My learning strategy in 8 points: enjoy what you do and avoid overwork!

Some of you may laugh at the title, saying No way, there’s no such learning strategy”. Well, I’m sorry to tell you you’re not quite right 🙂

Last year, my revision/study time was absolutely enjoyable and I did not:

  • have a single day when I studied non-stop until late evening.

  • cut sleep at all.

  • feel very stressed at any point of my exam season.

When I received my results, I got 84.5% overall and was featured in the departmental Dean’s list (top 10% students from my cohort).

Magic? No, it’s my learning strategy I want to share with you, so please read on!

The approach is summarised in 8 points.

Choose a subject you’re passionate about

Even though this point isn’t strictly related to an exam season, I cannot stress enough how important it is. If you’re truly passionate about your course, the odds are that this will be your natural motivation to study. Also, your learning will be a pure pleasure thanks to that. Trust me, I’m exactly in this situation 🙂

Do your best in coursework

Don’t underestimate the significance of any coursework you have to hand in. It doesn’t matter whether it is 5%, 15% or 40% of your module grade. It helps you understand the material and the better you do, the higher your overall score will be along with the safety margin in case your exams go badly. Even if your compulsory coursework isn’t graded, this tip is still worth looking at. You want to get some prizes or good references for internships, don’t you? 🙂

Start exam preparation early

I don’t think there’s anything more to add here. Leaving things to the last minute leads to countless tiring hours spent on cramming…

Plan your revision in detail

This is especially good when you have a lot to revise. Think of what examinable material every module consists of, pick specific days you’re going to spend on studying and plan what to do then. For example:

20 March: study Discrete Structures, Graphs and Algorithms

21 March: study Reasoning about Programs

22 March: free time

23 March: study Mathematical Methods, Hardware, Architecture

You can also make more detailed plans for every module (e.g. attempt past papers, do tutorial exercises, go through lecture notes, …), so when you see “study Discrete Structures”, you can open your plan for Discrete Structures revision and check specifically what to do there.

Set reasonable goals

Be realistic and remember that grading standards are different at university. It’s no longer school where you have to get 90-100% scores for the highest grade. Here, 70% is a threshold for the highest grade (a First) and 60% is a threshold for the second highest grade (2:1). Depending on your capabilities, you can have lower or higher goals. And regardless of the targets you set, always do your best!

Consider practical importance of the material you’re revising

It’s easier to stay motivated and enjoy learning if you can relate what you revise to the real world. For example, when studying machine learning, try realising that you can talk to Alexa or Siri thanks to that.

Take regular breaks and sleep well

Don’t ignore this point! If you’re tired or don’t get enough sleep, your learning capacity decreases and you’re more likely to make mistakes and get distracted. It’s also difficult to stay concentrated for longer time. You’ll definitely achieve more by taking breaks and not cutting sleep, even if it means spending a bit less time on revising. The break duration should be reasonable of course, so you don’t actually relax more than study :)

Also, I’m not a big fan of very last-minute revision. In my opinion, the mind should be as relaxed as possible when we enter an exam room. Because of that, I avoid intellectually-engaging activities on an exam day until the exam itself.

Treat exams as nothing else than a pure learning experience or an exciting challenge

For me, it’s the best way of tackling exam stress. When I have tutorial sessions, what do I do? Answer (sometimes challenging) questions in order to understand the material better. And what do I do in exams? Exactly the same thing. So why not treat exams just as extra tutorials? Some aspects are obviously different in exams, but it’s how we see stuff in our brain that matters. Rather than saying “It’s a test”, say “It’s an extra tutorial” to yourself. I recommend experimenting here, because there are many different ways of imagining it and the example described here might not necessarily work best for you.

I hope you find these tips useful. Happy New Year! 🙂

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