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5 tips to study effectively for your exams

22 September 2017
Here are our tried and tested tips to be well prepared for exams

HSC, trials, finals, no matter how you describe them exams have something in common - including how best to study. Get ready and use your time well with our expert and student backed advice on how to study for exams.

1. Plan a study timetable

Feel assured you will cover your material in time with a realistic study timetable. It'll help you know where to start and what you're aiming to achieve for the day. With a plan in place, you'll be less inclined to procrastinate as knowing how you will use your time will also mean you make best use of it. Everybody's working styles and committments are different, but here are some pointers on how to plan a study timetable for exams:

  • Study at the same time each day to create a routine
  • Maintain a variety of subjects. Plan difficult tasks for when you work best, easier ones for when you’re less alert
  • Prioritise and set yourself a goal for a given unit of time e.g. one topic in two hours. Focus on one task at a time
  • Include important things like sleep, exercise, breaks, meals 
  • Before you finish studying for the day, decide what you will study the next day.

And most importantly, be flexible. Don’t throw away your timetable if it doesn’t go 100% to plan. Make some adjustments and keep on going!

2. Prepare your study area

Give yourself the best environment to focus in by choosing somewhere with enough light, a comfortable chair, and little to no distractions. Sit down with all that you need – and only the things you’ll need - like any books, notes or stationery, as well as some water and healthy snacks on hand. This is something so simple but really effective to help you concentrate and avoid interrupting your study time. Also ask what you don't need. A rule of thumb is if it doesn’t help you study, it shouldn’t be on your desk.  This could be your whole term’s worth of history notes when you are only focussing on one chapter, or that mobile phone… 

3. Keep healthy: eat, sleep and move

When exams come around, somehow there never seems enough time for the basic stuff like sleep and exercise. Taking care of your health and wellbeing will really help you study at your best by improving your memory, mood and energy levels, and keeping those stress levels down. When it comes to sleep it’s probably no surprise that the main aim is to get enough – seven to nine hours is a good benchmark.  For the best quality sleep try to avoid screens (computer, mobile, tablet, TV) for about an hour before bed and caffeine for 4-6 hours, and give yourself a bit of time to unwind before bedtime. If you’ve tried but can’t sleep, leave your room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.

Staying hydrated, eating three meals, and sticking to healthy snacks throughout the day will give you the fuel you need to focus. If you’re feeling a bit lethargic, try getting outside for some fresh air and get moving. A good aim is 20-30 minutes of exercise but even a walk around the block between study sessions will do you good!

4. Minimise distractions and overcome procrastination

Okay, you knew this was coming - to study effectively you need to avoid distractions as much as possible (after all, Insta and Facebook aren’t helping you study). If you do find yourself turning to your phone to procrastinate, stop and take a proper break instead. Procrastination often creeps in because you’re having trouble starting a task – it seems too hard, too boring or maybe too much. Our advice? Break it down! Small, achievable steps with a time limit are an effective way to chip away at bigger tasks and stop procrastinating.

Still having trouble starting? Say to yourself you’ll sit down and commit just 10 minutes. This will help break the inertia of putting something off. Aim for starting, not perfection, and remember that something is better than nothing. Busting procrastination and staying on task means you won’t feel guilty about not studying when it’s time to take a break. 

5. Take breaks for your wellbeing

Making the most of taking a good break from study will help you be more productive when you do study. Take regular and rejuvenating breaks away from your study area and do something different. Exams are a lot of work but remember to have fun, unwind and see friends in moderation too. Studying hard means having reasonable goals and rewarding yourself when you achieve them. Gotten through those tasks in your study timetable for the day? Enjoy your Netflix fix guilt free! 

And, remember if you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, be sure to chat to a friend, family member or your teacher. 

Remember to think of the big picture and what goals you're trying to achieve. The future is in your hands. Find your dream course from one of our nine areas of study, visit sydney.edu.au/courses.