5 tips for low stress studying

By Erin Maessen
Degree: Graduate Diploma of Science & Technology
Campus: Manawatu

I’ve been a Massey student for a long time now, long enough to have theoretically amassed a lot of wisdom on how to study with minimum stress (or at least how not to study).

Now I can’t say that I don’t occasionally find myself in that position of being too stressed out by the impending pile of work to actually get on and do any of it. Even with my best intentions, I am still not immune.

However I have got much, much better at letting go of perfectionist tendencies, being realistic about what work actually needs doing, and how long it’s likely to take.

During the past year, I have finally reached that sweet balance of study and life that we were told to find in first year… or at least I’m getting close.

So here are a few of the tips and rules I study by to help you get yourself in order.

1. Study in short bursts

So you’re not still there, staring blankly at a screen, hours after your energy and enthusiasm ran out. Set a timer if you have to, and then go do something else for a while. You might study for say 20 minutes, and then have a 5-minute break – or prefer to work in longer bursts with a longer break as the reward. Whatever. Tinkering with the exact times that work for you is perfectly fine. If you honestly have a lot of work to get through, then a short break and back into it will be seriously beneficial – otherwise decide that you’re done for the day and go do something fun.

2. Schedule free time

It’s easy to block out an entire weekend to ‘finishing that stats assignment’, but then the entire weekend is what it will take. Instead, make a plan that includes more than just the work. Maybe give yourself Saturday afternoon to get stuck into the assignment– then perhaps you want to schedule a trip to the gym Saturday morning, and time to watch a movie Saturday night.

Plan your fun times in so they don’t get forgotten about, and don’t let your assignment monopolise the day. Work tends to be like water, in that it will fill whatever space you give it.

3. Let yourself off the hook about relaxing

A friend of mine was prone to berating herself for not working any time she took a break. The guilt just added to her stress, negating most of the benefits of taking the break. If that’s you, it’s time to have a stern talk to yourself, and make it clear that taking time out is OK. (Bear in mind that if you end up stressing yourself into a quivering mess, then counseling sessions will eat up valuable study time anyway… so might as well use that time for something you actually enjoy).

4. Be critical about what work you actually have to do

University study can be kind of a black hole. You can never “finish all the work”: There will always be more notes you could have written, chapters you could have read, or more times you could have looked over those flashcards. So you have to draw the line somewhere, and you probably already have without realising it. Now it’s time to re-evaluate that line. Do you really need to do all the ‘required readings’ top to bottom while taking notes? Maybe a skim read will suffice, or maybe pick some that are clearly more important and focus on those.

Get critical about the way you study – if it involves writing out your notes in triplicate, it’s probably a little overboard. Figure out what absolutely has to be done, and what’s useful if you have extra time. And leave it at that.

5. Get organised early on

Don’t be that person who pulls all-nighters before an exam, or has to bash out an assignment last minute. That works for some people, some of the time – but it’s not sustainable, and we’re talking about the long haul here.

Know what you have to get done, and when it’s due, and make a plan (and stick to the plan). Being organised means you can ensure time for the other things you want to do. It means a balanced lifestyle isn’t just something you do occasionally when the stars align and pressure is low, but something you can carry on even during exam season.

6. And if all else fails…

There’s always chocolate. (I’m serious. Self-bribery works wonders).

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