No need to suffer: the help and support available to you at university

University is a place for you to grow. A place where you can become the person you want to be. People say that at university you can be independent but it can seem daunting at first, especially if you are living away from home for the first time. All those things that other people may have done for you in the past will now become your responsibility.

There is cooking to do, shopping, washing, studying, socialising and relaxing: in truth it does feel like you are at the deep end when it comes to being independent and looking after yourself.

But that doesn’t mean that you should face it alone. Never suffer in silence if the whole university experience or even your personal life becomes too much. There are so many services and people who can help with a wide range of issues- while this may not be representative of all universities, the information below is certainly true of Essex.

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Nightline: a confidential listening, emotional support, information and supplies service, run for students by students at the University of Essex.

It runs every night during term time from 10pm until 8am. Students can either visit in person where you can enter the Nightline flat at the back of Keynes Tower (North Towers), or you can email or give them a call.

Student Support Hub: The Silberrad Student Centre is the one-stop shop for the majority of student concerns.

Whether it is do with living in university residences; changing your course; replacement registration cards; disability support; exam extenuating circumstances; coping with stress and anxiety; counselling; immigration advice; or funding advice (phew!) the “Hub” will be able to help you.24477446640_ac9b4c7ac7_k

Personal Tutor: All students will be assigned a personal tutor within their department for the duration of their study. These are the people that you can go to with course specific questions, additionally they are also able to signpost you to other services if they feel that they cannot help you personally.

Peer Mentor: Most departments will assign first year students a peer mentor, a student normally in their second or third year. The peer mentor is able to give you honest advice and help from the student prospective. They can also direct you to the specific people or services which can help your position.

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Multi-Faith Chaplaincy: a welcoming place for staff, students and the wider community to meet, interact and engage in a positive and peaceful manner. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the Chaplaincy and its staff are a friendly group and an oasis of calm.

Student Union: As a member of the university you are automatically a member of the student union. This is a service which runs some of the venues on campus as well as being an organisation that is centred wholly around supporting students. There are representatives who handle educational concerns, concerns with welfare and also people who help and represent groups such as BAME students, LGBT+ students, postgraduate and mature students. Their job is to listen and react to your issues.

uni-essex-student-union-ambassador-logo-400x400Health Centre: Hopefully you will never need to use it whilst you are here, but it is important to register with the on-campus health centre in case you do need it. Located behind Rayleigh Tower (North Towers) they provide NHS services from GP appointments to nurse clinics and provide help and assistance for asthma, diabetes, sexual health and contraception.

Talent Development Centre Helpdesk: Located on the ground floor of the Student Centre they offer a number of services including: 1:1 academic advising; Maths support; English language support; and advice on PhD thesis writing.

Whilst your family and friends can be the perfect shoulder to cry on if you need one, there is other help available if you need it. With so much available, never feel embarrassed to ask for more support should you ever need it.

Dealing with pre-exam nerves

Exam season can be a pretty nerve wracking time. It doesn’t help by the fact you’re probably spending late nights in the library, only having an energy drink to keep you awake. Last year, I got so worked up about my exams I ended up having a panic attack in one of them. I’ve since then learned from my mistakes and I am writing this blog to give you tips on how to deal with pre-exam nerves and anxiety.

Have a good mindset: exams are important but not more important than you

Stress in small amounts is good for you. It shows you that you may need to be working harder or that you need to change your revision plan. But a lot of stress…that can really affect your mental health, as I found out last year. If you can’t control something and you are doing the best that you can, then accept it and just do your best!

Last year I had 7 exams in 12 days. I was so stressed about it all and felt so anxious. I was working 9am till 9pm, only taking breaks to eat because I really wanted that 2:1! This isn’t healthy. In my 4th exam I had a panic attack with an exam the next morning too. It was a horrible feeling. But I realise now that I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself. I was doing the best I could and that was what mattered. I couldn’t change the situation, so should have not got so anxious about achieving the grades I wanted. Keep a good mindset and just try your best!

