Sitting down to do hours of work is hard. But there is an alternative. Try sitting down for a few minutes of intense focus on a concept or topic you need to revise. You will find that this is less daunting and that it actually gives you the momentum to keep going for hours! Try it. Give yourself 3 minutes (or the length of a song) of intense focus on a subject, and see how much easier it is to revise for hours on end.
Ps. The title of this post is a direct quote from Lord Chesterfield
In the final weeks towards your exams, you have to go hardcore! I am not talking about revising an hour or two a day, I am talking six to eight hours a day! (With breaks of course.) That is assuming you still want to get a first. Right?
If you are a marathon student, you might not have to spend as much time studying but that way I see it, if you have come this far you might as well run the final 100 metres with all your might.
But before we get ahead of ourselves we need a plan. More specifically, a F.A.S.T plan (all the pun intended).
Below are four things you can add to the mix to creative an effective revision plan for those crucial four to six weeks before your exams:
Don’t be so stiff with yourself. Be flexible. Veering away from your plan every so often should NOT be seen as a punishable and shameful sin. It is okay to miss a few hours. Hell, it is even okay to miss a full day, provided you make up for it at the earliest opportunity – remember the longer you leave things, the worse off you will be. A further example of flexibility is tackling your degree content in an order that is not necessarily chronological. You could start revising the hardest sections first and then do the easier ones towards the end.
Be realistic in your estimates of how long it will take you to cover certain topics. In fact, always allow yourself some extra time. Also, be sure to include breaks in your revision plan. You are not a machine: It is impossible to study for ten straight hours without numerous breaks. Create a lean, mean, but realistic revision plan and you will not feel as much resistance to get your work done.
If you create a revision timetable, try to be as specific as possible about what you will do each day. Know in advance what module and topic you will study. This way, you will not waste time trying to decide each day what to revise. By making a specific and concrete revision plan, you will guard yourself against procrastination (for more on this, see ‘Chapter 10 – Procrastination’ of my book).
A goal without a deadline is just a dream, so create a plan that has a clear time-frame. Doing this allows you to harness the ensuing pressure to motivate you to work. For example if you have a month before your exams, you could design your revision in a way that allows you sufficient time to master all the vital concepts by week-three. You can then use week-four to iron out any bits you are not 100% confident in. Whatever your revision plan, always make sure time is well accounted for.
Free Revision Plan Template
Below is a revision plan I designed when it was crunch time in my final year exams. It is a based on 10-hour days but you can design it to fit your needs and degree. To download it, click the link or image below.
Sprinters are amazing; they can cover a given distance in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, marathon runners can cover extremely long distances without tiring as quickly. When it comes to revision and studying, are you a sprinter or marathon runner?
Some students can begin revising months in advance. It is natural for these students to do all their assigned class exercises on time and to hand in their coursework a few days before the deadline.
Marathon students thrive on starting early. This allows them to maintain a comfortable and steady pace all the way through the academic year. When the exams are near, they do not have to expend significantly more energy. It is not uncommon however, for these students to up the gear in the final stretch just as a marathon runner would.
Other students find it impossible to start revising any earlier than four to six weeks before exams. You can identify the best of these students quite easily. Go to your coursework submissions office on the day a piece of work is due. You will find them sweaty and breathless as they rush to hand in their masterpiece.
Sprinter students thrive on pressure. As exams and deadlines near, they are filled with a rush of adrenaline that helps them produce amazing work in a short amount of time. They can stay up all night perfecting an essay or doing last minute revision and surprise their friends with pretty good results.
Marathon Students vs. Sprinter Students: Which One are You?
Both types of students have their advantages and disadvantages. In the end, no particular strategy is better as it all comes down to the individual. Some students are natural sprinters while others are natural marathoners. I have come across both types and they can both do really well at university.
I am a natural sprinter student. Which of the two are you and how have you found it so far?
What’s the difference between polar bears and students? Are they both lazy by nature?
Polar Bears vs Students
Unlike polar bears which rest for up 87% of their time in some months, students are workaholics by nature; the regret that follows procrastination is clear evidence of this.
It is often hard to find a moment to truly chill without worrying about what work should be done. But this is exactly why I am a big fan of taking it upon yourself to clearly differentiate when you are to work, play, or rest.
