Where am I getting off track?

By Bryn Berry, 4th-year Commerce student

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For some tips and resources based on your result, read on!

Managing distractions

Many students find that one major challenge they face is the ability to recognize and control distractions. Distractions come in many forms – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are a few obvious examples, but your roommate, housemate or even your cat are also potentially very distracting. The reason distractions are so important is because they kill your productivity. Even if you have the best intentions and some fantastic strategies for how to approach your schoolwork, distractions have the potential to derail you. Here are a few of our favourite distraction-related tips:

  • Distraction pad. The concept of a distraction pad is simple: it is a piece of paper or a notebook where you can record all those pesky thoughts or to-dos that pop in to your head at the most inconvenient of times. Often, when we try to focus, our brain reminds us of that thing we have to do that it is trying so desperately not to forget, and that thing takes up space in our brains. Write it down so you can have a clear mind, knowing you won’t forget.
  • Study space. Are you doing your work in an effective study space? If you know your housemates are a particular source of distraction for you, for example, then studying in your kitchen is not advisable. Consider quieter locations on campus. Note that for some people, the library environment may actually be more distracting because you end up looking around at what others are doing. Actively take note of how often and why you are getting distracted and look for a space that fits your needs.
  • Phone out of sight (or on airplane mode). This is one of the simplest ways to minimize distractions. Some people put their phones in a different room, in a drawer, or on airplane mode. Feel free to retrieve it for your ten-minute break after fifty minutes of studying, but other than that, it needn’t be next to you while you study.

For more tips and resources on managing distractions, visit Improving Your Concentration.

Time management

As a student, you’re likely very, very busy. This is absolutely normal, but it can be highly stressful when you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Time management is the practice of allocating your time effectively to the activities that matter most. Usually, it involves predicting where you will need to spend your time and making a plan to follow. If you’re struggling with time management, consider the following tips:

  • Weekly schedule. Making a weekly schedule may seem like a daunting task, but it is really quite simple and valuable. Use our template or a similar set up in Excel or your favourite calendar app. Start by inputting your fixed commitments, like class and varsity team practices. Next, add time for your health, as this should not be negotiable! Third, estimate the number of hours you will need for homework for each class and find time in your schedule for this. (Hint: for arts students, we usually say that you’ll need 2 hours of homework time for every 1 hour of class you have.) Lastly, build in time for fun and any spillover tasks you don’t get to.
  • Track yourself to “find time.” Record where your time is going in a day. Not only will this provide you with insights to refine your weekly schedule, but it will also put you back in control of your time and allow you to identify potential problems. After a few days of tracking your time, you may identify patterns. For example, if you are spending 45 minutes in a day walking back and forth to campus in between classes, perhaps you would be better served to find a spot in the library to study or read. We call this “found time” – time you would otherwise have overlooked.

To see more of our time management resources, including some great interactive tools and templates, visit Time Management.

Exam preparation

First of all, when it comes to exams, don’t panic. Remember that exams are merely intended to be an efficient way to test what you’ve learned over the course of the semester – they are not supposed to be a torture device! With this in mind, consider the following tips:

  • Study schedule. Facing exams can be very stressful, especially when you have several exams over the course of only a couple of weeks. To ensure you are allocating your time in the most effective way, we recommend using a study schedule. Record the dates and times of your exams on the schedule and then block in study time according to the order, priority, and difficulty of your exams. Think of each day as consisting of three distinct study blocks: morning (9-12), afternoon (2-5), and evening (7-10). You’ll notice that these times are aligned with the times you will be taking exams, which is intentional – it will help get your brain used to working in the way you need it to at certain times of the day. Use our schedule template with more detailed instructions.
  • Start early. This is related to the first tip of making a schedule. It is best to start reviewing for exams quite early, especially if you have an exam at the beginning of the exam period. This often means getting your notes in order and asking a classmate for lecture notes you may be missing during the last week of classes. You can ease in to studying, though – if you start early, no need to come out of the gates at full speed.

For some more detailed resources on exam prep, visit Exam Prep. (I strongly recommend reading about matching your studying to your exam type: multiple choice, short answer, etc.)

Note-taking strategies

One of the most important pieces of the learning strategies puzzle is taking high quality notes. Here are a few tried and true note-taking tips:

  • Cornell method. Consider using the “Cornell method” for note-taking. This is a specific technique that forces you to think critically about material while taking notes, which should improve retention. Divide your paper in to three parts: Left, right, and bottom. The left column is called the “cue column” and is where you write key words and phrases. The right column is the “note-taking column” and is where you write main ideas, details, facts, and formulae. The bottom section is for a 2-3 line summary of the most important ideas on this page. Using the Cornell method for each chapter of your textbook, for example, will condense your notes in to a consistent and easy-to-follow format. (Bonus tip: this can also be a great self-testing mechanism – simply cover your page except for the left column and see what you can define/elaborate on!)
  • Review frequently. Once you’ve made your notes, you should review them frequently. (Consider setting aside an hour every Sunday to review your notes.) By the time the exam period rolls around, you should have looked at your notes about 5 times during the semester! This ensures that when you sit down to study, you are able to study, and not re-learn, material. With so much information coming at us on a daily basis, we need to work hard to retain what is already in our brains.

For more information about note-taking strategies, visit Reading and Note-making.

Best of luck with the semester – and with your new strategies!

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Ashley Jerman under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.