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Take breaks

Everyone has there preferred time of day that they work better. I like to get up early and revise until tea time then have the evening off to chill and have a break from revision.  You might rather sleep in and get up and start doing work about 2 and then do work till later in the evening. You might prefer to do a couple of hours, have a couple hours break, then do some more. But it is important to fit in breaks. You will be far less productive if you don’t! And it is also not good for your mind set if all you’re thinking of all day everyday is revision.

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Make a plan

The more organised and prepared you are, the the less nervous you are going to feel about your exams. Make a revision plan. Plan each day with what revision you are going to do. Spread time wisely across each exam. Don’t leave the exam you hate till the week before.. you’ll feel worse and more stressed for it!

Eat healthily and exercise regularly

I find that exercise is a nice break from studying. Not only does it help me think I’m staying in shape (with all the extra stress food I’m eating), but it also is good for studying because of the hormones it releases. There are certain foods that are meant to help with stress. The one that I always rely on is dark chocolate. I’ll have a couple of squares a day as a treat. Unfortunately, some of the other foods don’t sound so appealing, but they include leafy vegetables, salmon, blueberries, avocados and seeds.

Try relaxation techniques such as meditation

It is important during exam season to relax. Meditation is a great way to do this. It has many benefits such as reducing stress, improves concentration, increases self-awareness and practice benefits cardiovascular and immune health. There are apps you can download that can help you and Youtube videos too.

Over the Easter break I went to a yoga retreat in Portugal. It was my friends idea and after my panic attack last year I thought it would be a great way to de-stress. Here is a picture before a mediation, me standing closest to the camera.

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Exam season can be a scary time, even if you prefer exams over coursework (like me). Remember they will come to a end and the horrible exam zombie you have become will go away. And once they are over, you have a 3 month summer to look forward to! Good luck with your exams 🙂

 

Brain Snacks: the best food and drinks to have when you’re revising

When revising it is important to keep your brain active and yourself motivated to work. This blog is going to give you some ideas of food and drink that you can have either as a snack or as part of a meal to get you through those tough days.

  • Fruit and Vegetables

There are many vitamins, minerals, and ions in fruit and vegetables; therefore they will give you an energy boost. The fructose and healthy sugar in them coverts into energy. Some of the best fruits to have are apples, bananas, berries and avocados.

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• Peanut butter

Peanut butter is not necessarily unhealthy in small portions. It contains healthy fats, similar to avocados, and it has lots of protein. Peanut butter can be put on toast, crackers or even in porridge and it also can store for a long time in your cupboard before expiring. An essential student food!

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• Eggs

These are very filling and a great food for breakfast to start off your day. There are many different ways to cook them; such as boiled, scrambled, poached and fried, therefore they are hard to get bored of! Start your day right with a filling breakfast and you’ll find yourself being more productive!

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• Pumpkin seeds and Walnuts

These have omega-3 and zinc in them, which helps to stimulate your memory. They are a great snack, or something you can add to your main meal, such as a salad.

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• Coffee

This is a great drink to keep you awake! This is sometimes a necessity to get through your studying. Just make sure you don’t over do it!

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• Squash

We all know that water is the best drink to drink to stay hydrated and studies have shown that it can actually help you to perform better in tests. However, it can sometimes get boring, so why not change it up a bit by adding some squash!

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Also, as well as drinking and eating the right things, remember to stay hydrated with water and get enough sleep! These will keep your brain awake and more motivated, so you don’t fall asleep whilst studying!

Opportunities Knock: An example of the possibilities open to you at university

Never let it be said that university is purely for studying. Yes, it does make up a significant proportion of it, but it is only part of the entire university experience. Previous blogs have commented on how it gets you to become more independent, to meet new and wonderful people and additionally for the vast number of opportunities that it opens for you.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that during my time at university I would meet authors and royalty or dress as a cow during welcome week complete with a rubber glove udder (thankfully no pictures survive of this particular choice of outfit!).

University is a place of opportunities that you should take up because you never know where they could lead you.

Last year I was pleased to hear that one of my friends had submitted a proposal to put on a play at the on-campus Lakeside Theatre through an open submission that the theatre regularly holds. Her proposal was accepted and so began the several months of planning and rehearsing.

