Well, well. It’s that time already. Only a week or two ago that the deluge of assignment work heralded the arrival of the end of semester. It is the final banking and descent of an airplane that has broken away from autopilot and is preparing to rush onto the landing strip. Boom, the signature burst of smoke from the initial contact of tyre to asphalt and the forward momentum comes to an end which signals the finale of the journey.
Sometimes it feels like the exam block is like this. The university semester has come and gone, but it is all pretty routine. The take-off sees an initial spike in activity as the summer lull ends and the weight of responsibility forces bodies from the couch (or the beach) into the lecture theaters, classrooms and the library. Then autopilot kicks in. You have found a pattern and cruise through most of semester doing the odd assignment and then exams sneak up and some of us go into emergency landing mode, while others, after months of preparation, enjoy a smooth descent into the study block and then the exams.
So, the question is, how to I make the most of the study block? If we are linking this to the aviation metaphor (allowing me to indulge a little further in my passion for flight), then the study block most directly relates to the descent toward the tarmac. Keeping the right speed and a steady decline at an appropriate angle will make the landing much smoother. So it is with the study block.
The most important thing to do in the study block is to plan! Know when your exams are and write them up on a calendar or somewhere that you can visualise where they sit in relation to one another. That way it is possible to effectively work out what you need to study and when it needs to be done.
After you know what to do and when, work out how many hours you want to study each day. This step should be easy, it is important to remember though not to burn yourself out too quickly. It’s better to pace yourself, planning 5-6 hours a day and then finding extra time to study, rather than planning 8-9 hours and not meeting your expectations. Hitting targets helps to boost confidence and also maintain focus during times of study.
Next up you can plan your days to get the hours of study in. This is totally up to personal preference, some people thrive on study before breakfast (definitely not my preferred hours of study) whereas others love studying at night. Tailor the program to suit you but be sure to include a couple of key elements:
- Meals – these may not seem important, however, regular and healthy meals will improve focus and energy over long periods of time.
- Breaks – Research shows that spacing out study with short breaks improves recall and performance in testing situations. Some research suggests that it is better to study 30-60 minutes at a time with a 10-15 minute break and moving onto a different subject after the break. It is worth googling this topic as there is some very interesting evidence supporting break times and their impact on study. (It is worth noting too that social media tends to distract for longer periods of time than it’s actual usage – so getting on Facebook during the break will probably cause more harm than good).
- Exercise. Make sure you get the blood flowing regularly! Whether a brisk walk or afternoon gym session, the break from study combined with increased heart rate never ceases to improve general wellbeing as well as energy levels and focus.
- Sleep! This one should be obvious, however, maintaining good sleep patterns will help with feeling motivated and energised for both study and exams.
Now that’s done, all that is left to do is actually study! With good planning and effective study techniques; the descent toward the exams should be somewhat smooth and will hopefully set you up for great results when it comes to exams. All the best!
P.S. One last study tip: keep digital devices away – if possible. One study demonstrated that “some students, even when on their best behavior, can’t concentrate on homework for more than two minutes without distracting themselves by using social media or writing an email.”