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Defeating the demon of procrastination: How to make it through Easter revision

It’s common knowledge that the earlier you start revision, the better. It gives you more time to spread out your learning which is proven to be the most effective way to remember information, it’ll be less stressful, and you don’t have to worry about whether you can stay awake long enough to cram the night before.

But, after two terms of lectures, and with endless Easter break temptations from having a drink with old friends in the sun to binge-watching your favourite show on Netflix, the last thing most students want to be doing is revising. So, procrastination becomes ridiculously tempting. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had the best of intentions to start, and you might even have a timetable ready and waiting, but you’re starting to realise that your Easter revision has taken a little bit of a backseat as of late.

And then comes the procrastination. Yes, it helps us take the load off momentarily and can provide a few minutes (or days) worth of entertainment. But, ultimately, it leaves us more stressed and further behind.

So, how can we beat the demons of procrastination and get cracking with revision?

  1. Start by finding out where you work best. This isn’t about comfort, or convenience. Take a day or two of working a couple of hours in a few different locations. The kitchen table, the library, and your living room are obvious choices, but you can also try taking your notes outside on the grass, to a coffee shop, or working at a friend or relative’s house. Identify a few spots where you’re least distracted, and from now on do your work there. Your environment affects you a lot more than you probably realise, and a good location can mean that when you set out to do two hours of revision, you actually do it, rather than getting distracted by yet another re-run of Friends, or getting the sudden urge to clean your room now that anything seems preferable to the prospect of revision. Oh, and working on your bed is probably very tempting, but it’ll also play havoc with your sleeping patterns, and you’ll just start napping. Try elsewhere for best results when it comes to focusing on the tasks you need to get done.
  2. Speaking of distractions, step away from your electronic devices. All of them. Unless you’re using it for research or you desperately hate writing notes by hand, this includes your laptop and your phone. If you can’t quite commit this far, go a little less drastic: log out of and close the tab of anything remotely resembling a social networking site. If you don’t, you know you will keep getting tempted to endlessly scroll your news feed just in case something crucially important, hilarious, or adorable pops. You will not miss anything important, I promise, and it’ll be there ready for you as a reward for when you’ve actually got some work done. It’s so much easier to keep your mind on revision when notifications aren’t popping up in your peripheral vision, plus working on paper has consistently been shown to help you remember material compared to typing.
  3. Be prepared. Not sure what to start with? Once you’ve found your workspace, make sure you have notes from every lecture/tutorial/seminar/practical. If you’re missing anything, make it top priority to fill these gaps either by using online resources or asking a friend from your course. Grab pens, lined paper, highlighters, post-its, and any other materials you might need – for example, notecards and a little binder are perfect for short-answer exams, since you can test yourself using the format of the exam. Once you’ve got all you need, split up your revision into sections or topics and write these down so you can mark off when you’ve done each stage of the revision. How you structure your revision is really down to personal preference, but having a timetable where you set out a rough amount of time per day you’ll allocate to each module or topic is pretty handy. Even if you don’t stick to it, at least you’ll be reminded that you should be revising. Highlighting, posters, mind-maps, and flashcards are great for the creative or visual learners among you, whilst others might prefer to keep re-writing and condensing notes. Whatever you do, don’t jump straight into test papers: it will probably knock your confidence way down. It’s okay that you’re not at exam-level yet, that’s why you revise. Wait until you’ve revised the topic at least once fully before you attempt questions. Also, don’t simply read your notes or textbook: good revision is active, and passively reading is not only boring, it’s the least effective way to learn.
  4. Look after yourself. Students notoriously fall down when it comes to staying healthy, and it’s not really a surprise. Even those of us who have the best of intentions often just don’t feel we have the time, money, or energy to engage in regular exercise or prepare healthy meals. But in order to keep your energy levels up, you’re going to need to keep yourself healthy. Drink plenty of water, and eat a good mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables. Have snacks and a glass of water at hand to keep your energy levels topped up. I’ve found that cereal bars, grapes, and the odd cup of coffee do wonders for my motivation, and stop me yawning through pages of journal articles, but buy what works for you and what you can afford. Get at least eight hours of sleep every night. And don’t overdo the coffee unless you fancy running to the toilets after every few pages
  5. Change your perspective. Try to think of revision as short term loss, but long term gain. You’re probably going to feel a bit bored or drained after a few hours of re-reading your notes and testing yourself, and you will have to revise for several weeks in a row. No, it’s not ideal. Still, it’s better than the alternatives, such as to re-sit in a few months’ time (and do it all over again), or get kicked off the course you’ve been working to get into for years. If you can get through these next weeks and really put the work in, it will pay off. In your exam performance, in your degree qualification, in your general self-esteem. Remember why you’re doing this. The psychology of procrastination is that whilst the pre-frontal cortex knows you’ve got to work in the long run, your limbic system is telling you to seek out what feels best now. A great method that’ll satisfy both systems is the Pomodoro technique: set a timer and work solidly on one task for 20 minutes, then have a five minute break. After each hour, make it a twenty minute break. And then when you break, instead of checking your social media or emails, aim for either movement or social interaction away from where you’ve been working. Dancing around the room singing at the top of your voice, going for a walk around your neighbourhood, or calling your friend all provide that welcome break from hard, concentrated work. Naps are great too, since the break of sensory input means your memories can consolidate without interference, and you’ll remember more of what you’ve covered.

Oh, and here’s an additional sneaky one: get off of the internet and get started right now. Looking up motivation to revise, how to revise, and spending a bit of time on your revision timetable is no doubt important, but it’s no substitute for actually revising. Get on with it; you’ll thank yourself for it later.

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