It’s pretty easy nowadays to forget that we’re still at uni, but despite the lack of time on campus, the expectations and workloads for us students haven’t changed all that much. Spending all this time at home away from friends, away from tutors, lectures and a lot of the other key resources UTS provide, can create a pretty daunting environment to take on all that uni throws at us. 

So, if you’re finding yourself falling behind in class, leaving assignments to the last minute, not quite getting the results you’ve been after or simply not feeling too great about the workload this year, some of these handy tips and tricks may just help you get that work done!

Here are 6 helpful tips to get you back into the routine just in time for exams:

Website Blockers

Almost all of us would be lying to ourselves if we claimed to have never been distracted from our work by Facebook, YouTube and whatever else you can find on the internet. It’s often too easy to fall out of researching economic theories and into a whirlpool of information on anything but economics, wasting your time and not helping you get that work done. 

A simple solution for those who tend to get lost on the web are website blockers that limit your access to nominated well-known distractors for the duration of your study session. 

If you’re 100% dedicated to getting your work done and want to block out distractions at all cost, try Freedom for mac or windows.

For those who are a little more hesitant and want to ease yourself in, try StayFocused, a Chrome extension that instead of blocking the cite, allows you to nominate a certain amount of time on the cite during each day before it restricts access, allowing for a couple of cheeky breaks. 

Short Bursts and a REASONABLE break 

One of the most underrated but important aspects of effective study is the time you spend actually studying. I’m sure it works for some, but the idea of sitting down and working, continuously, for hours on end is often doing more harm than good. Note the emphasis on continuously, this isn’t applicable if half of your study time is spent on your phone (but that’s a separate issue). Research has shown that the majority of people can only focus, and therefore study effectively, for a period of approx. 20-40 minutes. 

Known as the Pomodoro Technique, this time management method encourages bursts of work followed by a reasonable break (often 5 minutes) to relax and recoup, promoting a more effective output. However, an emphasis is placed on reasonable, as this break can quickly turn into a 10, 15, 30-minute break if you’re not careful. I would suggest pairing this technique with StayFocused from above, to ensure you keep on track.

Know What You Don’t Know

When studying, it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of studying and re-studying things that you are already confident with. This is often to do with the positive reinforcement and pleasure we receive when we get things right. However, the reality can hold a few nasty surprises when we realise there are things that we, subconsciously or intentionally, didn’t know we didn’t know.

Herein lies the importance of knowing what you don’t know

While it’s nice to feel like you know everything you need to, to excel in a subject, and in turn your degree, you are going to be required to search for the things you don’t know or don’t understand and target them until you do. An assignment or exam is made to test you on your holistic knowledge of the course content. If you have deprived yourself of a complete understanding, you’ll be putting yourself on the back foot when it comes time to test your knowledge.

The best way to conquer this is to attend every lecture and tutorial, know the subject outline and learning objectives, ask questions and make notes on points you don’t understand and then actively remedy those shortfalls, don’t expect to somehow figure them out on the day of the exam.  

Teach What You Learn

An incredibly useful learning technique I’ve used during my studies is the idea of teaching what you learn. To be able to teach someone an economic concept, a legal framework, or whatever it may be, you have to understand it fully and be able to simplify it yourself. In other words, to be able to teach someone something, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about, and once you know what you’re talking about, well, your jobs basically done. 

Getting to that point where you can effectively teach someone is the tricky bit. This can be done with a friend doing the same subject, a parent, a sibling or anyone that’s willing to listen. Study the content and once you feel comfortable to teach it to someone, try to do so. Pay attention to the questions they ask, these are often things you weren’t able to clearly teach and therefore may need to study further, but more importantly questions they may have that you cannot answer as these are clear holes in your understanding. Continue this process with the same or different people until the person you are teaching is confident with their understanding of the content you have taught them. At this point you can be satisfied that you have a strong understanding of the content you have taught, however, don’t forget there may still be things that you don’t know you don’t know!!

Have a Dedicated Study Space

Your brain can be trained and conditioned, like any other part of your body, to fire at certain times and relax during others. The idea of having a dedicated study space, meaning a space for study and only study, allows you to train and condition your brain to focus as soon as you enter the space and begin your work. However, the importance of it being a dedicated study space is paramount to the success of this conditioning. Having a study space in your bedroom will confuse your brain as to whether it’s preparing to work or sleep, and a space where you normally relax will similarly confuse your brain, creating an extended (ineffective) focusing period. As simple as it sounds, make sure the area is secluded and fully enclosed (i.e. has a door) to minimise outside distractions. Additionally, only bring in things that are necessary for your work, this means no phones. Once your brain connects this area with studying, it will automatically begin the focusing process as soon as you enter, reducing the duration of the ineffective period at the start of your study session.

Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, and I’m just as sure you’ll hear it again, but the importance of sleep, not only on study and information retention but on your general health and wellbeing cannot be understated. It’s an easy thing to deprive yourself of, but it is well known that a sleepy person isn’t able to concentrate nearly as well as a well-rested person (even after the morning coffee), and it is also well known that sleep itself plays an important role in storing and retaining the information processed during the day. So, while it may seem like a good idea to cram information in all night before a test, more often than not, an early night and a good quality sleep will be far more beneficial in retaining that crucial information.

Everyone is going to have a different experience studying and working in different ways, so it’s important to mould and adapt any techniques mentioned here or elsewhere into something that is achievable and realistic for you. Whether it be a progressive increase in the number of hours of sleep you get each night or a move toward reducing distractions in your study space, any positive change you make to your study and work habits will drastically improve your learning experience, and the overall enjoyment of your time here at UTS. 

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