Knuckling down to study is a problem that affects all students from time to time. Putting off work until the next day is a common problem. This usually results in further procrastination, an impossible work load and at worst, underachieving in exams.
I have been helping students to overcome this problem for many years. Techniques include big picture analysis as well as small changes to study routines. You may be working towards your GCSEs, A-levels or degree. The first question to ask yourself is why it is important to get your qualification. Is it to lead to a particular job or to get onto a new course? Are you really committed to making your career dreams a reality? If the answer is yes, then you need to put in the hard work – today. Achieving your goals cannot be jeopardised. Draw yourself a flowchart illustrating where you want to end up, the stages needed to get there, and where you are now. Then pin this on your wall.
It is very easy to feel directionless and it can become increasingly difficult to motivate yourself to study. If this resonates with you, it is important to speak to others, and to seek their advice about the options available and how you can play to your strengths. Many people end up on courses or in careers that are inappropriate for them, which ultimately make them unhappy. Having invested so much time into getting there, they are unwilling to change. A good way of getting some direction is to undertake some work experience. It is invaluable for analysing what sorts of jobs and work environments you do not like as well as what you do. School or university holidays are ideal for this as you can dedicate some time to finding out about the company or profession. But beware – companies are inundated with requests for work experience. You will need a good covering letter to save your application from the bin, and you will need to arrange the opportunity several months in advance.
Even if you are motivated to study, the myriad of distractions – facebook, TV, mobile phones to name but a few – are enough to throw even the most diligent student off course. The best way to succeed is to treat your studies like a job, with fixed hours and a fixed work space. Make sure you are at your desk by 9am, give yourself a limited lunch break, and you can clock off at 5pm. Every hour, give yourself a ten minute break and then get back to work. Your desk should have everything on it you need, such as pens, highlighters, files, calculator and a dictionary. Make sure you have good lighting in your room and a window open. TVs need to be unplugged and mobile phones switched off. Do not log onto the internet unless it is absolutely necessary for your work. Friends and family will understand that you need to be incommunicado in order to apply yourself to your work. By concentrating only on your work, you will get it done quicker and it will be of a higher quality.
Goal-setting is very important. Set yourself daily goals and write it down in your diary or on a timetable. Tasks need to be specific such as finishing a piece of coursework or revising for a particular test. You also need to write a monthly plan so that you ensure you cover all necessary work. If you are revising for important examinations, make sure you have a copy of the syllabus (available from your examination board’s website) and copies of past papers and mark schemes. Time should be set aside to attempt these and to mark them yourself. This will not only give you practice answering questions, but also will help familiarise you to the format and structure of the examination, and give you a sense of how much time should be spent on each question or topic area.
Students often spend vast amounts of time writing out revision notes again and again, but time is better spent actively learning the content. Techniques include using mnemonics (where the first letter of a word stands for a point in the notes you are learning) or imagining the facts as parts of a picture that can be recalled. Both of these methods reduce the likelihood of your mind going blank in the exam. Teaching the topic to somebody else, whether it be your study buddy or an old teddy bear, is also an excellent way of making sure you understand the material. By speaking aloud, you are using more than one sense which means that you have more chance of taking in the information.
- discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions
- construct a step-by-step plan to realise your goals, using a flowchart as a focal point
- help organise a work placement for you to undertake in the school holidays
- develop your study skills using techniques such as mnemonics
- improve your study habits
- prepare you for job and university interviews
- enhance your CV, covering letters and UCAS personal statement
Natalie’s top tips for exam success
- Treat studying like a job, with a specific start and finish time
- Unplug your TV and turn off your mobile phone in your work space
- Consider why you are working towards your qualifications
- Set yourself daily goals broken down into specific tasks
- Speak to a careers professional about your goals and ambitions
- Check that you are maximising your study time, using efficient and active methods