Vettobe.com

This is just a quick post to announce my new blog, vettobe.com. The new site has way more pictures, a Wednesday and Sunday posting schedule, and is a combination of what I’ve posted on this site, like study hacks and productivity tools, as well as animal welfare and other animal related blog posts.

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So head over to vettobe.com, and tell me what you think! I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Vettobe.com

Three-step plan for exams

I had this insanely elaborate blog entry planned out before my finals season started. However, before I got around to posting it, I ran out of time, and I had to prioritize what was most important (which coincidentally is a running theme in this entry). So here’s that very same entry – originally intended as a guide to final preparations for either GCSEs or SATs or whatever else you have coming up at the end of the semester.

In my case, I had to prepare for both an oral exam and all my written university exams. In addition to this, I had to write even more essays (this has really been the year of the essay for me, which I guess was to be expected when studying literature).

So here’s a guide to how to prepare for both oral and written exams, and getting through all of the course material leading up to your finals:

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Simplify your daily choices – avoid decision fatigue:

This is a technique I have applied for many years, and I’ve included this year’s work plan above this passage. It is in Norwegian, but the basic gist of it is that it’s sort of a rough outline for what I have to get done every day leading up to the exams to stay on track.

Through this, I avoid having work pile up through procrastination, and I don’t lose 20-30 mins each morning, trying to figure out where I’m at, and what I need to get done.

This also helps with the terrible feeling one can get before an exam, where you feel as if the amount of work you have ahead of you is insurmountable.

  • So in this step – figure out exactly what you have to know before the exam in these easy steps:

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  1. Go through old exams, and make a document where you include all the old exam questions.
  2. Match this up with notes from the lectures and classes you have attended. What has the professor/teacher focused on the most in each of the modules?
  3. Create categories for all the questions, either by chapter or by theme (I have provided an example from my geology course, which again, is in Norwegian, but you see what I’m getting at.)
  4. Repeat for all your upcoming exams.

 

Portion out your work – trim the fat!

Which leads us to the next part of my three-step-plan to a stress-free exam period, which is portioning things out. In this part, you are going to have to trim the fat. What I do is that I combine all the questions that are similar, and create one more comprehensive and detailed question for each of the themes sub-questions. I try to dedicate equal time to the entire syllabus, because you never know when your professor is going to throw a curveball at you. So here’s my approach to portioning out your work:

  1. Count the days leading up to all of your exams, and create a document that has all of the dates in it.
    • Now this part is important – DO NOT use your regular planner. This is you declaring Martial Law over your work habits, and a planner you have to search through to get to what you need to get done will only add to the inevitable decision fatigue you’ll feel throughout the exam season. Have it on one very visible page, print it out, and hang it somewhere you cannot avoid seeing it.
  2. Figure out your fudge ratio, and be honest with yourself – how much can you sustainably manage to do in a day?
    • NOT how much can you force yourself to do, but how much will you do without passing out at the end of each day. If you are already strapped for time, try to use the days leading up to the exam to get an overview of everything, instead of aiming at the world champion title in statistics or chemistry or whatever subject you are struggling with.
  3. Leave the final day before every exam open so you can figure out where the gaps in your knowledge are, and close them.

 

Give yourself a break, literally.

I have blogged about this so many times, but take many short breaks, preferably by doing something active, like going for a walk or a run, or some other exercise that you like. Sitting and working all day will only make you sluggish and tired. My best tips for how not to spend your breaks:

  1. Turn off all your social media alerts. Deal with it before bed.
    • You do not need to deal with all that femo, and agonize over how you are not able to go to every party or go out into the sun. And if you spend all your time snapchatting how much it sucks having to revise for your exams it’ll only suck even more when you get back to work.
  2. Do not sit down to watch TV.
    • If I had one dollar for every time I lost track of my five-minute break time by sitting down and watching whatever crappy sitcom was on TV while I was having my break this exam season…

Just a few closing words (and a little shameless self-promotion):

I did a few extra things to keep myself on track, which might not apply to everyone. However, if you are the kind of person that is always coming up with new ideas about things to do, whether it is creative projects or practical things that need to get done, I highly recommend carrying a book with you, to write in whenever you feel a pang of inspiration.

This is sort of an adapted version of Tim Ferriss’ morning pages, where he tries to put his “monkey-mind” away before getting to work. My monkey mind never seems to let up throughout the day, so taking five minutes perhaps two or three times a day to sort through whatever creative plans you have for the evening or projects you want to get done over the summer helps me not derail from my work plan.

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As far as the shameless plug goes, here are the links to some of my most read blog entries, which I think can be of use whether you are in an exam season, or if you just want to get your study habits sorted out in time for the next semester.

How to get organized for the new semester!

Finding YOUR best way to study!

Gamification of habits

Pomodoro

Have a great summer

  • Benedicte
Three-step plan for exams

Marketing to the procrastinator

The other day when I was at a café with my friend, she said something that made me have an idea for a blog entry. “Back in high school it was so much easier to get started on your homework. Especially maths, because you had these concrete tasks you could cross off your task sheet, and feel like you’d accomplished something each time you made a cross.” We continued our conversation, agreeing that being presented with these huge tasks at the university, such as “read chapter 2, 3 and 4”, or “Write an essay on subject A, B and C” can sometimes seem as an insurmountable task, and oftentimes you can end up not doing them, because they seem so intimidating.

Therefore, I thought, why not make your own task sheet, and trick your brain into thinking the task is much smaller than it actually is? I know this is a very basic idea; break tasks into smaller entities, and I have mentioned this before, but I have not mentioned to what degree.

