#blogging4charity – S is for Study Skills

I have really started to run out of ideas for blogging at the moment. Blogging once a day is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. S was proving to be another tricky letter to write about until just before I sat down I was asked on Twitter about studying for exams! So todays blog is about the study skills I used for college and university for my exams and also for writing essays. Hopefully some of my suggestions will be of use. 

Studying and Breaks

Now before even thinking about the studying I think it is very important to work out breaks. Breaks gives your brain time to absorb what you’ve been reading, watching or listening to. For me, I used to study for 45 minutes at a time with a 15 minute break. I would set an alarm on my phone for 45 minutes so I wasn’t constantly checking my watch and when the alarm went off I would finish reading/writing my paragraph and stretch my legs, have my comfort break and get another cup of tea. I wouldn’t allow myself to leave my studies for that 45 minutes. I could get another paper to read or change from reading to writing, note taking or mind mapping but not wandering or looking for distractions.

After my 15 minute break I would study for another 45 minutes. Usually after 2/3 hours of studying I would take a 45 minute nap as I found my eyes would begin to hurt. I have heard that your brain processes things better when you sleep, but I think I may have been using that as an excuse to myself to have a nap!

Having a structure in place stops me from procrastinating and from having ‘maybe if I did it this way…‘ thoughts, which I do a LOT when studying. It’s the only thing that I kept a constant through college and university.


At university I had a lot of papers as well as books I read for studying, but I know for those at school or at college papers are perhaps used less often. I used to have a lot of PDF papers and books that my computer used to read to me, so I would play the audio and read along when I was finding it difficult to take in the information or if my eyes were starting to struggle. It takes me a lot longer to read, but I always went back to reading as much as I could before exams.

Audiobooks are also fantastic for studying. If I didn’t have the audiobook for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I would have failed my English course at college. I just couldn’t grasp it from reading it alone. The book flew over my bedroom many times and was bitten in my rage at it. As soon as I could listen and read along it seemed to make a lot more sense. I would highly recommend audiobooks in conjunction with the book to listen and read for dyslexic people struggling with English courses at school, college or university. I did use them at university too. It’s not cheating, it’s a resource to be tapped into!

Another great resource that may help when the reading and writing side of things becomes too much is to watch documentaries. BBC documentaries would be of higher value than some of the weird and wonderful creations on Youtube made by Joe Bloggs. While I am sure there are some fantastic independent documentaries on Youtube, if you don’t know who has created it, you may find that the information provided is their own opinion on a topic. I used to watch a lot of BBC history documentaries as well as the likes of Channel 4‘s Time Team series just to break up all the reading with something a little more fun and chilled out but still on topic with what I was studying. Good just to sit back and absorb so your brain doesn’t completely fry!

Papers and essay questions can be useful to narrow down a focus on a topic. For me I found this to be very negative to my own studies. I found that I would become too intense on those topics rather than on the course as a whole. They also lead me to have panic attacks that I didn’t know the answer to that specific question. So I avoided studying in that way and instead did a wide range of reading, listening and watching on the course as I could.


This I think is very individual. For each of my subjects I used a different coloured pen to try to help me to see them as different courses. All my history courses were red (since history is bloody) and my Celtic courses were green (not because of the team, but because it always seems to be the colour associated with all things Celtic). This included when I was note taking for essays or for mindmapping for essays or exams.

Mindmaps saved my life! I wish we had started learning how valuable they are when I was younger. I used them for everything! Including in exams! Before I even started writing an essay in an exams I would circle the questions I was considering answering and then I’d do a mindmap of all the things I knew so I didn’t forget anything and so I could structure the essay. I used them for essays at home too. I never drew doodles with them like some people do, but I’m not arty in that way.

I used to write out all the key points, people, dates etc and I used to bluetack them all over my walls to serve as a visual reminder. I would look them over at any spare moment and try to get them to sink in to my head. I am terrible for remembering dates! I know a rough time period but actual dates I can’t remember. I can’t visualise numbers in my head.

I also used cue cards to try to remember the points in the same way as the notes bluetacked to my wall. That sometimes worked if I could use them with a friend to question me on what wa on the cards. This worked at college but not at university as all my friends were so busy with their own deadlines.

Making things visual helps me to a point, I do take things in more when it’s audio AND visual together. Hence why I used to watch a lot of BBC documentaries before I went into exams. I could remember the combination far better than just reading, just listening or just from pictures.


I know everyone learns differently. I remember my dyslexia support guy telling me about someone who studied better with string. They used to pin notes on their wall but they used to make it like a giant mindmap where each note was linked by a piece of coloured string so they could feel along the string to the note and remember by the colour as to where it went. The best thing is to try different tactics rather than depending on what one person has recommended. It may work for one person but not for another.

I wanted to share what works for me to give people some idea of what works for me to try out. The only thing I would be very focused on sharing with you all is the regular breaks so your brain doesn’t fry!

I used to cram read for 2 day solid before an exam. When I say ‘read’ I do include the audiobook and documentaries to this too, but most of it was reading. The day before an exam I would stop at 9pm, go to bed at 10pm and get up at 4 or 5am to do last-minute cramming for two hours before taking a shower. I would walk to the exam myself and wouldn’t talk to anyone before the exam. My short-term memory is really bad, so that intense focus would help me to remember what I needed to before the exam. But I did stop to give my brain time to settle, again so it didn’t fry.

I listened to music as I studied. I find it very hard to work with distractions. That could be anything from a noisy flatmate crashing about to a lorry reversing to a seagull making a racket on the roof. The music I would use would vary depending on how hard I needed to concentrate. I found that there were certain albums I lived on while studying.

I had some ambient noise which was almost a droning new age album that was meant for relaxation, meditation or sleeping that I played a lot to help me study and to sleep during my dissertation. Other favourites were Sky‘s Sky and Sky 2, Camel‘s The Snow Goose, Clannad‘s back catalogue but especially Legend and Magical Ring. I loved Holst‘s Planets, Beethoven‘s 5th Symphony, Rodrigo‘s Concierto De Aranjuez, Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni‘s Concertos and a Best of Chopin‘s works. I tend to listen mostly to rock and metal, but it was a huge distraction. Anything with words I found distracting apart from Clannad as the vocals are so calming and a lot of them are in Irish, and my Irish is rubbish. To my Irish readers, tá brón orm!


Study skills is a very personal thing. I find the ‘how to study‘ books I’ve looked at just made me more confused. Play about with ideas before the exams, WAY BEFORE THE EXAMS, so you don’t stress out. Breaks are crucial so don’t forget to take them! I hope that some of my study skill ideas help if you have got exams coming up in the next few months. Just remember, the way your friends study might not be the best way for you. Find out what helps you and stick to that.

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Posted on March 23, 2015, in #blogging4charity, Education and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am about to take an important professional exam and I’ve been reading all I can find on studying and improving my study skills. This was an interesting read and like you I also use color-coding (but not for different subjects, just different colors and underlines for facts, people, dates, and explanations so when I go over the text again I’ll only read the important points I have to remember). When I was in college, my method was to read, reread and highlight, write down the important stuff (making comprehensive notes containing all I need to study) and that worked well for me. Studying is very different for everyone I agree… I’m bad at remembering names but I find that I remember them easier when I search for their pictures as faces are easier for me not to forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I am bad with names too but I sometimes struggle remembering faces. I think the more information I have to on the topic and avoid distraction, the better the chance I have. I love highlighters but never used them for exams because I would rarely read the same source twice.


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