Learn how to Study Smarter, not Harder
Think about car that has its wheel stuck in mud.
Our instinct is to rev the engine to get it unstuck.
However this typically drives the car deeper into the mud.
Smart study skills require us to press pause and take our foot off the pedal.
To think about what study strategies are most effective for our style of learning, and to adjust to our strengths and needs.
Here are some ideas to help you start thinking about smart ways to approach your study plan and exam preparation.
How to create a ‘study smart’ schedule
Tune in to your learning style
Are you a visual learner?
Do you listen to music while you study?
What subjects are easy to remember, and where do you find your learning blocked?
These podcasts in the School Stress Section on our Teen App can help you reflect on your learning style and what strategies to help you overcome mental blocks. Our Psychologist will also discuss how to tap into your learning strengths.
Write out your obstacles to study
So you’ve organised your desk, laid out your notes and have made a study plan – but you still find yourself staring at the page and unable to study.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
We have highlighted some of the most common obstacles to study, and where you can find the tools to overcome them. Here is our simple guide:
Low Motivation & feeling overwhelmed:
It’s difficult to sustain our motivation levels through long periods of exam stress. You might experience that ‘tired but wired’ feeling which makes it tough to focus, and even harder to rest.
Take a moment to think about who in your social support circle can motivate you, and what you would like them to say/do for you when stressed. See if you can share this with them – ‘are you free for a chat? Any chance you want to take a study break this evening together? Are you free to do something to treat ourselves after this exam?
The following are some podcasts designed to help you boost your motivation for study:
Getting stuck in the procrastination-perfectionism loop:
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. In this podcast, learn how procrastination isn’t laziness but a short term way of avoiding discomfort. Listen to what strategies can help you stop using this as a coping method.
Perfectionism blocks study when our learning goals are unrealistic and we place too-high expectations on ourself. In this two part series learn how to get unstuck from overthinking loops, and how to be kinder to yourself during exam season.
Keep your schedule practical & simple
It can feel rewarding to create a perfectly colour-coded study plan, but when this dopamine feel-good energy fades, it can find us back at a space where we feel overwhelmed or stuck.
The following are some simple ideas to include in your schedules:
- Use checklists. This could be for the day, or for a specfic study session activity. Ticking off tasks as you go has been shown to sustain motivation.
- Start your schedule by putting in breaks to hydrate, eat and move.
- Are you a morning person or a night owl? Put your most taxing study activities at the point in the day that fits best with your energy needs.
- Test yourself in some way every day to help your memory get some practice. You might ask a family member to ask you questions at the end of a chapter or set a timer to answer an exam question.
- Ask yourself: what’s one thing I can do to care for myself today?
- Ask yourself: what’s one thing I can do to reward myself for my effort today?
- Make sure that you do not punish yourself for not getting everything done on the list. These self-care or rewarding activities are to keep your jug filled for tomorrow. Give yourself permission to rest.
- At the end of each day write out tomorrow’s to do list, in detail, to help your brain switch off from study. Research has shown this to be an effective way to sleep more quickly, and for longer.
Avoid Cramming – ‘Good stress’ versus ‘Bad stress’
Setting a healthy pace for your study is a really helpful way to prepare for exams.
When we cram we activate our threat system, and this can add to exam anxiety. But some students may find that they struggle to selfmotivate unless the deadline is approaching and they experience what psychologists call ‘good stress’ as a boost for their cramming motivation.
However, it is helpful to remember that studying in this intense way sustains our stress at a high level over a longer period of time. This then begins to drain our energy, can knock our immune system and makes it more difficult to perform well in exams.
So if you can avoid cramming and space out your study, do.
But if you find yourself in the habit of cramming making sure that you get yourself proper blocks of time to rest, refuel and recharge your battery.
Create a bank of activities that can help you rest & refocus
A top tip to minding your well-being when studying is to create a list of activities that can help you refocus when you lose attention.
Place this list on the wall in front of you or somewhere accessible so that when you’re feeling mentally drained it makes it easier to think about what you need to press reset (see our blog ‘Practical Tips to help you through Exam Season’ for more).
You can find these simple refocusing exercises in the Study Stress Section on your Teen App:
Remember, be a friend to yourself during exam season. It will pass and you will get through it. You are not alone in struggling to study, selfmotivate or refocus – and you cannot pour energy from a jug that is empty. So prioritise whatever nourishes your body and mind through this time.
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