.
3. A picture is worth 1000 words, sometimes
This might be you, and it might not be. I really get off on visual aids, but some of my friends hate them and would rather read, read and read some size 7 Times New Roman font some more. I need images and visual concepts to make things really get stuck in my head- sometimes this is even as simple as colour coding things, and then I remember that all the pink things were microeconomic policies, and the blue were macro for example. The same applies for charts, maps and diagrams.
4. Mix it up with a mix tape
This is not me at all, but one of my friends learns by ‘doing’. It’s not uncommon that we’ll be listening to her iTunes playlist on a weekend, and suddenly we go from telling guys to “grab your passport and my hand, I could make the bad guys good for a weekend”, to a track of her reading out notes on fiscal policy. Seriously though, try recording yourself reading out your notes. If you’re someone who also remembers song lyrics easily (you should see her absolutely slay any Beyoncé or Nikki Minaj song), then this study aid could be for you.
If the thought of listening to your own voice makes you cringe, have a search for existing podcasts that may be available for your course.
5. Play Millionaire Hot Seat
I find independent study my cup of tea, but I definitely have moments when I’ve been reading the same paragraph for 25 minutes without realising. To break through this wall and still be productive, ask someone to test you- this will get your head away from what you were just dong, and also help you discover any knowledge gaps you need to revisit.
Like all tests do, it could also encourage a last-minute cram session and add a spur of energy to your study sesh.
6. Safety in numbers
Studying can be lonely. Sometimes I like to do it with Friends (yes- Phoebe, Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Ross, Joey) playing in the background for company and some white noise; and other times I prefer to do it with actual friends.
Make sure you’re all in the same headspace. If half the group is messing around, playing music out loud when you need silence, or you’re super-stressed and someone is bragging that they finished the essay in the first week of receiving it, this isn’t going to make you feel any better or productive.
7. Learn from the past
Past papers will give you an understanding of topics, question structure, and how much you’re going to be expected to cover in the exam time; helping to mitigate any surprises on the day.
I find reading past student essays really helpful to get me out of my own style and interpretation of concepts; giving me a new angle to consider a question or topic. Be very careful not to accidentally (or not-accidentally) plagiarise this work. There’s a pretty fair chance of you getting caught these days, with tools like TurnItIn the norm.
8. Take breaks
It’s important to break up your study, but be careful of watching just one episode, five-minutes Facebook scrolling, or that cute puppy video on YouTube. Procrastination is a deep, dark black hole. Keep it short, and even make it productive- do the grocery shopping or go for a run.
9. Praise you
Treat yo self. If you have reached a goal or mastered something hard, congratulate yourself. The afternoon off, a new top, coffee with a friend.
10. Keep it fresh
Don’t stay on the one topic all day- your brain will fry. Break up your study session with different materials so your brain doesn’t go into auto-pilot and stop absorbing the content as effectively.
11. Back to basics
You need to learn and understand the general concepts first. Don’t spend time trying to memorise the more complicated details. Once you have the foundations set, the rest will make sense and you’ll actually get it, and won’t just be trying to memorise it.
12. Play the teacher
Ask someone to pretend they’re a (very dumb) student and they have no idea. Try to explain your study content to them, and simplify it down to the very basics of it. This will help you gain clarity on it, and also highlight where any of your own confusions still are.
13. Don’t cram. Refresh
Cramming doesn’t end well. You’ll get stressed and only people able to take things in on a very shallow level. Do however, refresh your memory on concepts with a quick revision- flashcards and key notes will help you feel prepared and keep things front of mind before an exam.
14. Your body is a temple
Completing your studies on a sugar high is not a sustainable practice. And will probably leave you with diabetes. You need to feed you body and brain with water, sleep and healthy snacks. Keep your bloody sugar up the right way, not with Red Bull and sour straps.
15. Get into what works for you
Not everyone operates on the same wave, so while some people function at their best in the morning; others (me) will remember the most at 3am. Experiment with different times so you can figure out what suits you, and if 3am is your optimal time, remember to catch your Z’s during the day if you can.
As I said before, starting and finishing your studies is a huge part psychological. Countless others have done it before you, and more will follow after you. So be confident and don’t overthink it or let your nerves get the better of you. Relax, you got this.