11 study tips for assignments and exams, from a Birmingham student

This year we’re not pulling last minute all-nighters in the library

Summer exam season is nearly here, and a lot of you are coming up to long library sessions and wondering if you even need a degree. Exams and assessments can seem overwhelming, but remember that preparation is the key for not getting stressed out. Here are a few things you can do now to get yourself ready for assessment season. Put down the VK, open your laptop and follow some of these key tips for success as a Birmingham student!

Start early

Know your deadlines and work backwards from there. Give yourself more time for your assignment than you think you need. It might help to use some mantras – we will not be leaving our work until the last night, we will not lose sleep from panic cramming, we will not age ourselves with the stress of potentially missing deadlines.

If you leave your tasks until the last minute, you do not have enough time to actually finish your tasks to a good standard. You might have brushed this problem off in the past with the simple justification that “first year doesn’t count”, but for many, you’re not in your first year anymore. (Also, first-year grades do matter for year-abroad placements and certain work experience).

Know exactly what you need to do

You can’t do anything well if you don’t actually know what you’re doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s important to know exactly what the assessment involves so that you can work out what you need to do. For example, knowing exactly which topics will appear in an exam instantly makes revising less daunting. Because this first step is extremely simple, it makes starting an assignment easy and prevents further procrastination (to an extent… she’s sneaky).

You can typically find all the essential information for your assignments on canvas. However, if you don’t know where to find things, or are still unsure about what your assignments are asking of you, don’t hesitate to check with your tutors or coursemates. It is essential to start your assignment on the right grounds without confusion.

Get organised

Breaking big tasks down into several smaller steps makes any assignment less overwhelming and more approachable. You will get an even better understanding of what your assignment involves and quickly begin to identify areas of weakness or uncertainty.

Investing in a planner, or downloading a planning app, are both great ways to help you stay neatly organised. For example, Microsoft lists are amazing for creating step-by-step to-do lists and google calendars can help you to block out your work time in a visual manner.

Remember – action is the impetus for motivation, so start with an easily achievable one. You might become motivated to actually start your assignments.

Keep consistent

Every little helps. Tesco didn’t put that phrase on every receipt, shopping bag, and advertisement for no reason. Every small step you take to work towards your assignment will contribute towards the final product. By regularly working on these tasks, like committing to two hours of revision every morning, your work schedule will merge into your daily routine. On the flip side, if you let the tasks build up over time, you will likely become overwhelmed and a race against time will cause you to be consistent(ly working).

With that said, it is important to occasionally take a well-deserved day off. That is completely fine if you can accommodate for it in your revision schedule and that it is just one day off (and doesn’t suddenly become a week).

Get rid of your distractions

Yes, this means goodbye to TikTok scrolling, no more Instagram stalking, stop sending pointless photos of your face on Snapchat (what is the point). No… no one has written a Brumfess about you so stop checking Facebook and your emails are not exciting (and you’re not 40). Put your phone away and find a quiet space to work. Instead, get your dopamine hit from finding juicy quotes from JSTOR.

It might help to set timers and alarms to get away from your distractions. Once your timer starts, promise yourself that your phone goes down and you start working. When your timer ends, you can reward yourself for your work with a few rounds of 8-ball pool or whatever your app of choice is.

Utilise the university’s resources

Whether this involves attending office hours, contacting personal tutors, or utilising the services provided by the Academic Skills Centre, there is plenty available to help with the various aspects of your assignments.

For those who aren’t aware, the Academic Skills Centre is a study skills service situated in the main library. They are super helpful and can assist you with a range of things, such as referencing, proofreading, and help with writing critical reviews. You can use their in person or online drop ins, book a one-one help session or attend one of their upcoming sessions or workshops. Similarly, you can find their information pages on the university’s intranet.

Here, you can watch recordings of previous workshops, and access various online resources. Additionally, CAL students (college of arts and law) have access to AWAS (academic writing advisory services), research students can get in touch with the Research Skills Team and there is also a Maths Support Centre.

Plan, plan and PLAN for coursework assignments

This is such an essential step  that only a few people can get away with skipping it. Think of your plan as your foundation, your framework, your structure, your backbone if you like. As the primary school hit even tells you… build your house (essay) upon a rock (plan), because you don’t want to have to do it twice. It is so much easier to make changes and improvements to your plan than your fully written, formatted, and referenced essay. Also, you can go into as much detail as you like and you write in whatever style works best for you. Just make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself when you end up writing the essay.

There are so many ways to plan your essays meaning that you could get creative and see what works best for you. Some people find that visual planning works best for them, through mind maps, diagrams, and idea blocking. These activities are also great for generating initial ideas and brain-dumping them onto a page. On the other hand, some may prefer to methodically plan on a word document or piece of lined paper. Just make sure to keep track of all your references at this stage (even ones you’re not sure whether you’ll use… better to be safe than called up for accidentally plagarising).

An adequate plan allows you to focus on how to deliver your arguments in a succinct way, rather than what your arguments actually are.

Reference… and do it correctly

Make sure you know what referencing style you need to use, and how to correctly use it. Some people find that using referencing tools, such as EndNote, EasyBib, and Cite This For Me, really helps them to make and keep track of their references. However, some people have reported that they have lost marks, or been called up for their referencing, despite using these tools.

Alternatively, you can manually create your references, using the guidance that is provided on the university’s intranet, such as the university’s referencing guide for Harvard. As some referencing styles vary slightly within different institutions, this will ensure that you are meeting the university’s standards, as they are the ones marking it at the end of the day. Despite being a tedious task, this might be a safer method if you are concerned about losing marks for referencing.

Practice questions

There is no better preparation for any activity than by doing the activity itself, beforehand. Practice questions are super useful for adjusting to the format of the questions and understanding how you go about answering questions. Looking at mark schemes will highlight extra topic areas to be aware of, where your own weaker areas are, and how marks are awarded. The questions in your module’s past papers may also be strikingly similar to the questions that you end up getting in your exam – so don’t think of going through them as a waste of time.

Ask YouTube

Everyone has different methods for finding information, however, in a world where content creation is becoming a popular full-time career, YouTube is filled with videos covering almost any aspect of every topic. Someone somewhere might just be an expert in a topic that you’re struggling with, so it may be useful to try to understand it more visually and conversationally.

Of course, this doesn’t replace other means of research or learning, like textbooks or academic papers but this could be a useful tool in addition. Make sure that you are being selective when taking information off of the internet, as some individuals are likely to publish untrue information. You don’t want to be explaining that you thought that Marie Curie was a philanthropist because ‘Phil’s fun facts’ on YouTube said so.

Look after yourself

Assessment periods can be stressful for many. Make sure that your deadlines and exams don’t get on top of you. Always try to find time to do activities that you enjoy and see your friends. If you find yourself struggling with the workload or any other matters, there are plenty of services available at the university. You can contact your tutor or one of  your school’s well-being officers for a chat. Additionally, you could go to one of the drop-in sessions that are run by Pause@UoB, or book an appointment at Time to Talk .

If you don’t want to reach out for any reason, you could refer to one of the self-help guides that the university recommends or even see what mental health workshops are running (CAL run ones for example). Although they are important, don’t sacrifice your happiness and well-being for work, exams, and grades.

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