Phoebe Rowe* is currently a master’s student of psychology at the University of Auckland. She passed NCEA with excellence and merit endorsements and says the most useful study tip she received was to work through past exam papers, which are accessible on the NZQA website.
“They’re a good way of seeing where your weaknesses are and what you need to spend time on. It’s also a good idea to time yourself to get some practice in writing answers under time pressure.”
Rowe usually studied in her bedroom, writing notes and doing past exams at her desk.
She always started with a plan, breaking her subjects down into topics to ensure she covered everything, but would tweak the plan if she realised an area needed more time spent on it.
She says that having regular breaks helped her to stay focused.
“Every half hour I’d take a five-minute break, and I’d take longer breaks of 20 minutes every couple of hours and a decent break for lunch to give my brain a proper rest.”
Rowe says she tried to eat healthily and drink lots of water while she was studying.
“I did eat a fair amount of chocolate [though], and it definitely helped my sanity!”
Social media can be a real distraction, and Rowe says she had to be really disciplined by only checking in on her study breaks. When needing to focus, she put her phone on aeroplane mode and closed Facebook on her computer.
Rowe’s method of study was to write out summary notes rather than just reading over class notes.
“Writing provides your brain with another way of processing information, and it’s useful to have notes that just summarise the main points. I organised my notes with headings and bullet points, and when I was reading them I highlighted keywords. I also found using mind maps really helpful. Just don’t fall into the trap of spending all your time making your notes pretty!”
Rowe found study guides, which are available from bookshops, very useful.
“I used the little fold-out pamphlets from StudyPass, which summarise all the points and they were helpful for consolidating everything in the hour or two before the exam. For subjects you need more help with, the ESA study guides go through everything in detail.”
She enlisted her family to test her on material that needed to be rote-learned, like book and movie quotes for English, and chemical formulas for chemistry.
“It’s important to stay physically active during preparation for exams,” notes Rowe.
“Exercise boosts your mood and actually increases your ability to learn, so getting outside for a walk or run is a good idea. I also found that keeping up with friends and the things I enjoyed doing was important, as it meant I felt refreshed when I came back to study.”
An exam timetable sometimes throws up a cluster of exams close together, which can feel overwhelming, and Rowe says this is where it’s important to have a plan.
“Start studying early and don’t spend too much time on one subject – leave yourself plenty of time to study the others.”
She suggests putting the books away and unwinding for an hour or two before bedtime on the night before an exam.
Before the exam, trust the fact that you’ve prepared well, and remember that even if you don’t do quite as well as you’d hoped, it’s not the end of the world.
*not her real name