It’s that time of year again – classes are wrapping up, professors are handing out study guides, and term projects are coming to a close. All signs point to the fact that everyone’s favourite season is around the corner: EXAM TIME.
You know what they say, hindsight is 20:20 – as a recent grad (Dalhousie Compsci what up), I’ve had some time to reflect on my time as a student. Looking back I can clearly see the strategies that worked and the strategies that didn’t, and I’m here to hopefully save you some of the same grief my friends and I went to trying to find a good study plan. In this post I’ll share the foolproof study method I finally perfected in my last term of school – and no, it’s not “study all day every day until you drop!”
Before we dive into it, I want to remind you, grades do not define you. Exams are not the doorway to the rest of your life, they are just a small knot on your tapestry. Remember that, in the real world, you will have calculators and Google and mentors at your disposal – you will almost never encounter exam-like situations outside of school. Most importantly, remember that no grade, job, person, or place is worth sacrificing your mental health. Please take some time to plan your study schedule with conscious time allotted for mental breaks, and as you work through this plan, craft it in a way that works for you. It’s okay to watch an episode of iZombie every now and then (as you’ll see in my plan below). Alright, let’s go!
Trendy Techie’s Foolproof 3-Step Study Plan
A little while before your exam period (read: right now), block off a good chunk of time to plan your study approach in the time leading up to your exams. Doing this prevents you from the ad-hoc “I’ll do it tomorrow” trap which, a recursive function in itself, inevitably becomes “I’ll do it the day before it’s due.”
STEP 1. First, make a list of all the things going on in your life. Anything and everything, including specific exams, outstanding assignments, parties you’ve been invited to, meetings you need to take, and shows you are watching. Look critically at each of these items – how long will each take you? Write down the number of hours beside each item.
STEP 2. The next step is to go through the list again and mark each item as one of the following:
- Need to do
- Should do
- Want to do
Doing this helps you prioritize things honestly. It’s easy for some of us to push aside the priorities if we don’t see the big picture, but laying it all out in front of you well in advance makes it more tangible and will help you make the right decisions when new want-to-do’s come up.
STEP 3. Finally, build a schedule for each day through to the end of your exam period, spacing out items from each category so you have a balanced schedule. Prioritize your need-to-do’s, then your should-do’s, and use your want-to-do’s as rewards for getting tasks done.
Remember to space things out according to your exam schedule, and include your actual exams in the days as well. You’ll notice that, on exam days, I give myself a bit of a study break! It’s so important that you block off time for yourself and your brain to recover.
Once you’ve got this plan, follow it!
Why Give Your Brain a Break?
Just like computers, which slow down when they haven’t been shut down in a while, your brain doesn’t function well when it is constantly in work mode for a long period of time. By creating a study plan like the one above and building in non-working hours, you allow your brain to rest and recover and come back stronger and ready to focus the next time you study.
My Favourite Brain Food
Fruit, veggies, eggs, froyo, and tea are where it’s at! That’s my sustenance plan, all things that keep the brain and body working in harmony. Well, maybe froyo doesn’t quite count, but just like iZombie in my study plan, it’s a good thing to have a treat every now and then.
On the day of your exam, eat a balanced breakfast – I recommend an egg on toast with some fruit or a smoothie – and bring a big bottle of water to the exam room. Food is gasoline for the body so treat your body like a sports car and put the best fuel in it!
Remember, as important as exams are, your health takes the top priority. If ever you feel overstressed, even if it doesn’t fit with your study plan, take time to eat good food, laugh with your friends, or do some yoga on the lawn, and then you can return to studying refreshed and clear-headed. Oh, and check in on your friends too – odds are they’re feeling the stress too, and taking your breaks together can do wonders for resetting your mind.
With these tools under your belt, go forth and crush those exams! I wish you all strength, positivity, motivation, and good vibes.
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