The length study leave preceding final A-level exams can be daunting for any sixth-former. However, if used efficiently, the revision period can be empowering and motivating.
Learning how to study independently the right way will not only show in your exam results, but it will pay off in the years that follow, either at university or in a starter career.
1. Start early
Did you know that getting started is often much more difficult than carrying out and eventually completing a task or reaching a personal goal? Big tasks can seem daunting, especially those which require a lot of continuous work. However, once you get started, you often realise that the work is not unmanageable and that it is only perseverance which separates you from the goal.
In order to avoid stress and anxiety, which many students experience at some point of their studies, it’s important to start early. The earlier you become aware of the amount of work you have to do, the more you will be inclined to take it seriously and work hard. Starting early will also allow you to build up your knowledge steadily and will give you enough time to review the material learned a while ago.
You want to make sure that you avoid last minute cramming. This is not only stressful and less effective than continuous preparation, but also very tiring and unhealthy. While cramming can decrease those gaps in your knowledge, it can have a negative effect on you physical and mental wellbeing, as well as your performance on the big day.
2. Make a plan
So you are about to get started. Great! The first thing you should do is make a revision plan. This will take a while, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run. Having a schedule will prevent you from spending too long on one subject and not having enough time left for the others. With a well prepared plan, the whole revision process will be much more efficient and effortless. There is nothing more straightforward than doing what your agenda sets out.
To prepare a good schedule, think carefully about the difficulty of each subject and topic, as well as your familiarity with it. If you find mathematics more challenging than English, acknowledge it and allow more time for maths sessions.
Be ambitious, but also be realistic. Setting goals which are too high might make you feel bad about yourself and discourage future revision. In case you find out that some of the material is more difficult than initially predicted, you can still change your revision plan accordingly and ensure that you have enough time to work on it.
Make sure to include repetition of topics that you already finished learning. You should also plan your revision sessions in a way that simulates exam conditions, such as timing yourself and working on past exam questions. Lastly, include sufficient time for relaxation, entertainment, and socialising. Having leisure time on your schedule will motivate you to stick to your independent study.
3. Stay motivated
If you encounter a difficult question and struggle to find an answer, it might mean your motivation is lacking. In these moments, you need to reflect on what your general motivation is. For example, you want to study maths, because you want to do well in your exam. You want to do well in your exam, because you want to get into a good university. You also probably just like the idea of being really good in maths and solving that one problem you have been struggling with.
Whenever you feel like your motivation is sinking, think about what you want to achieve. If you remind yourself of what is motivating you to do well, you will find it easier to sit down and study on a sunny day. Repeating to yourself that you must stay and study rather than go out will only frustrate you.
Another way of boosting your motivation is changing the way you revise and making it more fun. Explore interactive methods: quiz yourself or rewrite the material in your own words or through pictures. You can also organise a study session with your friends. Discussing a topic with another person will not only strengthen your knowledge of a subject but will also give you the opportunity to hear a different point of view. If you need to revise a certain topic, but you’re already bored by reading the same notes or text, learn an advanced text or watch a documentary.
4. Be effective
Knowing how to study effectively is almost as important as having motivation. Try revising in a new environment such as a library or a café if you have difficulties studying at home. If you have issues concentrating, try using earplugs for absolute silence. If you prefer revising to a soundtrack, try instrumentals to avoid getting distracted by lyrics. For a motivation boost, nu jazz or funky house has the right beat to make you want to get things done.
If you have issues with focus and timing, explore the pomodoro technique – a method of time management technique developed to eliminate distraction. Break up your allotted study time into 25-minute sessions with a five-minute break in between. After completing four 25-minute sessions, you take a longer break for 15–30 minutes. Before you start, set yourself goals for the upcoming sessions.
There are also techniques you can use to improve your memory retention. Rather than reading key words or phrases out loud until you finally remember them, try reformulating the information in your own words or even putting it in novel contexts. If you like using flashcards, programs like Anki have a built-in mechanism, which recalls words when you are about to forget them.
In order to prepare for your exams efficiently, you need to make sure that you can answer the exam questions in the expected form and style, within the allocated time. Test yourself by working on past exam questions as soon as you gather enough knowledge. Once you are confident about the form, time yourself. Unfortunately, knowing every single answer won’t get you the best score if you don’t manage to answer all the questions in time. The more you practise, the faster you become.
5. Stay positive
If you start feeling stressed, try to pinpoint the source of your worries. Take a look at your schedule and see whether you can alter it in a way that eases your anxiety. If the source of your struggle is a particular subject, ask for help.
Don’t fret about the things you don’t know, and instead focus on all that you have already mastered. Take a break if you are too stressed to concentrate. Go for a run to blow off steam or talk to your parents or friends who will give you support.
If you are feeling down, stay positive in your thinking and try to be encouraging around your friends as well. The things we tell ourselves can rewire our brains. If we repeatedly voice a fear of not doing well, the possibility of failing becomes increasingly real to us. To prevent that, remind yourself of the progress you’re making. If you feel like you are progressing too slowly, start journaling – every day, write down one to three little achievements. You’ll see that you are indeed progressing every day.
If you work, you have nothing to stress about. Remember that exams are not constructed for superheroes, but for students just like you.