Honest Revision and Essay Guidance From a Third-Year Who Hasn’t Had Break Down (Yet)
For many students, the Christmas holidays are the first time they have been able to visit home since the beginning of the academic year. However, sadly this holiday also falls in the shadow of deadlines and exams! And for those of us that have jobs as well, there is another thing to add to the schedule. So we have a lot to do in a small amount of time.
However, the Christmas holidays don’t need to be full of stress, so long as you are organised and have a plan. Here are some methods and tips that I know work, and brutally honest lessons from my own personal experiences as a third-year who has not had a nervous breakdown (yet).
I hope it helps!
Allocate a Period of Time Each Day to Work – ‘The Marathon Method’
One of my friends, who recently graduated with a first, heavily relied on this method. They realised that they worked best at the beginning of the day, and so every day they would start revising at 8:00 and finish at 13:00, taking a ten-minute break every half hour to watch half an episode of friends and snack!
And then they had a whole day left to do whatever they wanted – Knowing they had already spent several hours revising.
This method is easily transferable to people who work best at different times of day; but the point here is that you can do the work, and have plenty of time to relax! Likewise, if you have spent an entire day doing a lot of genuine hard work, you don’t need to feel bad about taking the next day slow?
Work a Little, But Work Often – ‘Pace Yourself’
In terms of revision, research shows learning is much more effective when spread over time, than relying on last-minute cramming – SO DON’T LEAVE IT TO THE LAST MINUTE.
This is something which studies have again and again said is effective for the large majority of people, and you can’t argue with the results. Have you ever wondered why you can still remember the lyrics to that song you liked in year seven? Probably because you listened to it every day for a month. Point proven.
Now, some people do say that they work best last minute, and under pressure; and for a few individuals, yes this is the case. However, when you look at studies which show the opposite, it’s clear to see this method has proven to be inefficient for the majority.
So don’t be that person who leaves everything to the last minute because they have convinced themselves they ‘work better under pressure anyway‘. You might as well give another method a go and see where it gets you before you deny it completely, no?
If you can start an assignment three days before hand and get a first then that’s amazing! But, another word for pressure, is stress, and stress is bad. So why not avoid it? Just saying.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition – ‘Consolidate Your Memory’
Another reason why you can’t forget the lyrics to that song from year seven. In psychological terms, pathways between neurons are strengthened over time through simple repetition i.e by going over what you have learned to help remember it better in the long term. For revision, this can come in several forms:
- Online quizzes
- Using flash cards
- And even making your own crossword, with, for example, the key points as the clue, and the case name as the answer (personal favourite)
Although these are good for memorising key points and principles, probably the best way to revise is by utilising past exam papers. This is because you must apply what you have learned, as opposed to merely regurgitating information; after a while you can even time yourself in preparation for actual exam conditions. Yay!
For example, you can easily learn that the case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co  is about ‘offer and acceptance’; but does knowing that mean you can you apply it properly to a scenario? Or compare and contrast it with other cases?
To give a crude analogy, you can train a pigeon to turn around when a light flashes, but that doesn’t mean the pigeon knows why the light is flashing, why they are there, or how to answer an exam/essay question that is asking them to ‘critically evaluate, using academic commentary and case law, whether the Maxims of Equity are as influential today’.
At University, it is no longer good enough to just know, you need to be able to apply.
*Past exam papers and revision materials should be available for individual modules on student central, if you are having trouble accessing/finding them, contact your lecturer/module leader.
Avoid Distractions! – ‘Actually Do Work’
Everyone knows, or knows of, that one guy. That person who comes along to a the library for a revision session, and even though you are keeping your ear phones in, and trying to crack on with an essay; they just have to tell you about their brother’s nephew’s friend’s ex that oh my god you won’t believe it but they are cheating on them again, but that’s none of my business, but and also did you see the football the other day on telly it was great but to be honest I’m not that into football, err this essay is so much effort I really c.b.a – but I tell you what I’m actually really getting into this series on Netflix at the moment and you would really like it anyway I’m quite thirsty shall we go to the cafe and get a coffee?
If you don’t know that guy, then it’s probably you. Or not! But seriously, don’t be that guy.
For this reason, only have revision sessions with friends if you are actually going to revise; just because you all have a page open in your textbooks does not make it revision. Test each other, and discuss topics you are confused on, go through exam questions, anything! As long as you are actually doing the work it’s a great way to revise.
Take Regular Breaks – ‘Don’t Burn Out’
Give yourself regular breaks and time to process the information you are trying to learn. Breaks are essential to help cement what you are learning in your mind; so pace yourself.