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The play in question was Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”- not the easiest of plays especially for a student director and current drama students playing the only two characters in the show. Everything about this play had to be based around their studies, their weekly readings and essays!

The Dumb Waiter is a one act play and is certainly a difficult task as the only two characters in the show are, for the most part, constantly on stage. The fact that Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) were able to hold the audience’s attention for nearly an hour is a testament to their acting abilities. The physicality of their performance along with Ellen Pascoe’s skilful directing meant that the show was engaging and visually stunning- who would have thought that the opening few minutes of Gus tying and re-tying his shoes  could prove so funny and watchable?

The story of two hitmen waiting in a basement for their next assignment has a great air of menace about it, with Gus questioning their work and their abilities while Ben follows orders from “above” obediently and without hesitation.

The smaller studio space at the Lakeside Theatre worked incredibly well for this performance. The intimate, black walled room made the audience feel closer to the action and easily replicated the basement room in which the play is set. Better still was the fact that the performance began the minute the audience started to enter room, with the audience having to walk across the stage and past the actors idling on their beds in order to take their seats.

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L-R: Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) in The Dumb Waiter. [Photo courtesy of Rhianna Hughes]

The testament of this great show is demonstrated by the fact that the two initial performances sold out, with demand being so high that a third performance was added at short notice.

Like many things this opportunity was a risk both for my friend Ellen in proposing and directing it and also for the Lakeside Theatre for providing the venue, resources and time for the show. But it paid off spectacularly becoming a resounding success and one of the most popular student show of the year.

I started this blog by talking about the importance of taking risks and the different opportunities that are possible at university, therefore I hope that I have done The Dumb Waiter some justice whilst encouraging you to take hold of all those possibilities open to you.

Campus Boredom Busters

Every so often we all get a little bit bored. Maybe it’s the weekend, you actually have no work to do for once and you’ve watched enough Netflix to last you at least a week. Or maybe you are just plain old bored. It happens to everyone. But with a campus like Essex where there’s always something going on, that doesn’t have to be the way. Take at look at this list of six boredom busters on campus.

1. Play some disc golf

basket-871276857848l3st Ever wondered what this is?

You’ve probably seen those strange metal basket things dotted around campus and absentmindedly wondered what they were. They’re actually holes on the frisbee golf course at Essex. You can get a disc and a score sheet from the reception desk at the gym, it’s only 50p. I can tell you from experience that it’s not exactly easy but it is very fun!

2. Go and see a Cine10 film

Going all the way to the cinema in town can be expensive and a bit of a trek, especially considering we have one right on campus. Cine10 movies are shown in the lecture theatre building and are a great chance to see the latest films without paying top dollar. Recent films include La La Land, T2 Trainspotting and The Lego Batman Movie.

3. Discover a new sport through Just Play

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Just Play is a great chance to try out a new sport or play one just for fun. There are loads of sports you can do for free or a small fee including swimming, ice skating and baseball and more. Just play is how I got into playing hockey and went on to play in BUCS games. It’s also great to go to with friends to see how competitive you can get! Have a look at the timetable here.

4. Visit ESCALA

You are probably wondering what on earth ESCALA is. It stands for Essex Collection of Art from Latin America. The majority of the artwork is housed in a special space in the Constable Building up by Wivenhoe House and you can go and visit it when there are exhibitions and events on. At other times though the art that is in the Silberrad Student Centre is part of ESCALA.

5. Go for afternoon tea at Wivenhoe House

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If you’re feeling fancy, head over to Wivenhoe House for some afternoon tea. Be quintessentially British and treat yourself some scones, finger sandwiches and some pastries. And, of course, they also have a huge variety of tea. If you fancy anything else they’ve also got you covered for dinner!

6. Take a fitness class

I really am not a fan of the gym but I do really enjoy going to fitness classes. Essex has loads of them at the gym. If you’re a member of the gym then they’re free but for all other students they’re £3.50. My favourite has to be yoga but there are loads more like zumba, insanity and dance classes.

So if you’re ever bored on campus or just itching for something new to try why not give this list a go!

How to prepare for the independence of university months before you go!

