How To (Really) Start Studying Without Freaking Out.

 

It’s time to get your Hermione Granger on.

Timezones and seasons might not be in synch, but studying sessions are there to haunt students from all over the world.

Sunny Italy faces the dreadful time of finals (maturità), the U.S. pauses college parties to throw studying tantrums during finals week, and Australia has it’s end of the year exams while anxiously waiting to jet off somewhere warmer than the Southern hemisphere.

If you’re reading this, you are probably procrastinating on your phone, googling last-minute tips on how to absorb 13 weeks of content in just two days.

Welcome. Don’t worry, we won’t judge you here. We won’t point our fingers and tell you that you should have started earlier; because really, who does even do that?

People with amazing time-management skills and stellar GPA’s. Hermione Granger, right? But do those people even exist? Do they binge on tv shows like us and interrupt their readings between a snack and a snapchat filter?

Probably. Or maybe they are secretly going to Professor X’s school of mutants, that’s why they can manage to be brilliant academics, successful leaders and have a mad social life. All of this while we can barely pick up our dirty laundry off the floor because we are too busy catching up on all the study that we haven’t done.

I finished university a while ago, but I’ll never forget the crippling anxiety of having signed up to work 30 hours when you are meant to be studying; or falling asleep to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy instead of revising my notes.

I was a procrastinator at its finest and I beat those old habits a while ago (you can read about it here), but studying efficiently and dealing with the stress that comes with it can be hard, so here are my tips on how you can beat your laziness and aim for your best marks.

 

HOW TO STUDY EFFICIENTLY WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND 

 

 

BE REALISTIC. 

You may think that you can smash three chapters in three hours, like you think you can watch a 50-minute episode in 15 minutes, but I am going to grab you by the shoulders, shake you a little bit and tell you this: GET REAL.

Especially if you are a serious procrastinator, chances are that you set your goals waaaay higher than you can realistically accomplish.

Failing to understand what you can do is what sets you to fail studying for your exams, because you end up wasting more time trying to get behind your schedule than actually getting the work done.

Not to mention the fact that you will end up overwhelmed and disappointed when you’ll see that you weren’t even able to get behind a schedule that YOU made for yourself.

So don’t fool yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being slow at reading, or taking longer than others at absorbing material.

You just have to know three things:

  1. What you know of the content

  2. What you don’t know 

  3. How long would it take you to learn new content

 

TACKLE WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW 

 

I know that it’s easier to warm up with the stuff that you already know. Because you feel confident, almost ecstatic at how easy it is to study. But even if you are not studying because you are confident with a topic, it’s still taking energy from your brain, which can be put into strengthening what the content that you don’t know.

And trust me, it’s Murphy’s Law that you always get the difficult topic that you avoided like the plague and prayed Beyoncé that it wouldn’t end up on the test.

So yes, you do have to study the things that you don’t know first.

Because the truth is that they are probably the topics that make you most nervous about the exams and you may have been avoiding them since the day that your professor tried to explain them in class.

So if you were paying attention, you just have to make that little extra effort in understanding it, because it’s already there in your brain, stored into a dusty old classroom that you have locked since the day that you stormed out of the lecture hall, shocked by how difficult that topic was and promised to look at it next week. Next week didn’t arrive. It’s been two months, but yo, your brain is better than a computer.

Just revise it, and you will be sweet.

Now, if you were the one who looked at the blackboard and their brain just decided to go on a holiday to a Hawaii, you are going have to work. And a lot.

It’s okay though, you are in good company because this happens to even the best of us.

We can’t be possibly understand and pay attention to every single information that is thrown at us in a condensed few months of class, while life goes on and all of our favorite shows keep getting better and better.

Forgive yourself for not paying attention and move on, because you can’t have destructive emotions floating around your brain when you need it the most.

 

 

WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK FOR HELP. 

 

 

This is probably the hardest step to take. Personally, I failed to ask for help at uni for every single exam and assignment period, and I now realise that my marks would have beaten Hermione Granger’s if I had put my pride and ego aside and asked for help.

I know that it’s embarrassing and almost excruciating painful to book an appointment with your lecturer, or ask your tutor to help you out, but think about it like this.

You have probably paid thousands of dollars to be in this position. Money that could have been spent for a gap year, or that Prada bag, or for a charity fund. You wanted to study and that’s what you got. So now you have to put that money to a good use.

Also, don’t forget the fact that you have an invaluable opportunity to study, but we will cover that later.

So when you are studying and your brain goes may-day, write down the things that you don’t understand and start asking around. People are probably going to tell you to stuff off because they are struggling with their own deal of exam stress, but be persistent. Tell them that you think that you will fail this exam.

If you don’t have any friends, or don’t know anyone who could help you out, the internet is once again the best friend you never had. (I know, sad.)

Here are some website that can help you out with learning content: EdX, Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, Skillshare, Ted-ed, Learnist, Crash Course.

 


 

Okay, so now that you are a bit less confused but you still think that you will miserably fail the exam and will be doomed to mawn your family’s lawn and say goodbye to that Contiki tour, you are ready to ask help from your professor.

Make an appointment; email them. Be polite and quick to the point. Show what you know and what it’s not really clear that it’s going to be useful for the exam, because truth is that the better they know what you don’t know, the more likely are able to help you. (And if they are cool teachers they might even tell you what’s irrelevant to learn and save you weeks of work).

If their help doesn’t really add anything to your ignorance, then you can ask your tutor, ask your neighbour, ask anyone you think would have an answer to this problem. I once asked a random guy sitting next to me doing a similar assignment in a computer lab, and turned out that he could help me, and changed my mark from a 60% to a 80%. (I had to go to the bathroom three times to give myself a pep talk to ask him, but yo, I did it).

