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The holidays before exams – what to do!

By Danielle Barakat on 10 July 2019NSWblogStudy tipsExam advice

Finishing school for the term with the mindset that you’re on holidays can be really hard to overcome when you have to spend your holidays studying for exams next term. Saying you’re going to study for 5 hours a day in the holidays is easier said than done, especially when everyone not in year 12 gets to enjoy these two weeks off. The endless temptation of unwatched episodes, exciting holiday events and on-demand food all seem like good excuses to ‘study tomorrow’. But before you know it, tomorrow will come and it’ll be day 1 of term 3 and you’ve done nothing. So let’s start working now!

Here are our 5 steps for how to actually get sh*t done these holidays:

1. Make a to-do list

A lot of people view to-do lists as the ultimate procrastination tool, a way of ‘studying’ without actually studying. But, what a lot of people underestimate is the amount of motivation and productivity which comes out of making a to-do list. So this is your first step.

The secret to an effective to-do list is to keep it short, super specific and realistic. When you’re writing your to-do list for these holidays (or if you already have one that you’re editing), think of one thing for every subject that you absolutely must get done. A few examples could be: finishing Business Studies topic 3 notes or writing a body paragraph for my related text for English. The point of this list is to identify things that you simply can’t start term 3 without having completed.

Another thing to remember about to-do lists is that they must be manageable and achievable. If they’re not, you’ll take one glance at the list, shove it in your desk drawer and never look at it again.

Also, once you've written your to-do list, that doesn't mean you never need to look at it again. It’s one of those things that is always changing and evolving! By the time you finish these holidays, you’ll have a different list to the one you started with. This is because as you work through the items, you shouldn’t only be ticking them off as you go, but also be adding new things as your study gets deeper. Maybe you’ve finished writing up your study notes, but now it’s time to start applying them to some past papers! Evolving your list like this is the best way to stay productive and make sure you get a lot of work done in the time you’ve got.

2. Have a break

Now, I know I just told you to make a to-do list and use it to start studying, but at the same time you’re given holidays for a reason and you deserve a break. Just because exams are around the corner, it doesn’t mean you should work yourself into the ground. As much as you need to be ready for next time, you also need to be rested and mentally prepared.

If you go straight from term 2 to hardcore studying, you won’t let your brain or body rest. The study you try to do will most likely be inefficient and pointless, and you’ll find yourself crashing pretty quickly.

So what’s the solution? Allocate yourself around 5 days of doing nothing over the next two weeks. When I say nothing, I mean nothing study-related. Go out with friends, sleep all day, binge-watch a show—just don’t think about school on those days. You’ve already set yourself up with what you need to do, so you know how much time you can afford to take off.

The other benefit of having time off is that you’ll get all your distractions out of the way and feel able to focus properly when you are studying, rather than sitting there thinking about everywhere you’d rather be!

Take a break so that once you’re ready to start, you’re ready to knuckle down and work through your list from top to bottom.

3. Organise yourself

When I say organise yourself, I don’t mean clean your room and organise your desk neatly. I mean organise your time and make a plan! With exams approaching, it’s important you learn how to manage your time accordingly and how to prioritise some subjects over others, depending on your strengths and weaknesses.

When organising your study schedule, you need to first consider how much time you plan to spend actually studying. Studying for 10 hours a day may seem like a good idea, but it’s not realistic and will probably make you less productive. At the same time, you don’t want to be doing too little per day either. Instead, we recommend studying 6-8 hours per day, breaking up your study into 2-3 hour chunks and having regular 30-40 min breaks. Pre-planning your time will help you get into a productive routine which, most importantly, you can maintain over a long period of time. We also recommend figuring out whether you study better in the morning or at night, and starting your day accordingly. For me, my brain wouldn’t function before 10am when studying, so I would start then and work into the night.  

Another helpful tip when planning your study is to break your day up into subject chunks. Don’t sit down on Thursday and expect that you’re going to spend the whole day studying Chemistry. That’s probably not the most efficient use of your time...your brain will hit its limit and anything you try and do after that will be useless! Instead, work through the different tasks on your to-do list and try and fit 2-3 subjects into a day’s work.

4. Get out of the house

Now, this next point isn’t for everyone because some people can’t study anywhere else but at their own desk, in their own house, with access to their own fridge. However, if you’re one of those people that go a little stir crazy being home all day every day, then don’t be afraid to mix it up a little and study somewhere else.

Going to the library, or to a friend’s house or even your grandma's place is a great way to mix up your study routine! The trick is that no matter where you are, you have to be just as productive and focused as you would be at home. So, don’t use ‘studying at the library’ as an excuse to sit around and talk and eat all day with your mates. When you’re at the library, find yourself a quiet area and stick to your study plan and to-do list. One of the best things about a library is that the silence and everyone else studying around you can motivate you into focusing too.

If you do find that you get too distracted and end up leaving the library without getting through a big chunk of your to-do list, then maybe it isn’t for you. It’s all about personal preference here.

5. Remind yourself of your goals

Finally, the way to stay motivated when studying for a big set of exams is to keep reminding yourself of the big picture! It’s important to remind yourself of your goals, what’s coming up, and why you need to try. Of course, putting too much pressure on yourself is never a good thing, but a little drive and adrenaline will keep you going.

Remind yourself of your goal ATAR, or your dream course, or even just that you’ve got 5 months of holidays after year 12! Hopefully, this is enough to get you into the headspace to knock out some quality study these holidays.

Remember

The exams approaching are your second last set of school exams ever! And they’re also not the first set of exams you’ve ever done, which means you know what to expect. So, don’t let the fear of the unknown overtake your ability to study these holidays. Stay organised, make a plan and remind yourself of your goals! When term 3 arrives, you’ll be proud of yourself for having had a productive break. Happy studying kids!

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