Polar bears have the above principle down pat! They lead simple lives: hunt when the food is plentiful, therefore building up fat reserves in preparation for harsher months, and rest at all other times.
Simply put, polar bears are masters of the art of chilling. As students, we should aim to take a leaf out their books. This leaf is….
The Polar Bear Concept
Bears hunt hard when there is plenty of food. Any excess is used as a reserve.
To be a more effective student, you should follow suite and work hard when you have the most focus, attention, and energy.
This could be in the morning, if you are a morning person, or in the evening if you are not. Any excessive fruits of your labour can then be kept in reserve for the times when you are less focused and energetic.
For example I am most attentive and focused in the morning. I prefer to tackle challenging concepts early on such that later, I can take on simpler tasks such as memorising and reinforcing what I have already learnt (i.e. running on reserves).
Apply this concept in your studies and you too will master the art of chilling – a state where you can really chill, with comfort in knowing that all the hard work has already been done.
Now check out the video below for some uber cute polar bears and let me know if you can be any more chilled out and as cool as they are:
I am a big advocate of working hard. At university, it was not unusual for me to spend a whole day in the library. But I knew when to stop.
Burning Out Sucks
There comes a point beyond which putting in more hours will not help. In fact, if you keep going, burnout could very well ensue. And when that happens, you can say goodbye to your ability to comprehend and learn new material.
Workaholism Could be a Symptom of Intellectual Laziness
Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.
Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home becase she figured out a faster way to get things done.
The Ass-in-Seat Mentality
Just because you are in the library does not mean you are being productive. In the same book I was reading today, I came across this line:
People stay late out of obligation, even if they aren’t really being productive.
This reminded me of a phenomenon we are all familiar with: leaving the library really late, but wondering whether any real ‘work’ had been done.
Solution: Know When to Stop & Think of Smarter Ways of Doing Your Work.
To avoid burning out, be sure to take regular breaks. 45 minutes of focused work, followed by 15 minutes of rest works pretty well. And in the broader sense, taking a full day off during the weekend can energise you for the week ahead.
Try doing your work in a smarter way. For example certain memory techniques (some of which I cover in my book) can save you hours of rote memorisation.
Do not keep your books open or stay in the library just for the sake of feeling like you are studying. If you are not being productive, either refocus, or call it a day.
Procrastination is the number one killer of productivity, yet many students are willing victims.
Think about the times you have gone to the library ready to work hard. But instead, you end up spending hours on facebook and youtube, all the while feeling a disturbance in the force — a weird unsettling feeling that really, you should be writing that essay or revising.
After indulging in your daily dose of procrastination, you may be lucky to muster up a great commitment to work. You excruciatingly manage to put together 200 words of a 5000 word essay and you feel slightly better about your library visit.
Problem is, there is still a disturbance in the force — that you should have spent more time working and less time chit-chatting with your mates in the hallway.
You feel bad, but look forward to drinks at the student bar with friends later that night.
A few phone calls and text messages later, you meet up with your friends. But at a time when you should be having guilt-free fun, someone brings up the topic of the looming essay deadline and it is then, that the unsettling feeling returns. Now you wonder whether you really deserve to be having a blast. “Should I drink some more? That way I can forget” you think. But damnit, you got a 9 a.m. start tomorrow! So you decide to leave the bar early.
You get home later that night and end up going to bed still worrying whether, with only a week left, you can finish the essay. Even in your sleep, you can’t shake the regret of not doing enough work in the day.
Solution: Focus on Work, Play, or Rest. Avoid Anything In-between.
Want to get rid of that unsettling feeling whenever you are out? Here is a simple solution:
When you decide to work, work. When you decide to play, play. And when you decide to rest, rest. Don’t be ambiguous, it leads to procrastination.
It is better to go to the library for 3-4 hours of focused studying and leaving early to relax, than to go there for 6 hours and only do 1 hour of real work.
The cool thing is that if you focus intensely on your work for a set amount of time, you will enjoy your playing and resting time even more. On the other hand, if you focus on playing or resting too much, your work always suffers. Even worse, if you can’t decided whether you should be working, playing, or resting, all three areas of your student life suffer!