Being able to enjoy ourselves and feel as relaxed as possible, while still nailing our exams and getting good grades is what we all hope for when we start a new academic year. University isn’t easy (it often makes me miss high school), but there certainly are ways to make it a great and meaningful experience. Having finished my undergrad degree in November 2017 (I studied Political science, international relations and human rights), I have put together a list of tips I learnt during my first three years of university and that I plan on following during my master’s degree as well.
Keep a planner. Writing down a schedule and trying to follow it will give you the feeling of always knowing where you are and what you’re doing, and it will help kick away that stressful sense of being late or out of time.
Don’t be afraid to change up your schedule and plans! If you realise that what you have originally planned isn’t the best way to organise your study time, re-schedule it again.
Look up the syllabus or the topics you have to study in advance, so you always know what’s next and you have an idea of how much time you will have to dedicate to each subject. Break the topics down to smaller categories and decide what and how much to study each day.
Change up your study location. If you usually study in your bedroom, try to go out to a public library every once in a while. Try studying at a cafe, if the background noise doesn’t disturb you, or at a park, if it isn’t too cold outside.
Find out when you’re most productive during the day and schedule your study sessions in those hours. Some people find it easier to study in the morning, some find themselves to be more productive at night.
Allow yourself enough breaks. Close your textbooks every once in a while, walk around, get some fresh air, eat a snack, drink some water. Even more importantly, make sure to get enough sleep at night, your brain needs it to process the things you have learnt during the day and to be ready to absorb even more information in the next study session.
Talk to your classmates. Sometimes it feels like we are the only ones struggling to keep up, while everyone else has everything sorted out. It’s rarely like that: having a chat with your classmates will feel both reassuring and encouraging, as you are all going through the same struggles and will most likely understand each other’s stress.
Study hard but give yourself time to do something else too: if you have a hobby, allow yourself some time to dedicate to it, even in your busiest weeks. It will feel refreshing and it will get your brain off your everyday routine. If there’s a show you want to attend, or a party, go out and enjoy yourself. If you feel like you need a little rest, take a nap, or chill on the sofa for a while.
Don’t leave it to the last day before the exam. Do a little bit every day, or every week. Prepare study cards or summaries for each chapter as you go through them in class so that by the time you have to start preparing for the actual exam you’ll already have well-organized material to work on.
If you’re into social networks like Instagram, consider creating a studygram, an account where to post pictures to document you’re studies and your academic life. This is something I do (my account is @al.ways.hopeful) and I find it very motivating: when I feel like I am not doing enough, I go back to look at my posts and they help me remember of all the hard work. At the same time, following other studygrams and seeing their progress and their results is often quite inspiring. However, for some people it might have the opposite effect and give them even more stress: make sure you enjoy it, and if you don’t, don’t follow this tip 🙂
Remember that grades and exams scores are just numbers (or letters, depending on what your university system uses): they are important to an extent, but what really matters is that you learn and really know what you’re studying. Thoughtless mechanical memorization may help you pass the exam, but if the things you’ve learnt don’t stay with you there’s really no point to it. Focus more on understanding and internalizing the information than on getting a high score.
Remember that, at the end of the day, your happiness and mental health come first. Listen to your body and mind and trust your instinct: if you feel too stressed, it’s okay to take a break. Even more: if you feel like what you’re studying isn’t something you enjoy, something rewarding, it’s more than okay to quit and do something completely different.
I wish everyone a great academic year 🙂