The same principle can apply to coursework – spread it out! Each day that you have is as another day that you can look back on the work you have done with a fresh view, and ask yourself:
Does it still flow?
Am I still on topic?
How is the structure?
Am I still answering the question?
Have I reference everything properly?
Do you know how many times I have missed an obvious spelling mistake/grammatical error on my essay till I read it the next day because I was looking at the words on my laptop for so long that they literally started moving by themselves?
Every, single, time.
And that is why breaks are important!
Which leads me onto my next point…
Go to Sleep!
Without it your brain will turn to jelly – Anyone who has attempted an all-nighter at Aldrich knows this all too well. Sleep is when our brain sifts through what we have done that day, throws away the things that we don’t need, and consolidates the things that we do!
You would think that this one would be obvious; but the point is, just because you can do work on four hours sleep, doesn’t mean you should.
Food is literally energy, so make sure you bring some to the library or wherever you are doing work! No one can concentrate properly on an empty stomach. Also, eat actual food, and drink actual water; sugary tripe with make you peak and crash, so eat something real!
Listening to Music
The benefits of listening to music while you work is highly disputed, but what has been shown is that music with lyrics disrupts consolidation and concentration. This is because whether you consciously realised it or not, your brain is split between focusing on two things, and so you are distracted from your work.
To further clarify; if someone is talking to you – it is impossible for you to take in what they are saying AND read a paper AND fully take in what you’re reading at the same time. The same thing is happening with you brain when you listen to music with lyrics, and try to work.
So avoid music that has lyrics, as it is preventing you from doing your work to the best of your ability.
Instrumental versions of your favourite songs are just fine – I personally highly recommend anything by Hans Zimmerman.
Use colours, highlighters, glitter, spray paint, feathers, sequins – Whatever!
Think of your revision notes as a presentation. For most people, if their lecturer gave them a presentation that is nothing but black and white chucks of text – they would switch off.
So why do that to your notes? Make them something you want to read, and make it easy to find the key points, key cases, and key principles!
Oh, and another thing… – ‘The Day After the Night Before’
Just to clarify: you are never going to give the same quality of work you are capable of on a normal day, on a hangover. It is just not possible. Stop lying to yourself, and everyone else, because they already know it’s a myth. In fact, myths have more credibility.
Even if you are 90%, that still is not 100%.
Now, I’m not saying don’t go out! I certainly don’t adhere to that rule. However, what I am saying is if you have revision or an essay due, you would be a fool to jeopardise your grade for one night out.
If your friends want to go out that’s okay, that’s on them! But they aren’t paying £9,000 a year, or if they are, and also have work to do, then they are silly. Either way, they should respect that sometimes you have to prioritise, and you can always go out every consecutive day after the exam so what’s the problem?
DON’T BE A PRODUCTIVE PROCRASTINATOR
So you’ve organised all your text books, made a list of the things you need to revise, highlighted the pages you need to read, made your bed, thought about revision, cleaned the shower, packed your bag for tomorrow, thought about revision, put the kettle on, organised your emails into folders, thought about revision, and oh now I’m hungry, better make some lunch and put on the telly.
No. Stop it. This is the illusion of productivity when in reality you’re just wasting time.
I know, I used to be the queen of this.
Make Yourself a Chart – ‘Track Your Progress’
This is a great way to know exactly what you have, and have not gone through; and what you need to go over again! Any method to help plan and break up your work will benefit you.
This can work easily with individual modules;
Breach of Duty
|Novus actus interveniens
Letang v Cooper
And you can also use it to track your assignment due dates and progress;
Crime, Power, and Harm
Final Project (20/04/17)
For me, I find the best way is having this on the white board in my room:
- Take small breaks often
- Don’t be a productive procrastinator
- Repetition, repetition, repetition
- You are not 100% on a hangover. Stop lying to yourself.
- Only do work with friends if you are actually going to do work
- Don’t listen to music that has lyrics – IT IS CONFUSING YOUR BRAIN
- Be creative with your work; make it so that it is easy to understand, and you want to read it
- Track/monitor your work – that way you know exactly what you have done, and have left to do
- Drinking coffee is not a break, it is a lie, and if you drink too much you will get the shakes
- Eat real food – Crisps and chocolate do not count
- Spread your work out, don’t be that person who has convinced themselves they work well under pressure when you could be doing so much better – Stress free
- You can do the work AND have plenty of free time. It all comes down to time management; master this skill now, you’re going to need it!
- Don’t be that guy. Seriously.
It took me till the end of my second-year till I realised exactly what combination of learning styles and methods suited me best; so don’t worry if you haven’t worked out your best way of working yet!
Good luck on your exams, essays, and assignments – Have a great Christmas and New Year!