New year, new semester, and whether you did really well, really bad or somewhere in-between last term, I’m sure many of us are thinking, “I’ll be more prepared this semester”. I know I do. Every time I start a new semester I think I’ll prepare more prior to lectures, I’ll make time after my lectures to go over and tidy my lecture notes, and I’ll revise more throughout the semester so I don’t have to stress read the week before exams. In addition to this, I also picture myself starting assessment work as soon as it’s handed out and finishing it a healthy amount of time before the deadline. This is all well and good, but as most of us have experienced that the desired behaviour doesn’t last for very long, even if you really want it to. Sometimes it never really gets started, and remains only a desired behaviour that you occasionally think about with a guilty feeling. So, why is that? How can a desired behaviour become more than just a wishful thought, or a good intention, and manifest itself as a behavioural change? I have thought of a few steps that may help you along the way.
The secret to seeing an actual improvement this semester.
Make a complete life overview in your preferred media. Personally, I prefer paper and I use a month-by-month calendar combined with handwritten lists. I also keep my day-to-day to-do list (‘achieve by the end of the day list’) on my phone in the notes section. It doesn’t matter how you do it, if you choose to do it in pen or online, but it needs to be accessible and easy to read. If you don’t regularly look at it even the best system will be useless. In addition to writing up what I need done/ what I am doing, I colour code it so I can get a quick visual image of what my week(s) looks like. For example, I highlight everything school related in green and all my activities (like birthdays, horse riding, coffee with friends etc.) in pink. Anything my boyfriend is doing in blue and when the bin men are collecting in orange, days that I don’t have University are marked in yellow. Having a long-term calendar will give you an overview of when you are busy and when you’ve got extra time to either do extra school work or put in a well-deserved break. It will allow you to see earlier if a friend’s birthday weekend is clashing with a big hand-in deadline, allowing you to decide to finish that school work early instead of panic writing/ drawing/ typing something last minute. This calendar habit is very well implemented in my routine, and it works really well for me. I need something more to improve my study efficiency, however, and I’ve made a plan to accomplish this.
In addition to knowing when you can study/ should study, you need to know what you are supposed to learn. This requires some preparation, but I believe you (and I) will benefit greatly from it. For each module you are doing during a semester, read the actual module brief! Make notes or a list of what you are expected to learn from it, this list needs to contain what you are meant to achieve for each module, what type of coursework you are to hand in and the deadline for that coursework. In addition, I would supplement it with points from the learning objectives, normally presented at the beginning of each lecture. This is what you will get asked to prove that you have learned in your coursework and exam.
When you’ve done this, make a day-by-day, week-by-week plan of what you need to get done. Preferably not a “by Friday I need to have finished writing the essay, or I need to have completed the design for the flyer/ painting the pictures” etc plan. Each day should have specific goals making sure you will get to where you want to be at the end of the week. I believe setting up this plan and FOLLOWING it could help any student greatly. If you need to read 10 scientific articles in a week, it is pretty obvious you’re not going to get it all done during Thursday evening, even though many students, including myself, seems to think it is possible. Who knew studying would be so time consuming?
I will give my own advice a go and hopefully it will make a difference and I won’t feel like I’m being dragged behind a horse carriage quite so much as it sometimes does. I’d rather be driving the carriage. Giddy-up!