To give you an example, these last few weeks have been this year’s midterms at my university. As a part of these midterms, I had to write one essay, take one qualification exam and do one obligatory assignment. Although these tasks are hardly the most difficult midterm evaluations one could imagine, they did require some work, and they definitely required some willpower. My goal was to hand them in at least three days before they were due, therefore I could not rely on that last-minute panic that sets in just before the hand-in folder closes.

As I had a bit of a backlog to deal with in the subject I had the qualification exam in, I felt quite overwhelmed by the curriculum. I decided to face the backlog head on, and make new study habits for this class, as a lot of the required coursework is reading, and not task based. I think this is the case for many university courses, which is why I think this example is the most applicable for you guys.

So instead of telling myself “read 5 chapters”, I wrote this in my planner:

  1. Write down key words from chapter 3
  2. Explain the key words you found in chapter 3
  3. Give examples of the key words you found in chapter 3

I repeated this for all five chapters, and ended up with five word documents that looked like this:

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In the end, I had done all the required reading, albeit not in the chronological order, and I had managed to take comprehensive notes on every chapter we were being tested on. How you perceive the difficulty of the task lies in the presentation. I do not mind sifting through the text, jumping back and forth trying to find out what is the essence of the chapter. I do however mind sitting for hours and hours without jotting down a few words, trying to gather my thoughts. The idea here is to present the task to yourself in the way you know will be most “palatable” for you, and will make it easier to start the task. If you are a perfectionist, as I’ve been called many times, you know the feeling of not wanting to start, because you do not want to hand in something that is less that “perfect”. As my father always says, sometimes good is good enough, everything does not need to be perfect in order for you to have accomplished something.

That is why I like this method so much. Not only do I think it makes the “barrier of entry” easier for most procrastinators, I think dissecting tasks in this way also makes you find your preferred way of learning. If you’re enjoying yourself while learning, I think you retain so much more of what you’ve read, so make the most of your study sessions. Make it fun, and remember to enjoy yourself! Hopefully, you were the one who chose the program you are currently enrolled in, so try to appreciate the chance you’ve been given!

In the end, I’ll just add a little “morsel of wisdom” for my fellow procrastinators out there;

Do not wait until the clock turns a round number, or until the next hour starts, just DO IT NOW. make your dreams come true If only the planning stage of the task, you’ll feel so much better if you do just five minutes of work. Or you could always do it next week, eh?

Have a good weekend!

– Benedicte

Marketing to the procrastinator

How to get organized for the new semester!

Hi guys!

Just a quick blog entry on my next project. I’ve read up on new types of study-habit structuring, and have come across a project I really liked called “4 weeks to a 4.0”. It’s a “four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student,” where each week tackles a typical problem area for students, such as time management, note taking, organization etc.

I’ll link to each weeks article at the beginning of the related paragraph, and I highly recommend visiting Cal Newport’s site, as it’s been a huge inspiration for me. I also recommend his book “How to Become a Straight-A Student”, where he explains many of the concepts from the articles in further detail.

For week one I found it hard to create an autopilot schedule at first, not knowing whether I’d have recurring tasks. Therefore, for this tip I recommend attending class for a week without scheduling any work when the new semester starts, and looking at your lecture schedule to map out which tasks repeat week after week. After I’d mapped out what tasks needed to get done on a regular basis, I created this activity planner, which I just hung on the fridge. That way, I knew I’d see it every day.

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I’ve also added in volunteer work and work-outs, as these are also recurring on my calendar. Really, anything you want to do on a regular basis, whether it’s learning how to play the guitar, or practise jiu jitsu, or even setting aside some time for relaxation or meditation, put it on the calendar. That way, you know you’ll have time for it.

I also have a system for mapping out my week which I’ve created myself. I use these three books:

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The pink is for mapping out the entire week; what’s the required reading? Which assignments will take up most of my time? This book is all about the finer details that the autopilot schedule does not mention.

The black moleskine is my day planner. I bring this with me to university every day, in case the professor says something about the work that is not mentioned in the lecture notes or schedule, or if I get an idea for an assignment (or a blog post). That way I can write it down as soon as I get the idea or message, and not have to struggle with remembering it all day.

The gold notebook I usually only use on very busy days, or when I’m in an exam period. I use it to plan individual days, hour by hour. It makes the workload seem more manageable, as I get to rip out the page or cross off things on the list when I’m done.

Week two is all about taking smarter notes. This I’m just going to link to Cal Newport’s blog post on, and again, I highly recommend just clicking through the links he’s included, such as “Why Most Students Don’t Understand the Real Goal of Note-Taking”.

Week three builds on week two in its mastery of assignments. One tip I’ll add for reading assignments, is that if the professor has added some questions about the text, read these before doing the reading assignment. I usually keep the questions next to me while reading, and try to answer them as I progress through the text. Remember, you can always alter or edit your answer later, if something you’ve written contradicts what is mention later in the text.

Week four is something that I’ve prepared for, but have yet to utilise, namely “The Project Folder Method”. I have purchased four project folders, as I’m taking three university courses on English grammar and literature, and one math subject which I’m reading independently. My plan is to use the entire folder for both the coursework and the essays and assignments. I’ve marked the outside of the folders with important dates, such as the exam dates and when important obligatory assignments are due. I’m planning on using plastic sleeves or other inserts for essays, and marking the front of these “sub-folders” in the same way, with important dates and plans for research and writing.

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I think this is a cool project, and I hope it will inspire some of you to try something similar! I may write a follow-up after a few weeks, letting you know whether the system has worked for me or not, but as of today, it seems like a clever way of structuring your work.

I hope your semester is off to a great start!

– Benedicte

How to get organized for the new semester!