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:

 V16 ØVING

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

X-Effect Weeks 4 & 5 – This actually works!

Writing for (almost) fifty days straight can feel a little discouraging after a while, with days where you feel like you hardly get any work done. However, some days you manage to write five pages in one sitting and you feel like this generations Stephen King. I mentioned in my last post the cumulative effects of just “showing up” and doing the work. And while I was almost dreading writing this post, because I felt as if I hadn’t met my goals, when I handed in the first drafts of my four geology essays this Wednesday I realized had managed to write almost 25 pages(!). By just writing every day, some days for as little as five minutes, I had churned out so much more than I’d expected.

If you’re a completionist like I am, this will work for you. I’m the sort of person who hates breaking a good chain, and loves making a game out of everything. Take exercise for instance. Each time I exercise, meaning properly going to the gym, or going for a strenuous hike or run outside, I put a sticker in my calendar. Right now, I’m working on beating last year’s total exercise time. I also use the app Nextrack, which gives you badges for creative workouts, continuity and even the time of day or working out on special holidays. Gamifying studying seems to be a good motivator for me, so tell me if you come across any good methods of incorporating the addictiveness of an mmorpg or perhaps the positive feedback loop of a mobile game. Perhaps I can create my own method. If I do, you’ll be the first to know!

Excuse my game/exercise digression; I’m on a four-hour train ride, wishing I’d brought my 3DS. Either way, this is my takeaway from weeks 4 and 5:

What worked:

  • If you have a few spear minutes where you’re not doing anything productive, write! It may not be the best quality work you’ve ever written, but you’d be surprised by all the good ideas you come up with if you just sit in front of your computer for five minutes, writing down keywords, or thoughts you’d like to research more later when you have more time for “deep work”.
  • Not all your daily writing has to happen in one interval of time. You can space out your work, if you feel like you don’t have time for a one-hour session. Some days I wrote for 5 minutes in the morning, and then picked up my work again in the afternoon. Often those five morning minutes made me have ideas while on the subway going to university, and made the work easier to pick up later in the day, as I knew what I was going to work with.

Needs more work:

  • I should get back into planning my daily writing sessions, and what I want out of them. I used to be better at using my notebook system, which I wrote about in my Cal Newport entry. For these next couple of weeks, I’ll try to make a habit of waking up five minutes earlier and writing what I want out of my academic work for that day.

I’m posting this a few days early as I’m going home for Easter break. You’ll notice that I missed the day before I posted this, but that was intentional. I figured if I’m going to write every day throughout my holiday, I deserved one day off. Here’s a picture of my dog to make up for it!

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X-Effect Weeks 4 & 5 – This actually works!

Setbacks and Successes – Week 2 & 3 of the X-Effect

Decided to make the updates a biweekly thing, as eight entries on the same topic might become a little stale after a while. As implied in the header, there have been a few bumps in the road in these past couple of weeks, but I feel like I was able to get back into a good workflow in week three.

For full disclosure, I did not reach my goals these past couple of weeks. I ended up having to change my essay topic, and therefore I lost a lot of progress I’d already made on the first essay I’d started writing. Nevertheless, I think it was for the better, because I’m far more happy with the new essay that I’ve finished, and handed in today.

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As you see from the template above, I did miss two days in week two. It sucked messing up my stats so soon in the project, but it taught me two important lessons that I needed to learn.

  1. I have stopped putting the daily writing off until the evening. Those two nights I missed my targets, the reason why I missed them was that I didn’t prioritize my writing, and I didn’t view it as equally important to my other daily tasks. Since then I’ve started writing earlier in the day, and I’m churning out far more pages than before.
  2. It’s all about getting back on the horse. This is sort of like when you are dieting. So what if you mess up and eat 10 cupcakes in one sitting? The important thing is the cumulative effect of doing the things that are good for you, and not giving up after one setback. After a while you’ll see pretty much the same effects as if you hadn’t messed up. And perhaps you learned something from your missteps? In my case, messing up, and having to publicize it on my blog prompted me to rethink my approach to the project, and start taking it more seriously. In the end, the only one I’m cheating by not doing my daily workload is myself.

 

What worked:

  • My use of resources has improved, and my citations are better.
  • I don’t know why, but just putting in earbuds has become sort of a catalyst for getting to work. Sometimes I don’t even have to put on any music or ambient sound for it to work.
  • Giving away my phone before working, and putting it in “quarantine” until I’m done with my daily writing session. I have had success with just putting it in airplane mode, but sometimes the extra incentive of wanting your phone back can help speed up your work.

Needs more work:

  • This goes for all my coursework, but getting to work faster. I need to find some sort of way to get into “work-mode” faster. There is too much time wastage at the beginning of each writing session.

 

Results from weeks 2 & 3: Finished my English Literature essay, started one of my four geology essays.

Goals for weeks 4 & 5: Finish all four geology essays. (This is a huge goal, and I’m happy if I finish three of them in that timespan as well)

Setbacks and Successes – Week 2 & 3 of the X-Effect

The X-Effect

Bringing back the project based theme of the blog this week with a new experiment. It’s called the X-effect. I stumbled across this subreddit a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to apply this to my study technique in some form. The gist of it is that you have a grid with 7×7 squares, each representing one of 49 consecutive days. If you see the template provided by this redditor, the header simply says “New habit”. I’ve chosen “write for five minutes” as my habit, as I currently have 6 essays due by the end of March, on top of all my other coursework.

