Ten pointers to successful independent study

September 28, 2023

Collage by Finn Souter with images from Tumisu and Kerttu at Pixabay

Basmah Mohamed shares her methods of learning, hoping to help and inspire others

My wonderful time at sixth form ended abruptly when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and my A Level exams were cancelled. As a result, I know what a daunting prospect studying independently can be.

I’ve found new ways of working and picked up a few tips that have really helped make my learning and revision more manageable.

Some of my ideas are simple yet effective and could be applied to GCSEs, A Levels, a degree or any other form of study or revision.

Obvious as it may sound, stay calm and be kind to yourself. Make studying easier for yourself, not harder!

Have a folder for each subject and use dividers, clearly labelled, for each topic. I find putting dates on all my pieces of paper makes filing them away easier, as they’re in chronological order. Make sure to file away papers as soon as you receive them!

Have a routine or timetable in place; this will help you be more productive. You can use your timetable as a guide to prioritise what needs to be done and when. It also gives structure to your day, allowing you to factor in free time. With fewer worries you will get a good nights sleep too.

I use a Google Chrome extension called Momentum as my To Do List. Check it out here.

Do as many past papers as you can!

Past paper questions will aid your revision, making you more aware of the topics you are less confident about. Many past papers can be found online with mark schemes that are easily accessible, so you can complete the questions under timed conditions (or at your own pace) and mark the answers yourself. For essay-based subjects, giving your practice essays to your teachers will ensure that you receive helpful feedback.

The more practice questions you do, the more you realise they are almost all the same, only phrased slightly differently!

Actively reviewing and working through feedback will ensure that you avoid repeating past mistakes and will improve your exam technique.

One easy way to do this is to review what you’ve learnt after each lesson by writing a short summary. It will make revision so much easier and refresh your mind on topics you studied a while back. If you are a visual learner, you could use coloured highlighters to help create a visual memory of important facts. This will help you retain information and add interest and creativity to your revision.

Colourful revision notes for GCSE Physics (L) and English Literature (R)

Using active recall is a great way to retrieve information from memory. Coming up with questions that require both short and long answers, and answering them without looking at your notes, allows you to test yourself. This will ensure that you are able to consolidate your knowledge and identify what further revision needs to be done.

A good website to help aid your active recall is Quizlet as you can create flashcards and quizzes.

You can find other apps here that can help with your revision, from those that allow you to test yourself, to ones that will sort and store notes, encouraging focus.

We all know procrastination can make life so much more stressful, and how in hindsight we wish we had started revising earlier! I do my work as soon as I get home, regardless of how early I finished my lessons that day. Then I can reward myself with a relaxing evening of watching my favourite show or reading for pleasure.

#eight: BREAKS
Taking regular breaks will make sure you avoid burning out. Techniques like the ‘Pomodoro Method’ are highly effective; identify a task you need to complete, set a timer for 25 minutes, work on the task until the time is up, take a 5 minute break and repeat until the fourth break, then take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Check out more here about Pomodoro techniques and great timer apps you can download.

Things you could do during your breaks: eat a nourishing snack, stay hydrated, do some stretches, go on a walk, engage in a phone or video call, play with a pet, and the list goes on.

Your teachers and classmates will be more than happy to go over certain concepts that you’re having difficulties with. You may want to plan time to work with a small group or another person. It’s amazing how much you learn by explaining what you know to someone else; it can be a great support.

If at any point you are struggling to cope, don’t suffer in silence. Exploring your feelings is a positive approach to better mental wellbeing. Seeking advice and help from family and friends or the support team at your school is always a good idea.

You can finds ways to cope with exam stress at The Student Room. Also check out YoungMinds and support for under 25s at The Mix.

#ten: HAVE FUN
Have fun with your studies and give yourself some credit – you’ve made it this far!

I hope this helps. You can download the study pointers here. Stick it up on your wall! Make your studying life easier now, not later ;)

Finn has recently graduated with a Psychology degree from Liverpool uni. He writes music and enjoys creating images in Photoshop. He has been working with Exposure, mentoring and collaborating with other contributors designing content for creative campaigns and social media. Finn has also edited podcasts and produced music for videos exploring good mental wellbeing. 

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