University isn’t just about the studying and getting a degree. It is also about learning life lessons and most importantly gaining independence. But this is a big step. One day you go from mums home cooked dinner, cleaning (and lets face it she probably packed half your stuff!) to staring at the hob with a saucepan in hand thinking “right how do I turn this thing on?” But this step might not be so big if you do some preparing now.

Step 1: Buy the university essentials

So the first step to preparing for your independence is buying the things you’ll need to cook, clean and survive at university! Things such as saucepans, frying pan, cutlery, iron, can opener etc. Don’t go over board, buying things that you’re not even sure how to use it! Buy the things you’ll think you need. Do you never peel potatoes? Then don’t worry with the peeler! Hate grated cheese? Then leave the cheese grater out! Save yourself some money (which you can then use for freshers!) Starting to buy stuff now eliminates the pressure of having to buy everything in one go and inevitably forgetting something!

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Step 2: Learn to cook your own meals

If you’re anything like me, before I started uni the extent to my cooking was putting pasta in a saucepan or putting bread in a toaster. I had no idea how to cook for myself. And I never needed to, so it was great that going to uni gave me this opportunity. And just a FYI there is no toaster in towers…so you can’t just live off toast like you might be planning on!

Learn how to cook simple and quick meals (as well as cheap!). There are some great blogs on the i am essex blog page to give you ideas on the type of meals you could try at uni. My suggestions would be spaghetti bolognese, stir fry, and sweet and sour chicken. These are all easy meals that involve just a frying pan and saucepan! (You don’t even need to learn how to turn the oven on!)

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Step 3: Learn how manage money

So you’re in the process of applying for your student loan, and soon you will know how much money you’ll have to live off at university. The good thing is you get your student loan in termly instalments so if you go a bit mad first term you have a chance to pull it back!

When you know how much you’ll have each term you can start to work out a budget. How much will I have left once I’ve paid for accommodation? How much can I save for freshers week? Will I need to get a job? If you start becoming aware of the money you’ll be living off you can start to manage it! Check out the i am essex page for blogs on budgeting.

You should also start thinking about student bank accounts. I went for Santander which offers a free railcard and a reasonable overdraft! So if you are worried your spending, you’ll always have that to fall back to!

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Step 4: Learn some basic household chores

Another learning step at uni is learning to clean up after yourself and do some chores! One of the most interesting experiences at uni was every 2 weeks (or as long as I could hold on without doing any washing!) I’d have to carry all my washing across campus to the laundry room and try and work out how to use the washing machine!

Before coming to university it is a good idea to learn how to do your washing and ironing. Don’t be that person that put the red sock in with whites and now the clothes are pink! I have to say I really tried to avoid ironing and I pretty much got away with it apart from that one dress that always creased! Learning to iron is a good skill and you’ll be everyone’s favourite!

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Step 5: Getting ready to become an independent university student

Making these steps will help you prepare to become independent! Next step is to put them to test on your university journey.

The things I wished I’d know about university before starting: Busting the four big myths about university

If you have a strong, preconceived idea about what life will be like at university then this blog may ruin that. If however, you are happy to have those ideas challenged then continue reading. Essentially this is what I wished I’d known about university all the way back when I was a young and naive fresher.mythbusting-min

Myth: Students drink and party all the time

Truth: I would be lying if I said students didn’t drink, of course they do. As someone who doesn’t drink that often, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in at university or that people would pressure me to drink. But that didn’t happen, in fact people have been very accepting. There are tons of people who don’t drink and there are tons of people who do, so there will always be people in the same position as you.

While I can’t speak for other universities, at Essex a great deal of effort goes into ensuring that there is a good mix between events that involve drinking and those that don’t. So there should be something for everyone.

Myth: You’ll meet you best friend on the first day

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Truth: Unfortunately there are no guarantees of this. University is a big place with thousands of people, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to “click” with people. I met someone who I regard as one of my closest friends during the first week of term and the rest of my friendship group evolved over a number of months.

It has certainly been romanticised that you’ll move in or arrive on your first day and meet your new best friend. Having spoken to a number of people this isn’t always the case, but don’t be disheartened as you’ll make friends eventually.

