I’m a second-year ArtSci student returning to campus after a full year of online classes. I feel like I’ve lost touch with the rhythms of in-person studies and I’m overwhelmed with these first couple of weeks on campus. When I began studying for my courses, I was hit with the realization that I have forgotten how to study without the help of online resources and 72-hour timeframes for exams. I’m worried that the strategies I used last year are not going to cut it anymore. With midterm season fast approaching, I feel like I’m going to start falling behind and pulling all-nighters very soon, without having much to show for it. I don’t want to be further overwhelmed and panic closer to an evaluation. What habits can I adopt right now to help me study productively and prepare myself for in-person exams?
Returning In-Person. (RIP)
Thank you for reaching out and expressing what I’m sure many of your peers are feeling this year. It’s completely normal to be overwhelmed by the complete return of in-person learning as it brings back many experiences we had moved away from during the pandemic—waking up early, interacting with classmates, socializing on campus, writing exams, and more. With extra tasks added to your schedule, it’s more important than ever to employ effective time-management skills and build a routine for yourself.
The first thing you should do is plan ahead by creating a general schedule for the year. The Google Calendar and Notion templates are both useful resources for this. Block out the times when you have lectures and any other meetings or in-person activities, then go through each of your syllabi and add in any assignments, exams, quizzes, or readings to the calendar on the date they are due.
Now that you have a rough idea of what your semester is going to look like in terms of academic commitment, you can start by allocating daily blocks to studying. At the same time, remember that you also need to shower, cook, clean, run errands and take time for yourself, so don’t overschedule! I recommend dedicating no more than 4-5 hours to coursework each day to avoid burning out.
The next step is to adopt practices that help you use your study time effectively. When studying, it is crucial that you avoid distractions. Turn your phone off and put it in a drawer or locker until you have completed the work that you sat down to do. Set yourself a realistic number of tasks and create a to-do list to get through. For this, Notion’s agenda template and Microsoft Tasks are both useful, on top of physical agendas. I like to add smaller tasks I do throughout the day, such as cleaning my room, to the list as well because I find that seeing little tick boxes on my agenda motivates me further.
Once you have set some targets for yourself, it is time to start working on completing those goals. The Pomodoro method is a scientifically-proven strategy for that. This technique encourages you to work in time bursts, where you commit to a task for 25 minutes, known as one Pomodoro, then take a five-minute break. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer 15 to 20-minute break. This helps with increasing your focus and pushing you to achieve the maximum amount of work you can in a shorter time. You can find a Pomodoro timer online to help you practice this technique.
Although these are recommendations to help you get back into rhythm with the demands of in-person learning, each person is unique and has different needs. What is most important is that you understand your abilities and limits, do the best you can, and try to remain content with your efforts, no matter the result. It is not worth losing your sleep and mental peace over academic responsibilities.
Take care and stay healthy,