How to spread your workload throughout the semester

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had to deal with the procrastination monkey one too many times. So since we’re about to embark on one of the toughest subjects of the semester, which is basically cell biology, genetics, bio chemistry and histology combined, I’ve devised a plan to make my work load look more like this:

And less like this:

This is sort of the same strategy I implemented back when I studied English literature, so you can apply this to whatever type of subject you want. So without further ado, here’s my three step plan to mastering difficult subjects:

1.      Before:

·        Review all the relevant previous exams and gather the different exam tasks into sub-sections. In my case this would be pairing the histology tasks in one document, and the bio chemistry ones into another.

·        Gather all the recommended group tasks/coursework into bundles with the corresponding exam tasks. Here I usually create a folder named “histology” for instance, or any other sub-section of the course, and throw in the corresponding exam task document.

·        Get a complete overview of when each lecture is held, and what the required reading is for that particular lesson. After you’ve done this, print out the exam tasks, the group tasks/coursework, and a “front page” to go with each sub-section of the subject. The front page should state:

  • When the lessons in the topics that match the tasks are held
  • What the required reading before each class is
  • What the “benchmarks” are for each of the sub-themes. These are learning goals that Norwegian universities are required to notify the students about, and should specify what the school expects you to know before the exam. You can easily create your own list of “benchmarks” by noticing patterns in the exam tasks, and correlate it with the coursework/required reading/the themes for each lesson.

2.      During:

·        Before each class, skim the required reading. Write down three things that you want to ask the professor about. If it doesn’t come up in class, ask in one of the breaks.

·        Take good notes, add your own thoughts and things you want to research on your own. Rip them out after class, organise them, google/read up on the things you feel like you didn’t get thorough enough notes on, and place the notes in the correct sub-section of the folder.

·        Try to figure out some of the coursework on your own, and work on the correlating exam tasks for -at least- an hour per day. I will write more on how to stay focused in another blog post, but the gist of it is that I turn my phone to airplane mode, put it away, turn on some ambient sounds (click here or here), put on a timer for 25 minutes, and work in short increments with 5 minute breaks in between. The breaks should be used to move around, not to fall into an internet hole of cute cat videos or scrolling through Instagram. You will not get out of there, trust me.

o   Also, don’t give up without trying. Even though you feel like you’re just banging your head against the wall, and that you aren’t getting anywhere with your work, just thinking about a problem will help you to be able to solve it at a later point. Sometimes it even helps to sleep on it.

·        Use colloquium/discussion groups and talk aloud about what you understand, and what you don’t understand. This is one of the best ways to learn, and I will write an entry on how to get the most out of your study groups in a later Wednesday entry.

3.      Final prep:

·        Make a list of the things that you don’t fully understand. Form these things into proper questions.

·        If you can’t figure it out on your own, go to your professor during office hours and ask him or her about it, and take some notes while talking to them.

·        Go to all the mock exams, and use them as a guideline for your revising.

·        Try to emulate an exam-like situation where you set aside some time to take one of the old exams without any help.

  • If you can’t set aside the full exam time in one day, which I won’t do, since the exam is 6 hours long, split it into two or three increments. However, you should still try to keep it as similar to the real exam situation as possible.

·        This last one is optional, and I don’t know whether it will work in vet school, but in previous subjects I’ve created posters for each of the subjects sub-sections, and tried to fit it all onto one A4 or A3 paper. This way you have to find the essence of every “benchmark”, and formulate it in your own words. By creating your own images or short summaries you’ll remember it better. This step can be replaced by making your own flashcards, which is something I want to try out this semester.

Next week marks the beginning of the second subject of vet school, which is about animals used in research, and the ethics surrounding the lab animal industry. We will have lectures from different organisations, talk about the many different industries that utilises research animals, the ethics, the legal requirements, how to monitor the animals’ healths, and many other aspects of the industry. I think it will be an eye opening, and possibly difficult experience. Until then, let me know if you have any study routines in place for the new semester!