So ask for help.

 

PLAN YOUR STUDYING

 

You may be thinking that you can just wing  13 weeks of content in 10 days without preparing yourself. Friend, you are in denial.

Once you know exactly what you need to be focusing on so that you don’t fail your exams, you have to plan it.

Think about it. You wouldn’t run a marathon without having put down hours and km’s every week, right?

Actually, I’ll rephrase it. If you are not somebody who can just wing things and is naturally absorbing informations like the guy in Limitless, then you have to plan your studies.

I don’t care if you have never owned an agenda before, or you lived your life by running with the flow because you don’t believe in time.

This is your moment to shine. You have to do this. It doesn’t matter what spiritual instagrammers say, or people who have been sitting on their parent’s chair for years and don’t have to worry about their future until 2050.

You have to study. And you have to be ready for it.

Everyone has different methods, which obviously depends on your studying habits, but a good effective way to ease into planning your studying is to look through the modules of your course, write them down and see which one you don’t know and the ones you do.

Once you got the name of the topics, write down the ideas or the main things that you should be knowing how to do.

Put a star on the things you are unsure of and on those who require more time than others or more importance, and start from there.

In that way you don’t have a strict schedule to follow, but at least it allows you to see clearly your topics in a realistic way and how important they are is in relevance to the rest of your course. (Also, it’s so satisfying to cross things off your list).

 

 

ORGANISE YOUR DAY AND NIGHT

 

Depending on whether you are a morning person or not, you have to schedule your time to study. Like the first tip of this post says, don’t think that you will be doing more, because it’s very likely that you won’t.

Be realistic with the time that you have and also remember that it’s better to study hard for an hour, than waste three hour running around talking crap on Snapchat and reading three pages.

So that’s why you need to get organised.

Set a routine for you to follow every day that it includes:

  • Appropriate breaks. You don’t want your brain to explode on your expensive textbooks. Use the Pomodoro Technique for efficiency with your study breaks.
  • Appropriate  and nutritious snacks. No, KFC is not an appropriate snack.
  • All the material that you need. Stop wasting time looking for a pen, get a pen and start studying.
  • Less time wasted on social media. Block everything out (Use StayFocused, leave your phone in another room, chop your hands off.)
  • Exercise. You need to get that booty shaking otherwise you will be stiff like a brick after all those hour of studying. Plus, exercise releases endorphins, which if you have listened to Elle Woods at all, you will be less likely to kill other people and your brain.
  • Relaxation time. Have a real break. Meditate, take a deep breath. Watch a movie. Wind down after a long day of studying because your brain needs to stretch as much as your body needs to.
  • Contact with nature. Sunshine and the smell of something that isn’t your own filth after spending 5 days indoors will reenergise you and make you feel better about the dreadful exam period.

 

PICK YOUR STUDY TECHNIQUE

Again, there is no proper way to study because even if society tries to convince you that we are either smart wizards or dumb flowers destined to float in-between jobs, the reality is that everyone has different approaches while learning.

It all depends on how you perceive the world, on your level of engagement with learning on how you interact with information.

If you excel in scientific subjects, you are more likely to study humanities in a different way than somebody who is passionate about writing, or reads on their own.

Exactly like if you have a visual memory, you’re probably studying facts by imaging the big picture, rather than understanding how they all work at a small detailed level.

Nobody is exactly the same. Get that thought in your head, so if your friends like to make pretty notes and highlight them with a rainbow of colors, you don’t have to do the same, if you find that time-wasting. 

Don’t do things that trick you into feeling productive.

Do things that make your studying more efficiently.

Here is a quick guide on how you can make your studying more efficient by doing what works for YOU. 

I personally learn by  visualising my notes, so I have always been really neat and very organised. I would start by a big cloud of a topic, connecting other small clouds (sub-topics) and that’s  how my brain would remember it.

For topics like maths which I found easy to understand at the time of the lesson, but hard to remember because of the emotional baggage that comes with it (I have always felt insecure about my maths skills), I would apply the same technique, but also put extra effort in solving problems by hand, while the theory is still fresh in my head.

So there is no proper way to do it, do your own thang.

 

_____

And finally,

the most important piece of advice.

KNOW WHY YOU DO IT. AND BE GRATEFUL.

You may accept the fact that you have to study and that you have a lot to do, but you are so caught up with your own feelings of stress and emotional baggage that comes with dealing with exams, that you forget exactly how lucky you are to be in this position.

Yes, studying is hard. University, high school is hard. But when you feel like giving up, think about what took for humanity to build an educational system to the point that it’s so normal that you are in this position, that you forget how incredibly luck you are.

Maybe you come from a family that was never blessed with the gift of education, so think about them. Don’t drive your motivation based on them, because you still need find drive from your own emotions; but just take a moment to appreciate how far every single person on this planet has hard to work and fight for you to be here in this moment, freaking out about exams.

It might not instill motivation in you, it might make you freak out a little, but sometimes when we are stressed and caught up with our own micro student world, we tend to forget the power of putting things into perspective.

So focus on the reasons why this is important to you. Look at the big picture. And when you’re ready, say thank you. Because education is a priceless gift to humanity.

 


 

 

I hope you guys enjoyed this post and I will love to know how you are going with studying for your exams.

I have many more tips that are included in this video down below, like

 

studying while working, studying when you suffer from a mental disorder (anxiety, depression, bipolar, ED), studying when you are heartbroken and many more tips that I didn’t include on here.

Don’t forget to subscribe for more and leave me comments on your studying troubles, because I read them and try to reply to all of them.

 

 

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