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Damage control: how to get back on top of your study

Here you are again.

You’ve procrastinated yourself into a massive hole, haven’t you?

After all those promises you made yourself, you’re staring down the tracks at a fast-approaching exam and you can’t seem to make your legs move.

You have a few options here, but they all basically boil down into two:

  • Stay under that torn, self-disgust stained blanket and google ice-cream delivery or,
  • Get up and get to work.

Obviously, wallowing in your own misery is a seductive option but let’s choose to fight back against your worst self-destructive impulses and get to work, work, work, work, work…

1: Damage Report

You know you’re behind.

Do you know how far?

At the moment the actual workload you’re facing is probably an indistinct writhing mass of horror. Let’s drag that nasty into the light and see what we’re dealing with.

Throw open the curtains, fire up Blackboard and go through your subjects, one by one, making a list of what you need to catch up on and what is hiding around the corner.

2: Damage Control

Start to prioritise; don’t fall further behind trying to catch up – go to your lectures, do the upcoming readings and complete the coursework, assignments and quizzes that are imminent before you start trawling back through past weeks.

Be tough. Stop lying to yourself. Not starting, leaving it to tomorrow, and falling into a YouTube spiral is what got you here in the first place.

You need to begin. That’s half the battle, once you actually force yourself to get busy, momentum will carry you. Plot what you need to do on a calendar. Break your tasks down into small chunks and arrange them across the days you have remaining. Once you have a timetable, follow it.

I’m very visual, so I like to colour code things, prioritising with red, orange and yellow and changing things to green when completed, this gives me a little reward and a visual guide to my progress.

Speaking of rewards, it’s important to make time for yourself too – you still need to eat, sleep, exercise and see friends or you will lose your mind and burn out. As bizarre as it sounds, timetable some procrastination – have a shower, watch TV, go for a walk, clean the kitchen, numb yourself on Facebook. Sometimes you need a distraction to stay focused.

3: Damage Repair

Find the learning outcomes for each week you have missed and use them to target your study.

Listen to the lectures on Capture, making sure to make notes and highlight key words and concepts. If you have access to old exam questions on Blackboard you can gain a good understanding of what the key themes of the lecture are.

When you’re in the weeds, it can be tempting to concentrate on the things you already feel confident with. Stop that! Spend your time on things you are struggling with and the topics you hate. They’re the things that are going to crush you in the exam. They can smell fear. Let them know who is boss. If you’re really stuck on something that just refuses to settle into your brain, email your course co-coordinator, lecturer or tutor and they can help guide you through it.

Try to apply theory, equations, formulas and concepts to your life, or things that are relevant to you. This can help you internalise them, making them easier to remember and apply in an exam.

Beware the threat of ‘procrastistudy’ – aka where you get sidetracked by something interesting in your work but forget what you’ve actually sat down to do. Senior Learning Advisor Allison Hillier, suggests the best way to get work done is by working in smaller time frames.

“If a student would normally try and do three or four hours of ‘study’ in one go, they should split the hours available into smaller parts,” Allison said. “Maybe after 45 minutes of going through one part of the course, take a 5 minute break to get a drink or stretch your legs, and then do another 45 minutes on a different aspect.”

“Lather, rinse, repeat and hopefully this means that revision will happen but it’s in smaller doses so it doesn’t feel as onerous as ‘omgIhave7hoursandIabsolutelyhavetofinishsummarisingthiscourseinto2pagesformycheatsheet’ *switches screens to Instagram*.”




They’re not just there to torment and bewilder you, they help flesh out the content, provide tangible examples of theory and support the lecture themes. If you’ve been skipping a lot of readings, make sure you at least read the abstract, introduction and conclusion while making notes.

However, a better alternative would be to approach a few people in class and form a study group.

4: Damage Inc.

I guarantee your fellow classmates are all freaking out at this point in the semester as well. Feeling the crushing weight of work piling up is the juicy part of the bell curve when it comes to student life, and you’re not alone.

A great way to churn through a pile of work you haven’t done is to form a group of classmates and assign a few readings and lecture summaries to each person. Sharing the workload amongst a group is much more effective than hate-reading a whole semester of work by yourself, and not understanding a word.

Divide the lecture summaries and readings between the group and catch up together before class every week until exams. If each member absorbs and summarises a few readings and lectures a week, reporting these findings back to the group, you can save an amazing amount of stress, frustration and time.

Struggling to form a study group? Attend a PASS session. PASS classes are basically group study sessions led by a fellow student who previously excelled in that course. They’re a great opportunity to compare notes and work through difficult course concepts with your peers.

Finally, if you still feel like you’re digging down rather then up, speak to a learning advisor. They can help you focus your study, develop a plan and give you tools that you can use to drag yourself out of the quicksand, and hopefully stay out.

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