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Your Corona Study Guide

 

We’re in the middle of a global crisis, all our favourite places are closed, the only thing left to do is to attend classes and study and it all seems too much. This is the situation most of us are probably in right now. It is no wonder then if you’re struggling with your studies. Fortunately, I am here to help you by sharing everything I learnt from taking a course on study improvement(https://www.rug.nl/society-business/knowledge-and-learning/mooc/courses/2019/improving-your-study-techniques). So give it a try and hopefully, your studies will get a little easier.

Keeping a daily rhythm

Now that we have barely any external events to keep our daily (study) rhythm going, getting started on your work can be very hard. That’s why you need to start creating your own rhythm. Try waking up at the same time every day, go to bed around the same time and, most importantly, get out of your pj’s; they make you feel like you’re relaxing and you won’t be willing to start working (or is that just me?). Once you’ve got this first step going, you can start improving your studies.

Planning your work

To start, you want to get an overview of everything you need to do. Take a look at all your course syllabi, note everything you have to do, and for when, and start collecting all the materials you need for it (of course, in the case of essays and presentations you won’t have to start looking for articles already, just noting the requirements is enough). Then, take a look at the number of pages you need to read, or the time you will need to watch a recorded lecture and make an assessment of how long it might take for you to do each separate task. For an easy text, the average number of pages you can read in an hour will be around 12-14, for medium texts this is 8-10 and in the case of a difficult text, this will be around 2-6 pages. This might differ for you, but for the sake of your first plan, try to stick to these averages first. If you want, you can keep track of the number of pages you read in a certain time interval once you’ve started to improve your plan as I found this to be very helpful, but if you feel confident, sticking to the averages will also work. Now you can start creating a long-term plan.

Creating a long-term plan

If you happen to have deadlines that are far away, you’re very lucky. No, not because you’ll still have plenty of time to start on it, but because you still have plenty of time to work on it. You can divide the work you need to do over several weeks, which will not only give you the opportunity to perfect your work but will also save you from the overwhelming stress and possible all-nighters right before the deadline. If you need to study for an exam, divide the chapters you need to study over the weeks you’ve got before the exam and leave the final weeks for revision and extra time if you need it. Of course, you will need to plan revision time during the weeks before the exam as well so as to make sure the information you learnt earlier will actually stick. If you’ve got an essay or presentation to prepare, divide the task into parts and plan these parts over the several weeks. Again, make sure to leave the few days before the deadline as a buffer in case you need more time and to perfect the assignment. Once you’ve got this division for bigger assignments, you can start planning them in your week.

Creating a short-term plan
In order to make a well-functioning short-term plan, you need to be ready to start planning your entire days. Start by dividing your days into morning, afternoon and evening. If you find this doesn't help you, divide your days per hour. This might be harder and feel more restrictive, but I find it much easier to keep a study rhythm and to stick to my plan when I know what I need to do and when. Now that you’ve divided your days, start by writing down your classes and all non-study related tasks you need to do- plan your chores, your (daily) exercise, appointments and food breaks. Once you’ve done this, you will hopefully find a lot of free time in your plan for your studies. If this is not the case, try to see which non-study related tasks you can cut back on. 

The next step you want to take is plan your time for studying. Personally, I would recommend doing 5-6 hours of studying a day including class time, but studying longer or shorter might work better for you. Try to divide the time you're studying evenly over the day; for example,  2 hours in the morning, 2 in the afternoon and 2 in the evening. At least make sure not to study for hours on end. This will make it very hard to stay focussed and you will not feel motivated to keep going at all. The time slots in which you have nothing planned after planning your studies and other tasks will be your free time. You can use this time to relax guilt-free because you’ve got your studying for the day sorted out. 

Once you’ve planned the times for studying, you can have a look at how much work you will be able to do within that time. How many pages will you be able to read in an hour? How many words can you type for your essay? Take a look at the assignment you need to do, estimate the difficulty of it, and make an assessment of how much you would need to do in an hour or two. Then, plan the part of the task you can do in two hours in one of the study slots you planned. Do this for every assignment and each time slot you’ve got in your week and you’ll soon find that the task is not as hard as it might have seemed at first. If a task takes longer than you planned, that’s okay- you can use some of the free time you planned after studying to finish it. If you’re finished earlier with the task, that’s great too. You can choose to have some extra free time if you want to, or you can try and work ahead on your planning for this task so that you might have more free time later on. Most importantly, don’t give up on your planning because you miscalculated the time for a task, you can always adjust your planning or use this newly-found wisdom to improve your next plan. 

Staying motivated

If you don’t feel like studying at all, try it anyway. It has been proven to be very effective to force yourself to work on a task for 5 minutes. You will probably find that after these five minutes, the task isn’t that bad after all and you will be likely to finish it. If you still don’t feel like doing the task after these five minutes, take a break from the task and try to find out why. 

If you find you’re getting distracted by other things, put those things away. Personally, just turning the internet off my phone and putting it out of sight already solved most of my distractions, so perhaps this might work for you too. If you’re afraid of missing out on things while you’re studying, tell your friends and family when you’re going to study and that you don’t want to be disturbed. 

If you’re lacking the motivation to study, decide on a way to reward yourself once you’ve finished the task. According to the motivation equation: motivation = value x expectancy / delay, meaning that your motivation is determined by how much you enjoy what you’re studying (value), how much you expect to get this enjoyment out of studying (expectancy) and how long it will take for you to get this enjoyment (delay). The first two factors, you might not be able to change if you’re feeling unmotivated, but you can lower the delay; by planning a reward after every time you’ve finished a task, the delay for the enjoyment becomes very low and your motivation to start studying goes up. For this to work, it is very important that you only allow yourself this reward when you’ve actually completed the task and not when you’ve given up as this means you’re encouraging yourself to procrastinate.

Are you not focused enough? Perhaps try something to help you focus like some exercise, getting some fresh air or relaxing with some meditation. Even if you did manage to get focused and started on your task, make sure to take a short break every once in a while. The most used techniques for studying have you study either in blocks of 30 minutes with a 5-minute break in between, or studying with blocks of an hour with a 10-minute break in between. However, if, like me, you struggle to stay focused for long, you can try studying in blocks of 45 minutes with a 15-minute break. During these breaks, get away from your studying and do something that helps you relax. Of course, it is very important that you stick with the length of the break time that you choose; otherwise, your planning might not work. 

Something that will also help you get started is to preview the task you need to do before you start. If you need to read a text, take your time to examine the structure of it. Read the title, the titles of the paragraphs, the first and last sentence of a paragraph and look for keywords to see if you can get a general idea of what you can expect from the text. Once you know what you can expect from the text, you will be more prepared to start reading it and you will be able to understand the text better, meaning you will be able to read it more effectively. This should help you get rid of your struggles with getting started on very long or difficult texts.

Hopefully, these tips will be able to help you stay on track with your studies. Don’t worry if it doesn't immediately go as planned, you’re trying your best and that’s what counts. If you need any more help, I would definitely recommend the study course I took, which is free and you can do whenever it suits you, as experts from the RUG will be able to help you with more advice and give you feedback during the course if you need it. If you happen to have any advice yourself, feel free to share it and in the comments of this article so that you, too, can help your fellow students. Remember, we’re all in this together!

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