Myth: Everyone will be smarter than me

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Truth: Don’t sell yourself short. Everyone will have come from different backgrounds and will have learnt different things. As an English Literature student I’ve found that the Literature I studied at school is different from the Literature that someone else studied- yet we both have an A-level in Literature.

There will be people who have extensive knowledge in certain areas, but then you might outwit them in another area. Remember one of the points of first year is to get everyone up to the same level of knowledge.

Myth: You have to buy everything before you arrive

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Truth: No! No! No! No! Ok, so you may think that you are a whizz in the kitchen but even Gordon Ramsey doesn’t need six toasters and three kettles!

Firstly, check what the university provides (normally listed on the accommodation pages). Secondly, check if your university allows you to contact your new house/ flat mates- this is something that you can do at Essex and is a great way to make initial introductions and arrange what to bring for communal use. Thirdly, don’t forget that shops exist! So you don’t need to bring a weeks worth of food, a years supply of clothes and all the bedding to last a lifetime. Quite simply you can save space in the car by thinking ahead for the less essential things and buying them at a later date – panic over!

The Homesickness Feels

When you start university in October there are loads of activities to keep you occupied in Freshers’ Fortnight. You’ve got all the stuff going on in the day involving departmental welcome meetings and registering for uni, so you get that handy student loan money. Then there’s all the things happening at night, whether it’s karaoke in the SU Bar, sports fed in Sub Zero or a rock and indie night in Base. Along with your flatmates being in the same position as you in a brand new environment,there really isn’t that much time to miss home. I loved my first few weeks at uni and didn’t go home until the Christmas holidays. Coming to Essex from Manchester, it was quite an expensive and too long of a journey to take just for a weekend. I settled in really well into all of my lectures and class and got on amazingly with my flatmates.

giphy Even The Simpsons get homesick

Pretty much everyone will experience being homesick at some point during university. It can affect some people more than others and happen at any point in the year. For me, homesickness didn’t really set in until I came back after being home for a month after Christmas. I don’t think I realised how much I’d missed my family and friends or how much they had missed me until I went home. By the time I’d settled into being back at home it was time to go back to Essex again. Whilst I was looking forward to going back and catching up with all my friends, part of me just wanted to stay at home.

4gravy You don’t get this every Sunday at uni!

Back at Essex, feelings of wanting to go home would just hit me at any moment. It was never bad enough for me to want to go back home straight away but I’d just find myself cooking my fourth pasta meal of the week and really craving a roast dinner. Even watching Netflix on my laptop with my flatmates made me miss having a TV and a comfy couch to sit on. Usually when I felt like this I would give my mum a call or talk to my friends from home and immediately I would feel better. But it’s not as easy as that for everyone.

On my year abroad here in America, it’s hard not to feel homesick sometimes. The way classes are taught is different, the food is different, the sense of humour is different, even the weather sometimes makes me miss dreary old England! You never really realise how far away from home you are until you want to go back and its a plane ride rather than a train ride away. The great thing about being an international student though is that you know so many other people in the same position and you sort of bond over it. I’ve had so many discussions about the funny little differences that you only really notice living here. Dippy eggs and soldiers are not a thing here, so of course I got my family to send me some egg cups!

If you’re feeling really homesick, talk to your flatmates and friends. I can guarantee that they’ll have felt the same at some point. Call home and tell someone you’re not feeling great. It may sound counter intuitive but don’t actually go home, if you keep leaving uni then it’ll take even longer to settle in. If there is no one you know that you feel you can talk to then pop into SU Advice. You should never feel like you’re alone because there will always be someone willing to help. I promise!

Making Big Life Choices: Getting Past the Fear

Leaving uni is another big step and new chapter of your life. It is moving out of your comfort zone and starting something new. Are you worried about getting a job after uni? Or wondering whether you want to do a Masters? There are many options out there for you to choose from, so it can be a bit daunting, but this blog is here to help you get over that!

Fear of losing fun.

University is possibly one of the most fun times of your life and you may feel that once you leave uni you will miss out and no longer have any fun. However, having a job means that you will have a regular income and you can save up to do fun things with your friends, such as go on exciting, exotic holidays which you may not be able to afford to do at uni!

