Plan, Study, Break: productivity in exam season

With exams and essays lurking over us, everyone can do with a reminder of important things to remember about our study methods; from how to approach exam season to what to relax in the middle of it. 

By Matt Mullenney


Plans can look very different from person to person; they can be anywhere from strict and scheduled to a to-do list. Personally, I like somewhere in between, enough to give me guidance, but loose enough to adapt if my day isn’t going as I thought it would. What’s most important is that we aren’t throwing ourselves into studying without knowing what we’re going to do. This can often leave us feeling lost, or that we’ve not made the best use of our time.  

In making a plan, it’s helpful to ask the following questions: 

  • What’s a reasonable and realistic amount of work to set myself? 
  • Don’t ask too much of yourself. It’s also refreshing for you to switch between topics. Studying one topic all day can be very boring. 
  • Have I left time for breaks? 
  • As below, it’s important to leave time for you to be away from your computer and books! 
  • Is there time to reflect? 

It’s helpful to set aside some time at the end of the day to recap what you’ve done

An open notebook with stationery items and a cup of coffee above, with a green plant to the right
Image credit: Lum3n


So, you’re sat down at the desk, ready to go. What kind of things can you do to make the best use of your time? 

Eliminate distractions! 

If you’re doing silent study with a friend, make sure you both know it’s silent. Most devices have app blocking features so you can’t go on the biggest distraction of all, social media, but there are also great apps like Forest (which rewards you for not going on your phone) 

Keep asking questions! 

This can be helpful in two ways: it can challenge you on your understanding of a topic, but also helps readings by identifying the thesis and key evidence in papers. 

Take notes! 

There are plenty of systems out there, so one or a mix might be best for you. Make sure they’re helping to identify key information or words, and then supplementing those with further explanations 


Wow, time for a break already? There certainly are more refreshing breaks than others- what can we do to have a good break? 

Get distanced! 

Step away from the books! Depending on the length of the break, you might need more or less distance. If it’s a short break, it might not be so much- make a cup of tea, do a sudoku or some breathing exercises. Refresh yourself, without leaving your work for you to never come back to! If it’s a longer break, why not get some exercise? Or at the very least get some fresh air! A change of scenery will definitely help take you relax! 

Switch them up! 

Keep what you’re doing in your breaks diverse. Doing the same thing every time might make your break activity feel like an extension on your studying! 

Keep your workspace clear! 

A cluttered workspace may subconsciously be making you feel cramped! Close any documents and tabs you aren’t using. Clear away your coffee cups and food wrappers. Clearing your desk helps clear your mind! 

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