Revising for exams or assignments can be a stressful business, and if we don’t have healthy study habits it can cause us more worry and anxiety than is necessary. The good news is, if we can find out which study techniques work best for us, we can decrease our stress whilst revising and feel more confident in our chances of success.
My name is Suzy, and I am a student at the University of Sunderland. I have been studying at university for several years now, completing a BA Hons and an MA in English studies before progressing to my current course as a PhD culture student.
Over the years I have seen many different techniques used by students to manage their stress when revising or completing assignments. It’s important to note that what might work best for one person won’t necessarily be right for someone else, so it might take some trial and error, trying different things to figure out how to create the best conditions for you to work in, and reduce any chances of stress. For me, I tried a few different things during my first year of university and quickly found out which habits made studying less stressful, and which didn’t.
When it comes to revision, planning your time efficiently is the most stress-free route. Start as early as possible. Cramming at the last minute is not only stressful, but it means you can run out of time to complete your studying and could reduce your chances of success. It’s also helpful to figure out exactly how much time you have, and then break your revision into smaller, manageable chunks and allocate a timeframe in which to complete them. Looking at the large amount of revision we have can be overwhelming, so setting ourselves smaller goals can help make our revision seem more manageable. Some people like total silence when they study whilst others work best with background noise. Some like to work at home whilst others find less distractions in the library or in a coffee shop. Some like to work at a desk whilst others like to sit on a sofa or a bed to study.
Finding out where you work best all depends on you, as a person. Personally, I work best at my dining room table at home with my headphones playing some quiet music to block out any other sounds in the house. If you do decide to listen to music, it’s important to choose music that isn’t going to distract you from your work. Taking a little time away from your study space to clear your head is a good idea, but there are no rules about how often or how long these breaks must be. Some people like to take a 5-minute break every 20 minutes, whilst others like to power through their studying and take a 15-minute break every hour. I often forget about the time when I study, so I tend to base my breaks on how much I’ve studied instead. When writing an essay, I have a break every time I finish a page, or when revising by reading I take a break every 10 pages. This is another instance where trial and error can help you figure out what works best for you.
Eating healthy is always important, but when studying, it can really reduce stress. Certain foods can boost our brain power, energy, and memory. As well as that, I find that having a bowl of fruit to snack on whilst studying helps to prevent me from distracting myself with other things as it gives me something to pick at. Staying hydrated is also important, and plenty of water and ice can be refreshing and help keep a clear mind.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when we aren’t quite sure what is expected of us, so looking at old test papers or essays can really help us plan our revision and take away some of the stress by letting us know what we are working towards.
Turn the T.V off, leave the phone in another room, close all of your browser windows except for the ones that will help you study. Screens can be our bigger distractions, so it is best to avoid them as much as possible. Phones are especially distracting as a random message or notification can have us checking. I find it best to leave my phone in another room whilst I study, and then have a quick check of it every time I have a break. Some people don’t have this option as they use their phones to help them study, so in those cases it can be a good idea to turn off notifications to limit the distraction.
Sometimes when we focus too long on one area of revision it can feel like we simply can’t process any more. This is why it’s a good idea to mix it up a little. When I begin to find it hard to process any more information on one topic, I move onto a different topic. When you think that you simply can’t stand looking at your maths revision for another minute, don’t give up. Take a short break and then move onto revising for a different subject.
Now that you have some basic ideas, why not find out what works best for you? Do you work best at home, in the library, or even outdoors? Do you like total silence or quiet music? Do you find it easier to take frequent short breaks or take longer breaks less often?
Everybody manages stress differently, so there are many different ways to form good study habits. Try some of the examples above or search for some other techniques. Figure out which of them help you to manage your stress best, and form habits that help you be the most productive when revising.
Most of all, though, try to relax and remind yourself that you can do this. A lack of confidence in our success can be one of the most stressful factors of revising, so push those thoughts from your mind and believe in your ability to do well in everything you set your mind to.