When you’re preparing for exams, it can be difficult to balance study, a social life, and your mental health. However there are various strategies that you can use to study in a way that will benefit your mental health and allow you to get more done.
Create a schedule
Creating a schedule will help you to manage your time effectively, which helps to reduce the pressure that comes with the demands of studying. You need to ensure that you set aside time for breaks, meals, and physical activity. Scheduling breaks into your day is crucial because it helps to avoid burnout, allowing your brain to rest and recharge. Research suggests that taking at least a 15 minute break every 90 minutes allows you to recharge and work more effectively, avoiding burnout. The Pomodoro technique takes this a step further, calling for a five minute break after every 25 minutes of work. Try out various techniques and see what works for you.
Set up a distraction-free study space
When you study in a place that is free from distractions, you can concentrate more fully on the material you're studying. This allows you to stay focused and absorb information more effectively. You’ll also find you’ll remember things better as you won’t be so distracted, and you’ll be more efficient (as the more you’re distracted the longer it will take to complete things). Find a location that’s quiet and remove any distractions. Ensure you have a comfy chair, good lighting (natural light is best) and make it look nice - adding touches like plants, pictures, artwork or photos help make it feel more personal and relaxing.
Manage your workload with to do lists
To do lists can turn the chaos of a mind full of tasks into neatly organised and prioritised chunks, making them easier to tackle and less daunting. Break down your tasks into similar themes and prioritise them, perhaps according to whether they’re urgent or if they can wait, whether they are two minute microtasks or two-day monsters. This will help you focus and see which are most important, which can wait, and where the easy wins are. Also, crossing off items on your to do list - no matter how small - increases your motivation and provides a sense of accomplishment.
Find your most productive time of day
Some people are more productive in the morning while others thrive in the evening. If you’re naturally a morning person you’ll find it easier to work first thing, whereas for night owls that would be much more difficult. Find your most productive time and build your schedule around that - work when you feel you’ll be most productive, and schedule other activities during those times you’re likely to be more tired or distracted. It's important to experiment and find what works best for you based on your individual needs, preferences, and lifestyle.
Identify your burnout trigger
When it all gets too much we can become exhausted and stressed. When studying for extended periods of time, keep a track of how you feel - your mood, energy levels and behaviours. When you notice these changing (ie feeling more annoyed, sluggish etc) you’ll know it’s time to take a break and do something completely different, so you don’t suffer a burnout and become unproductive. It might be tempting to just keep on studying, but it’s equally important to take a break in order to come back refreshed.
Rewarding yourself when studying is crucial as it can help motivate you to stay focused, and it provides you with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It can also help break up long study sessions, making the process feel less daunting and more manageable. Reward yourself with regular breaks to do something you enjoy, or perhaps a favourite snack for reaching a particular goal.