Who’s ready for their next/ first semester in education? I know I am! I say education because you could be at school, college or university and I was too lazy to write them all in the question. I am so excited for my 3rd year at university and since it’s my final and hardest year, I thought I’d share some study hacks and tips for you to make your revision (and mine) a whole lot easier. Aren’t I lovely?
- The Cornell note taking system. This will help you a lot during lectures when you need to take notes and it will come in very handy when it comes to revising for exams. This technique helps you actively engage with the material, transfer it from short term to long term memory and it means you have useful exam revision notes.
How it works:
- Get an A4 notebook, lined or not.
- Divide each page into 3 sections, one at the bottom as a space for summarising the lecture approximately 1/4 of the page in size. Divide the rest of the page into 2, with the left side being a third of the page’s width and the right side the remaining two-thirds.
- Label the left-hand column “key-words/ questions”, the right-hand column “notes” and the bottom space “summary”.
- Record notes in the right-hand column aiming to capture general ideas, arguments and facts without writing every single word the lecturer says. Use abbreviations and paraphrasing and leave spaces between notes just in case you want to add something later.
- Summarise the main point of the lecture in the bottom section of the page.
- In the left-hand column, note down key ideas or words from looking at your notes and formulate those into questions.
- Cover up the right side and see how well you can answer the key questions from memory. Then re-format these notes: highlight, clarify, expand, make connections and generally refine your notes.
2. Spider-diagrams. Ahh, my favourite, the visual note system. They are exactly the same as mind maps, it just has a different name. This system is a means of presenting and connecting ideas in a diagrammatical, non-linear form. You start in the centre, with the main idea or subject, and work your way outwards creating branches or arrows from the central point to the sub-themes. This technique helps you create a visual map of connections between similar key concepts and ideas. The other great thing about it is that you can add to notes the page. Some students find this way easier than linear note taking because they can easily remember where they wrote something on the page and recall it better.
3. The Pomodoro Technique. I’ve used this before a whole load of times and honestly, it works. There are two ways you can do this.
- The first is to set a Pomodoro (meaning tomato in english and much more fun to say in italian) timer to 20 minutes. Complete a certain task in that amount of time until the timer rings. Take a 5-minute break. Go through that process twice more; 20, 5, 20, 5, and then do another 20 minutes. After that fourth 20 minutes, give yourself a 20-minute break and go through this whole process as many times as you want during a whole day of revision. This ensures that you take regular breaks and you don’t burn out with too much information. I know what that’s like and it’s not pretty.
- The second technique is very similar but this time, you set the timer to 25 minutes. I would recommend this version if you think 20 minutes is too short a time to get what you want to do, done. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down but immediately get back on task. After the timer rings put a checkmark on a piece of paper. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a break of 3-5 minutes and then repeat the 25 minutes again with short breaks in-between until you reach 4 checkmarks. After the fourth round, take a longer break, usually between 15 and 30 minutes. Reset checkmarks to zero and start again.
4. Use apps or websites to block distracting sites. When I’m studying, I use BlockSite which allows me to put in the websites which are distracting and the times between which I want them blocked, because I procrastinate too much. For example, if I’m studying from 9-5 and I find twitter distracting, those are the times I will set it to, and BlockSite will automatically redirect to a different site between 9 and 5 i.e. you can set the default site to Google, or even your university intranet page. This means that you will not be able to use the distracting sites until afterwards so it keeps you focused on the task at hand, especially nearer to exam time.
5. Listen to classical or piano music. It’s what I do and it really helps. Apart from the pleasant music, it helps you focus on what you are revising because there are no lyrics to sing along to. I find it hard to pay attention to my study when Nelly Furtado’s Maneater is playing on Spotify. Or, if you want, you could listen to nature sounds, like bird song or rain. Apparently, it helps. I have a particularly good “Focus” playlist on Spotify which features music from my favourite pianist/ composer Ludovico Einaudi and also the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the famous film composer Ennio Morricone. All very incredible musicians. I pretty much only listen to this playlist when I write or when I’m studying. White noise or music without lyrics is said to help your concentration, so get listening.
Use all these techniques and you’ll be acing your classes and exams in no time, and you’ll be way ahead of your classmates. But I would suggest starting all of these techniques from your first week of classes. Notice how cramming isn’t one of my tips. It just doesn’t work. Happy revising!