14 top study strategies

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An open laptop with chemistry notes on screen.
It’s getting real. As exams approach, here are some key tips to help you find your focus.

1. Create a nice study environment

Though it may seem counterintuitive when you’re in a time crunch, cleaning your study space and setting the mood can make studying much more enjoyable. The last thing you need is those stinky socks that have been sitting on the floor for two weeks adding to your anxiety. Clear up the clutter and clear your mind.

2. Make the ultimate study playlist (or go for total silence)

Ok, this might not be for everyone. Some people prefer absolute silence. Others focus better while listening to loud punk or heavy metal. Making a study playlist can help set the mood of your space and allow you to get “in the zone,” while blocking out minor background distractions. This will help you enjoy your time studying.

If you need absolute quiet, think about investing in some noise-cancelling headphones. Or find a space in a remote corner of the campus when you know it’ll be quiet.

3. Set aside distractions

Your friends and your phone will be competing for your attention. Let your friends know when you’ll be studying and don’t want to be disturbed. It’s also useful to become best friends with your phone’s Do Not Disturb button. Better yet, put your phone in a drawer or give it to a friend to hold for three hours as you study. Those three-second quick-looks often lead to lengthy, daydreamy scrolls.

4. Learn to hack procrastination

Pretty much everybody puts off hard work in favour of fun. It’s human nature to want to avoid uncomfortable things. In fact, procrastination is often more about managing discomfort than about time management. Just start with one thing and focus on it for a few hours. Dive in and do it! It’s important to be kind to yourself. If you’re having trouble, you can always book an appointment with a uOttawa counsellor.

5. Make a list of priorities

When you have several exams coming up and are juggling other priorities, your mind can get clouded. Write down a list of what needs to be done and number everything in order of priority. Identify the most crucial, high-yield topics and key terms within each chapter of your textbooks. Focus on what’s due first and don’t look too far ahead. It’s also a great confidence booster when you get to cross off a to-do and move on to the next challenge.

6. Set realistic, measurable goals

Break up your goals into specific, measurable, attainable chunks. Notice the difference between:


•    “I will study for three exams and finish my paper this week.”
and
•    “On Monday, I will take notes from three lectures. On Tuesday I will create an outline for my paper and review three more lectures. On Wednesday I will create a first draft of my paper,” etc.

Remember to be realistic with yourself about what you can accomplish in one day. For more on effective goal setting, discover S.M.A.R.T. goals.

7. Organize a study schedule and stick to it

Block off dedicated periods of time for studying each subject over a week or two and treat this the same as a class or work schedule. Build in some time for fun and relaxation. Be consistent.

8. Give yourself a reward once you’ve completed a milestone

Once you’ve finished a paper, or studied for an entire afternoon, give yourself a reward, like an evening out with friends, a quick, tasty snack or an episode of The Fall of the House of Usher.

9. Take a walk

When you’re under pressure, taking a short walk can clear your mind and help you ground yourself. It’ll leave you feeling energized and level-headed so you can get the perfect study session in.

10. Remind yourself why you’re doing this

One useful hack is to reframe your mindset. Rather than telling yourself “I have to do this,” start saying “I get to do this.” Remind yourself why you’re here: to learn and gain qualifications for your ideal future. With that motivation in mind, the work seems less daunting and more fun.

11. Write down key concepts on flashcards

Write central concepts of your subject matter on flashcards and teach them to a friend. If you can explain the subject, you’ve nailed it! You can also quiz a study-mate.

12. Join a study group

If you haven’t done so already, consider joining a study group organized by your faculty. Testing your knowledge and bouncing ideas off others who are studying the same subject can really help with recall and memorization. Plus, it’s more social than being a lone wolf!

13. Take care of yourself

Finding the time within a busy schedule to take care of yourself is crucial. A routine can help you stay on track. Practise a regular schedule for eating, sleeping and working out. It doesn’t have to be perfect for you to feel the benefits!


There are also as many self-care strategies as there are people. Here are some ideas to help you de-stress, relax and focus.


•    Physical: walking (optionally, with your dog or a friend), getting regular, sufficient sleep, doing yoga or exercise, taking steps towards a healthy diet
•    Mental: gratitude journaling, reading or baking
•    Social: seeing friends
•    Spiritual: spending time in nature, meditating or praying


As a student, you have access to a variety of health, wellness and support services, including TAO (therapy assisted online) sessions. Learn more about health and wellness resources at uOttawa.

14. Be sure to check out your faculty’s mentoring resources

There’s a lot of amazing, evidence-based tools and words of wisdom from fellow students and experts alike everywhere at uOttawa. Much of it is tailored to specific courses and subject matter, but the same principles apply no matter what you’re studying. Check out these for starters:


•    Faculty of Science Mentoring Centre articles, including: 
o    Final Exams Preparation 
o    How to make a study schedule 
o    How to Memorize
•    Faculty of Arts Student Mentoring Centre
o    New Study Lounge 
o    Arts mentoring centre guides and resources, including tips for exam preparation and memorization 
o    Time management short video workshop and other workshops
•    Engineering Mentoring Centre with individual consultations to help you make a study plan
•    Faculty of Social Sciences Student Experience Centre
•    Telfer School of Management mentorship programs
•    Health Sciences Mentoring Centre
•    Faculty of Law — Common Law Section mentorship programs
•    Faculty of Law — Civil Law Section student services (in French)
•    Faculty of Medicine peer support and services

Good luck!