I think lowering the bar to only five minutes per session will be a key factor in getting started each day. If attaining a cross in your grid is a monumental task, like “write at least a thousand words” per day, you’ll end up dreading the task. For me this is all about the habit building.

Some tips for lowering the bar for starting your own project:

  1. Create a pleasant study area. I usually make a cup of tea, light some candles and put on one of the ambient soundboards mentioned in my last blogpost.IMG_0070
  2. Try to recreate the same study environment each study session. Regardless of the type of work you will be doing, having a dedicated study area triggers something in your mind. Try to eliminate all distractions.
  3. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT! Just try! So what if you don’t know the answer to the equation you are trying to solve, or if you’re stuck trying to decipher what one of the ancient Greek philosophers meant by x y and z. Way too many of my friends have analysis paralysis these days, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m challenging myself to do this. If I have to write every day, some of the things I write are bound to suck. That is what second drafts are for, and you cannot have a second draft until you’ve written the first.

What I like about this is the versatility of it. While I’m using it as a study tool, one of my closest friends is using it for fitness purposes. And from what I have gathered, reading what other redditors have written, it can be used for anything from quitting smoking to flossing every night.

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I’ll try to write an update post each week! At least I’ll post an image of my X-effect grid. That way, I’ll have even more of an incentive to write each day.

(Curious about the time table hanging on my fridge? Here’s a link to the blogpost explaning the Autopilot schedule in the background)

  • Benedicte
The X-Effect

I finally beat procrastination

The entries on kinaesthetic, visual, auditory and read-and-write learning are coming along great, but while I finish my research on those topics I just wanted to share what I think is my first real finding on this blog. When you do a lot of research, it becomes easy to just regurgitate other peoples’ ideas. But this time, I’ve finally figured out a method to beat my own procrastination, in a way that I think can be of use to a lot of you.

I really enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Some people are more into listening to music, so I suggest doing what you like, whether it is listening to the radio or your favourite playlist, as long as it leaves you able to move about freely while being able to use your hands. Many people struggle to leave their houses or apartments to go for a jog. However, when they are out on the track in their trainers, they have no option but to run, so actually doing the exercise becomes a lot less overwhelming than when you were inside, contemplating putting on those jogging shorts.

When you’ve figured out what your preferred entertainment is, you can put your brain into “robot-mode”. This is what I call it when I am doing things that demand nothing of me mentally, but still needs to be done, like doing dishes or laundry. Setting up a home studying area is yet another one of these activities. You can do this in public as well, but this process will likely require less time when you’re at a library or in school, as you’ve already packed your bags with the books and school supplies you need. Ironically, to beat procrastination, I’ve found that I need to trick my brain with some “pretend-procrastinating” for just a few minutes, before I get into the real course work. Therefore, after I’ve set up my study station, with as few items as possible, I continue robot-mode for just a couple more minutes, while I gather my thoughts and draw an overly elaborate header or write on a separate piece of paper how I want to portion out my work. Preferably, you could set aside some time before you work to plan what you would like to do, but I often times use this as an excuse to procrastinate even more, and plan my workloads for weeks ahead, justifying it by telling myself that it’s school related. I find that as long as I have some overarching ideas on what I would like to accomplish, those few minutes in robot-mode is enough to figure out how I would like to organize my tasks.

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Then comes the crucial part, where you have to exit robot-mode, turn off your audiobook, and actually do the work. Usually, I’m not up for studying even after all that prepping. I have to trick my brain again, by telling myself, “Okay, if you just work for five minutes, you can have a break.” Then I set the timer, work intensively for five minutes, and get the same feeling that the aforementioned jogger got, and think to myself “this isn’t so bad,” and turn the timer to the full 25 minutes of a pomorodo. Usually the “runners high”, or in this case “studying high”, is enough to keep me going until the tasks or my revision is completed.

Many times, I’ve asked some of my more studious friends, “how do you force yourself to start working?” and “how do you beat procrastination?” hoping to figure out a magic fix to solve my own problems. Usually they reply that they do just that, force themselves. It seems as if procrastination isn’t as big of an issue as it is for me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people are different, and while some people need simple tricks to wake themselves up in the morning, like apps with equations to solve before the alarm turns off, others just bounce out of bed, bright and early every morning at 7 AM. We each have our own struggles, which is why we need to find our own best working conditions. Next week’s blog entry will might help some of you to do just that, and I will make sure to include links and other resources so you can figure out your own methods.

Best of luck beating your procrastination monster!

