Over the years I learnt that the key to a healthy and effective student life is a routine and getting to know yourself. Especially when learning for big exams, the workload can be overly extensive, challenging, and overwhelming.

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Here comes some tips on how to organize heavy studying periods and how to balance your time in order to feel good and well prepared.

Learn how to learn

That may sound really weird but as soon as I found out how my brain works I had an epiphany.
Thing is, there are different learning styles and not all of them work for everyone. Find a way that works for you.

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Visual learning:

Means learning by seeing. People who learn visually learn from their sight. In an applied way that may mean you have to read your own notes and diagrams repeatedly.

I’m a visual learner. The only way that works for me is writing with black ink on blank paper, using different colors to highlight. I extensively write everything down and read my notes over and over again. Finally I memorized what the pages looked like and all the knowledge is in my head. Try it out!

Auditory learning:

This is learning by hearing. If this style works for you a tip is to record what you want to learn and listen to it over and over again. In the car, while cleaning, on a walk - your brain will memorize and you’ll be well prepared.

Kinesthetic learning:

Meaning learning by doing. Often considered as hands-on learning. By doing the exercise physically your brain associates the task and remembers it (like learning to swim, to play an instrument, to ride a bike…). It may mean that you have to write things down various times until they are memorized.

This learning style is especially helpful when dealing with maths for example.
Maths was never really my strong suit. By taking the time to practice again and again I did manage to make some progress after all.

Take your time: Structure and planning is key

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I know, I know. That’s something everyone will refer to when saying “You just didn’t take enough time to learn for the exam”. But I’m talking about something else. It is about structuring your time to give studying a good slot in your daily routine.

Best days for studying are the weekend. Why? You have a whole day. You can start in the morning - get yourself acclimated with the work to do, achieve milestones on the way, and take breaks in between without stressing. After, you can reward yourself and meet friends or cozy up in bed. That’s what studying looks like in a perfect world.
In the real world, nevertheless, we also have to study while going to school or college and in the middle of all our life going on.

Taking your time in these circumstances is especially important, given the fact that we often take a long time to sit down and wrap our heads around a certain subject matter anyway.

We immediately feel stressed if we have to do hundred things at a time. A good tip is to plan a couple of hours for studying daily in exam periods. If you need less, that’s great, but if not you won’t feel pressured.

Another rule we hear a lot (especially from teachers and parents) is “Learn weeks before the exam”. That might be helpful but reality hardly ever lets us do that. I would rather call the rule “Don’t start learning a day before” - that just never works in your favor. Everyone has their own speed. If you need a few weeks to constantly repeat, that’s totally okay. If you’re successful starting a week before or only a few days ahead because you’re a quick learner, that’s also fine. This all boils down to n.1 - Learn what works for you.

Take breaks

Nothing is more vital than resting your mind after a while.
Thinking can be extremely tiring. This is due to the fact that we have two different thinking systems.

As the psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman explains, we use different thinking systems. System one, a quick thinking system, which lets you sum up 3+3 or recall your mum’s birthday without any effort. It operates subconsciously and doesn’t wear you down.

The slow thinking system, system two, on the other hand, is the one active when calculating elaborate algebraic functions, solving difficult problems, or learning new things.
This system is mentally tiring. So while studying we are operating on system two. We can only process a certain amount of information before feeling exhausted.

When this moment arrives get up from your desk and stretch. Take a walk to the kitchen and prepare a healthy snack and drink. Sit outside for ten minutes or cuddle your pet. Only 10-15 minutes can already recharge your batteries.

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With time, things you do with the second, the slow system will go over to the quick thinking system and won’t tire you so much anymore. When you internalize information you can recall it effortlessly and it won’t cause you fatigue anymore.

Breaks let your brain process and digest information. They help to increase productivity in the long run. Again, try and find the amount and time of breaks that work for you.

The right studying atmosphere

Outside distractions like people, noises or else wear really heavy on the slow thinking system. That's why we have to find an environment for studying that suits us.
Switching off your phone in between is a good idea, but also the right desk and seat will help to wrap your head around studying.

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If I have to study I often sit at the dinner table instead of my desk. It is much bigger and I can spread all my material. Furthermore the distractions from my room are missing which is a total plus.

Stay hydrated

Not much to add here. Scientific research actually proves the effect of drinking water. Studies show that when you drink water you can concentrate and perform better on mental tests.

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Reward yourself

Firstly, after every successful studying period. Secondly, after the completed exam. The little things count! Take a nap, spend some time on social media, meet friends, have comfort food, or go on a shopping tour. Rewarding is extremely important for our mood, as studying periods and the isolation that comes with it can affect it quite badly.

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Forgive yourself (when things don’t work out)

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Last but not least, maybe the most important: it’s okay to fail. If you studied a lot and your grade doesn’t turn out as you expected, don’t be too hard on yourself. There can be many reasons for that. The next one will turn out better.
A tip from my side is to talk to your teacher to get some insight on what to improve for the next time.

Don’t you worry. I know grades are really important. But sometimes there is more to life that that. There is a place for all of us out there, whether we ace at maths, Spanish, (insert course here), or not. I promise.