It is nearing the end of Michaelmas Term and you need to start your assignments and study for those exams. But where do you begin and how do you actually stay focused? Don’t panic! As a final year student knee deep in a dissertation and frantically studying for week 12 finals, I am here to give you some tips that I have learned throughout my time in Trinity. Occasionally, I even follow them myself.
1 Organisation is key
Write down everything you need to do. Make a mammoth to do list of every topic you need to cover, every reading you need to do for the assignment or exam. At the start it will seem insurmountable but it will transform the idea of revising for exams or writing a 3000 word essay into a series of tasks that can be tackled one at a time. Writing the tasks in the form of a to do list will make you feel calmer as you slowly tackle the beast that is your end of term assignment.
2 Get off social media
Get some sort of web blocker. Personally, I am a big fan of Stay Focused. It is an extension for Chrome that allows you to allocate a certain amount of time to browse on distracting websites such as Facebook or Twitter before blocking access to said websites until the end of the day. If you really need to get a lot done, the ‘Nuclear Option’ can block the entire internet for a specified period of time which is perfect for last minute panic studying and all-nighters.
3 Study in short bursts
Use a timer for your study sessions. Personally, I like to use kitchen timers which are in the shape of cute things. I feel like it somehow lessens the dread of studying for exams and assignments. Once you have your cuddly sidekick, set him to go for 20-25 minutes, activate your web blocker and just try and focus on one of the tasks in your masters list I mentioned above. Once those 20 minutes have elapsed, congratulate yourself and give yourself a five minute break. Make some tea, listen to music, look at pictures of cats, whatever works for you. After a five minute break, do another 20 minute study session and then give yourself a 10 minute break. Rinse and repeat.
4 Make fun notes
If they help, use mind maps or flashcards. Mind maps can be great for generating ideas and linking concepts for essay based subjects. Flashcards are useful if you’re trying to learn new vocabulary for a language exam or quotes and references for a literature exam. You can make free mind maps and flashcards at MindMup and Quizlet.com. If mindmaps aren’t for you, grab yourself some colourful pens and paper and make some eye-catching notes.
5 Make sure you understand the material first
Teach what you are revising to a family member or a friend. Now, obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone. For example, I don’t think my parents would appreciate a lesson on Pádraig Ó Cíobháin’s depiction of the circle of life. But you could pretend. Write your notes as if you were going to be teaching a class of secondary school students about the topic. This ensures that the topic is straight in your head and you will be capable of writing clearly about it in either your exam or essay.
6 Just write the first draft of your essay
When writing the first draft of an essay, bang all of your thoughts down on paper. Try not to
care too much about style or coherence or even the quality of the ideas. It is called a first draft for a reason, and so it is not going to be perfect. For the first draft your biggest concern is getting those words down and watching the number at the bottom left hand side of the screen go up. Once you get the first draft done you can delete anything you don’t like.
7 Reference properly
Cite as you go. Take it from someone who spent three hours going back through an essay to write all the citations he missed; this will help you in the long run. It will prevent you from
losing track of any citation you need to make. In the same vein, construct your bibliography
as you go so that you don’t forget to include it or have that horrible realisation that your references and your bibliography don’t match (goodbye good grade!).
8 Proofread your essay
When proofreading your essay, read it aloud. This will help you spot any grammar mistakes and see if the essay flows. If possible, get a friend to read it for you; another pair of eyes might spot things that you haven’t. If you can afford the time, leave the essay to sit for a few days and then come back to it. Of course, you can’t really do this if you are pulling an all-nighter but you could get back to it after looking at pictures of cats.
9 Treat yo’self!
When you are done ploughing through your work for the day, remember to give yourself a nice juicy reward. It can be anything; walking your dog, making a cup of tea or binge-watching your favourite Netflix show. Giving yourself small rewards should make the sprint towards the last 200 words of your essay a little bit easier.
10 Take it easy
Lastly, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. At the end of the day we are all human. As such, we will procrastinate and fall off the wagon and spend half an hour on
Facebook when we are supposed to be doing our essay. The most important thing to keep in mind is that some work is better than none at all and you can always try to be productive tomorrow. Give yourself credit for the work you have done today.