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Fear of getting a job that you’re unhappy with.

This is why it is good to get an internship, frontrunner placement or part-time job whilst at uni. This way you can filter out what you like and dislike within a working environment. For example, you can find out if you hate working in an office environment, or you may love it!

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What if I don’t get a job at all?

You should start looking in to jobs at the beginning of your final year at uni. Many graduate schemes open around this time and the job usually starts in the September after you graduate. If you get a graduate scheme then this will take the pressure off you throughout the year, knowing that you have a job once you finish uni. It is also good to get an internship over the summer months. This way if employees like you they may offer you a job for when you graduate. You should sign up to job sites online and filter in your job preferences. This way they can email you any jobs that come up that they think will suit your job preferences.

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Should I do a masters?

This completely depends on what you want to do when you finish uni. For some jobs a Masters is needed, so you should look in to this. If you enjoy education and want to stay at uni longer then this could be for you. It is always worth looking in to, but you also have to consider the cost and another year or so where you won’t be in full-time work.

Your life after uni isn’t as scary as you think! Your friends around you are all in the same situation. It’s good to ask people on your course what they are thinking of doing to get some ideas on what’s out there and what might suit you.

Revision techinques

After 6 years of exams I think I have mastered revision now. I know what type of revision to do that makes it more interesting and helps me remember the most information. Often different types of exams suit different types of revision.

My biggest piece of advice for revision is to use more than one method. You could have up to 8 exams. Doing the same thing over and over will get tedious and that is no way to get the material into your brain! Switch it up and make it as fun as possible!

Lecture notes

Writing up a lecture is a great way to start your revision. It refreshes your memory about what you have learnt in your lectures and you can change it into your own words, making the notes catered to you. I like to use colour pens to make each section of information stand out. I will then use these lecture notes to revise from along with the lecture slides.

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Mind Map:

There are several ways you could use mind maps.

  1. You could write each topic in the middle and write around it the important sub headings. E.g for a mind map about Working Memory I explain the different parts such as visuospatial sketchpad, central executive etc.
  2. You could choose a sub heading and write all the information to do with that subheading e.g for a sub heading on Visuospatial sketchpad I would explain what it does and any research to do with it.
  3. You could get a bigger size paper e.g A3 and write out all the important information from one lecture.

 

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Listen Again

Listen again really is a god send. It has saved me sooo many times from when I have gaps in my notes or I didn’t understand something. It is a way of doing the lecture again in your own time! For one of my January exams I was constantly using listen again! A lot of the content was hard to get your head around, so listening to it again really helped me understand it. It also means you can sit at home with a cup of tea and feel relaxed.

Flashcards/question cards

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Once you’re been over material the best way of learning is to test your knowledge! Create flash cards with a subject on one side and the answers on the other and get someone to test you! Or create question cards and test yourself after you’ve gone over a lecture.

Essay plans

If your exam involved writing essays then making essay plans is a good idea! You might go over your lectures 10 times but when you come to your exam you need to actually be able to write an essay. Most subjects will include past papers so that you can have a look at previous exam questions and plan an essay for that question!

Practice questions

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In exams that you have short answer questions or maths questions the only way you’re really going to know if you are doing it right is by practising! If your lecturer hasn’t provided you with practice questions then ask if you can have some… practice makes perfect!

Teaching someone else

Studies have shown that one of the most productive ways to revise is to teach it to someone else. If you have a willing friend/partner/parent then try and teach them some of the material you are learning. Telling someone else the information can help you to have a better understanding of it.

Study Group

A good resource is using your fellow students! Going over and discussing information together means you can help each other and you are more likely to retain the information. It is also a great way to test each other. Get your flash cards and question cards out and learn together! It makes revision more interesting instead of being stuck staring at the same 4 walls! If you are going to use a study group make sure you are actually going to work because study groups could be a negative to studying too!

There are areas in the student centre were you can form study groups or in the orangery zone too.

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Remember to take care of yourself during exam season. Take plenty of breaks and remember you can do this!