This blog post is contributed by Louise Heard, a Level four LLB Undergraduate student, following on from her last post which offered her tips on How to Survive a Study Lockdown.
For me effective study is the key to doing well in exams. It is no longer about how many hours you do, but how much you engage with those materials during that time. Four hours staring at the wall wishing you were outside is far less useful than 2 hours solid study and 2 hours in the garden. Which would you rather do?
Why is Studying Effectively Important? The time is now. If you haven’t begun yet, or if you are far behind, it is never too late to start creating new habits to be better, bolder and more effective. In three months you’ll wish you had started now! This post offers ideas on how to digest information for learners.
I’ll be telling you about the study method that has worked for me studying law with the University of London so far. It’s flexible in nature, but disciplined enough that I have maintained social and work commitments, whilst still being realistic enough to keep on track right up until what would have been my exams in a few weeks! I fully intend to do the same in my further study too. If you’re feeling unsure, overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, maybe you might like to look at my method for some ideas.
HAVE A PLAN
- Divide how much material you intend to cover in how many weeks available depending on your own commitments.
- Be realistic and schedule in ‘break’ days or ‘do nothing’ time as this will be your saviour when you inevitably fall behind due to sickness, work projects or an unexpected event.
- This time to ‘fail’ on the schedule allows flexibility with your plan when life gets in the way. Knowing you have time to catch-up minimises stress if something does happen
- I have a huge wall-calendar from the UoL in the hallway which I wrote in my plan, telling me what to do when. This stops daily procrastination of ‘what to do’.
My study method
TASK: Grasp an overview of the topic for themes.
HOW: I attach my blue-tooth earpiece or have a speaker and listen to any audio lectures provided by the University. At this stage, as an overview, it will be whilst doing a mundane unavoidable task such as exercising, getting ready in the morning, washing the dishes or cooking. It’s okay if I am sometimes distracted or cannot make any notes yet, the importance is to understand the main themes, topics and debates.
2 COURSE MATERIAL
TASK: Read the Module Guide
HOW: Sit down in a quiet space and work through the module guide, annotating the side of the passage summarising what it says and highlighting key cases. You may wish to listen to the audio lecture again making notes this time or viewing the slides. This is a useful stage to make a round of mind-map notes. It can be scribbles on the back of a piece of paper or in a note-book to see how much information and cases you have to incorporate into our beautiful notes later on!
TASK: Read the compulosry textbook and essential readings
How: This is best done at your study desk where you can annotate and make notes to engage with the key material. Look for topical areas, or academic opinions. If you are time constrained, reading ‘on-the-go’ is a better than not reading them at all ie. reading while you are waiting or travelling. Or when you first wake up you can set a goal to read a certain number of pages instead of using social media. Find time in your schedule.
3 MIND MAPS and NOTES
TASK: Make a Mind Map or Notes!
HOW: In my allotted study time I will look at my overall topic notes and see how this week’s readings I’ve done ‘on-the-go’ are shaping up my knowledge of the topic.
At this stage you can create big beautiful mind-maps bursting with colour or logical lists and tables! It may seem a superficial exercise, but the revision of cases, legal principles and notes collated on another page is forcing you to read through the material without realising and is ‘learning’.
HOW do I mind map?
- As I am note-taking the essential elements of a topic, I can understand the key pieces of information to master the topic. I sub-divide these into categories and create headings and plan out a space on the page.
- Using a colour coding system – I start with everything in black / blue or pencil, and draw arrows or numbers to show how I should process the information. For exam essays, perhaps this will help remain methodical in my approach, ensuring no key areas are missed.
- I begin to fill out the topic with a birds eye view of the key areas, and then add all the key information I recalled earlier in their various colours and shade. I draw boxes around the key cases or principles and colour them in later – again making me revise it as I’m colouring in and reading what it is. It is also beautiful to look at, making me more inclined to put them on my wall, or get them out when writing practice exam answers or presentations.
These mindmaps might not make sense to someone else, but the entire process of creating my own is ‘processing’ information and creating memory bridges to the essential texts and cases I have read. This act of pulling in information again and again, is study in itself. Then by colouring and shading, I am going over the information in a methodical manner, but it is also known that quiet activities such as colouring are good for mental-wellbeing. For my own satisfaction, I can visually see my progress.
My Tip: Use different coloured highlighters for different aspects i.e. pink for academic opinions, orange for cases. Try to use this palette in the same way throughout the course so your brain identifies the colours and helps memory.
You might have your own way of mapping your study or you might have to experiement to see what works for you. If you aren’t a visual learner, and more practical, you may like to create flash cards instead or take part in online quizzes.
4 EXAM QUESTION
TASK: EXAM PRACTICE!
HOW: Once you’ve covered a topic, even just a first round, start to collate some academic opinions. Read around the topic by identifying key decisions, reforms and criticisms – which areas of law are up for debate? Has the law reformed? Does it need to be reformed?
Then it is the time to attempt an exam question. This is useful for identifying gaps in your knowledge! For my first attempt, I would use my books and notes to create ‘the ideal answer’ then revisit the topic a few weeks later to try again with less revision notes. Prior to the lockdown I had been carrying out this stage by hand – which would have been useful practice if the exams were still to be by hand, and next year I will do the same, just in case it is by hand. You don’t want aches and pains to slow you down in the exam. Now I’m practising typing answers in the time allocated so I’m ready for July.
THE LAST LEG
I followed all the above steps which worked for me and lockdown has given me extra time to perfect my exam technique. I find I am suffering less exam-related stress than anticipated as I feel a bit more confident and prepared that I have covered all the material in depth.
All this is only MY study method that works for me as it allows me to have an overview of topics, delve into it then add with the readings. I do the readings last so I know a bit about the topic already and don’t find it overwhelming and dry to read.
Does anyone else have a study method or tip that works for you? If so, feel free to please post a comment.