– Benedicte

I finally beat procrastination

Solving one problem, discovering a new(old) one

This week has been immensely productive study wise. I’ve managed to get an average of 3,4 pomodoros done each day, with days varying from two pomodoros to eight! While I feel like I’ve made great strides in improving my study habits already, I’ve made discoveries that prove some old habits die hard…

My father used to say when my sisters and I were younger, and he took us out skiing or hiking, that “children need many, but short breaks.” I think this holds true for adults as well. I’ve noticed while I may work for longer when I sit there, three days before the big test, cramming while strung out on caffeine and adrenaline onset by stress, my work greatly deteriorates for each hour I’m working. When I finally give up and decide that I physically cannot work anymore, the notes from the first chapters I read have hand drawn illustrations, pages upon pages of notes, and definitions for all the relevant terminology. While my notes from the final chapters are mainly keywords and references to pages in the textbook. Having those short five-minute breaks improved my mental agility, so that when each new interval started, I felt like I was starting fresh.

The timer started representing focus to me. Yet, in a strange way it pandered to my procrastination, simulating the rush of only having limited time to finish a task. It meant I had to prioritize and cut back on the perfectionism. While it brought out many good things in me, it also highlighted what I already knew was one of my worst traits, putting things off for later. Five out of seven nights I started my pomodoros after eight o’clock. When I finally got to them, after hours of bargaining with my partner about doing something else, more fun, I always thought to myself, “Why didn’t I start sooner? This isn’t that difficult really!” Another problem I noticed is how hard it was to get back to work after the 45-minute break you get for completing four pomodoros. After I’d finished, I felt like “you deserve to take the rest of the day off,” which was oftentimes the only option I had, as by the time I was finished it was 10 PM, and all I wanted to do was to have a snack, go to bed and watch Netflix. (In my notes, I wrote, “this is where willpower comes into play, something I don’t have.”)

While I might not have that much willpower, I did learn I had focus. I was able, even without the kitchen timer, to do my physics course work on a crowded, 4-hour bus ride, only rewarding myself with the 5-minute breaks. No matter where I worked this week, I always made sure not to reach for what I knew was one of my major time thieves, my phone. Instead, I drank water, stretched, and socialized. I also upheld the 5-minute breaks religiously, not staying in the living room for an extra five minutes to see who wins the mystery box challenge on Master Chef.

In conclusion, I think the technique can solve some of my problems, but not all of them. I need some way to make myself accountable for not starting sooner, and to stop my procrastinating. While the technique isn’t normally used this way, I thought it worked really well in a study setting. I found that it worked best if you had a specific task, like a maths or physics assignment, but it also worked for reading and revising. I have gotten a somewhat better grasp of how much time I need in order to finish a task, but I could focus more on this. Therefore I’m planning on continuing using this technique, while applying other methods as well to improve my overall study habits.

Looking forward to next week. Might make some changes to the site as well 🙂

-Benedicte

Solving one problem, discovering a new(old) one

Week 1 – Pomodoro

Before I start this blog entry the way I’d planned it, I want to fill you guys in on a couple of ground rules I have made for myself, that I think can apply to anyone.

If this is going to work, I need to commit to these techniques wholeheartedly. That means;

  • Putting my phone on airplane mode.

This is probably the number one tip I give my friends, but never follow myself. If you’re being honest with yourself, nothing important is going to happen the 1 or 2 hours you’ve set aside for studying. No phone call or text is so important that you need to answer it right away. If you are expecting a truly important phone call, like from an employer, set up a filter, so that they can reach you, but no one else can. When you decide to take a break, then you can answer whatever text you might have gotten.

  • Work for at least an hour before giving up.

I think this applies to many people as well. A lot of times I will sit down, and just stare at the paper or my computer screen, not knowing where to start. Usually I will get up, start cooking or goofing off on my phone (i.e. what I mentioned in my previous bullet point. My phone is my Achilles heel…), and when it finally gets dark outside, or I have other plans, I will say “oh well, I tried!” when I in fact did not try at all! I just sat down on a chair and stared at a piece of paper for a few minutes! Some people say to try for somewhere between 25-30 mins, but I want to push myself with this project. It’s not the end of the world to be bored for a little while.

Other than this, I want to mention that the blog’s posting schedule will be an update on Monday, telling you what kind of study technique or method I will try out this week, and a follow up on Sunday, evaluating whether or not the technique worked, and if I’m going to continue using it the following week.

This week I’m trying out the Pomodoro technique. If I’m going to be completely honest, I have tried this method before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. In short, the technique uses a stopwatch or a timer to portion out 25 minutes where all you do is work, followed by a 5-minute break. Repeat this cycle 4 times, and give yourself a proper break of 45 minutes or more. This technique will not only help you focus for the allotted 25 minutes, it will also help you structure out your work into “pomodoro’s”, meaning, “how many intervals of 25 minutes do I need to finish this task”. The sense of urgency and stress you get from listening to the timer ticking really keeps me from checking my phone or wasting any time doing something other than my task, because I know I only have 25 minutes before my break. This also makes starting tasks easier, because you are only committing to 25 minutes of work, which isn’t a lot.

This time around, I really want to focus on learning how many pomodoro’s I need to finish a task. Having a better grasp of how much time I will need to finish a task will really help me in structuring my workload leading up to this year’s final exams. I recommend you check out the video embedded below, and visit the official Pomodoro technique website, at http://pomodorotechnique.com/.

Until next time.

– Benedicte

Week 1 – Pomodoro