I’m writing this post at the start of the coronavirus mess and it’s becoming clear that, one way or another, we’re all going to be spending a lot of time at home. Whether you’re preparing for GCSE or A-level exams this year, or just trying to keep on top of things for 2021 exams, now is the time to start thinking about ways to make studying at home that bit easier. As a distance learning tutor, and former distance learning student myself, I have a tonne of experience with studying at home. Here are my 5 tips to make studying at home easier.
1.Keep to your usual school day schedule (or work out a schedule that suits your body clock better)
If you’re lucky and your school has organised online lessons you will have a schedule sorted for you already. If not, with all that free time you’ll have it will be too easy to get up late, faff about for a few hours, find that it’s too late to be bothered and get very little done. If you do this you’ll spend more time feeling guilty for not studying and you’ll get frustrated and demotivated very quickly.
Or, you might find that you get started early enough but do so much messing about in between studying that you end up dragging it out for the whole day (<– this was me). In this scenario, you’ll get your work done, but it will take over your life, be really depressing and at the end of each day you’ll wonder why you’ve wasted so much time
To avoid both of these scenarios, you need a proper schedule and you need to stick to it. I know it’s difficult to find the self-discipline to stick to a timetable sometimes, but you manage it at school (and work if you have a job) so you’re capable of doing it.
In theory I think that sticking to the school day schedule is a good idea – it’s a reasonable amount of time to study in a day, it’s already broken down into blocks of time separated by breaks. You’ll also be able to get your studying out of the way early so you’ll have the rest of the day to do whatever you like. But if you’re someone who doesn’t work particularly well in the morning you could stick to the same rough schedule but start it a few hours later.
Be honest with yourself about whether starting later in the day is a good idea though. If you genuinely find it easier to study in the evening, fair enough. I spent years convincing myself that I was an ‘night’ person because I really hate getting out of bed. But I’m really not. My brain switches off at 10 pm and nothing I write or learn after that time makes any sense the next day. Once I realised this, and learned to drag myself out of bed early, I got far more done. So if you’re going to work with your body clock, make sure you know what actually suits your body clock.
2.Jail your phone and get off the internet
I’m completely addicted to my phone and I panic when I can’t see it. Yes I’m ashamed of this 😬. But if I have work to do that requires me to concentrate, I hide it somewhere that means I can’t easily get to it. This is usually the cellar full of spiders or the freezing cold ensuite bathroom that I don’t like going in. Make a deal with yourself that you can check your phone at the end of each period (if you’re sticking to the school timetable) and limit yourself to 5 minutes.
You should also avoid going on the computer/ipad as much as possible so that you don’t end up sitting on it looking at crap on the internet instead of studying. If you need to go on the computer to download past paper questions, try to print off what you need and do it on paper if possible. You might find it easier to make notes on the computer (though this may be worth a rethink, as evidence suggest that taking notes by hand is better for recall and understanding), but when you do so, disconnect it from the internet.
If you really struggle to resist temptation, get an internet and app blocker like this one.You might also want to think about why you’re procrastinating: this post will help you think about procrastination in a different way and might help you avoid it.
3.Exercise in your breaks
Staying at home all day isn’t as fun as it sounds and it can make you feel pretty dreadful physically after a while. Obviously, going out and getting some fresh air is the best option, but this is not necessarily going to be possible, so a good alternative is to do short bursts of exercise in your study breaks.
Find some 10 minute workouts on youtube and do one in your morning break and maybe another in your lunch break. This will get your blood pumping and the endorphins flowing, so you’ll feel more motivated to study. There is also evidence that exercise can improve memory, so it will make your study sessions more effective. If you’re not really up for a proper exercise session, just get up and do 20 star jumps or dance around to music for 10 minutes. If you do I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll feel much better.
4.Use an online whiteboard to study with your friends
Studying with friends is always a good idea and there are plenty of free tools that will let run online group study sessions. This is a good way of breaking up your day and will help you stay motivated, especially if you have to study at home for long periods of time.
One of the best free online whiteboard tools is bitpaper. Bitpaper has a built-in call feature, so you can speak to each other while working on past paper questions together, help each other with note taking/ work out how to do calculations, whatever you need to do. It’s really easy to use and it works on laptops, desktops and ipads. When you’ve finished you can download a pdf of everything you’ve worked on, or you can save the whiteboard and pick up where you left off later.
Working on exam questions together is a particularly good idea as it will give you the opportunity to see how other students approach questions, see alternative problem solving methods and discuss what the examiners are looking for.
5.Make a study space, no matter how small, so that you can keep everything organised
If you have a lovely organised desk to study from, that’s great. But if you don’t, try and find a small space that you can use as a dedicated study corner. You don’t actually have to study there – it can just be a place where you dump all your text books, stationery and revision notes (neatly) so you know exactly where they are and you can go find them easily every morning. In another post, I’ve recommended using a box file to store your revision materials. This is a particularly good idea if you’re studying at home for an extended period of time as you can carry it around to different rooms in the house and avoid the boredom that comes with sitting in one place everyday.
This might sound like a pointless tip, but I know from my own experiences how often calculators get up and walk off, and turn up in weird places. I also find that even the most organised students often lose their textbooks, can’t find their pencil case and have no idea. If you have to start every day with a mad hunt for your resources you’ll be more frustrated and less productive than you need to be.
More A-level Chemistry and Biology study tips
Here are my top 30 A-level Chemistry and Biology study tips