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Dealing with distractions

I might just quickly just check my phone. I need to create a new playlist before I start revision. I’d better put on some washing. Does this sound familiar to you?

We can all get distracted when studying or when we have things we don’t want to do. During exam time particularly it’s really important to work out what is taking up your time so that you can avoid distractions and maximise your revision.

Track your time

Keep a time-use diary and list what you do each hour. After 24 hours, identify your patterns and see where you might be able to save time. Looking at time in blocks helps you be more productive.
For example, are you spending too much time on these activities?

  • Reading or watching TV
  • Re-writing notes
  • Catching up with friends
  • Checking social media
  • Online games or browsing
  • Cleaning or organising things
  • Once you know where your time’s going it’s easier to manage it.

    Create digital discipline

    If you’re distracted by emails or text messages, turn off your phone or lock it away while you are concentrating on study. You can even schedule in specific blocks of time for calls and emails. You can also use apps to restrict access to sites that may tempt you away from your revision. Check out these tools:

      RescueTime to track your time on websites and apps.
      Cold Turkey allows you to schedule blocks when you need them or simply reduce distractions by adding pomodoro-style breaks or allowances.
      SelfControl is a free and open-source app for macOS that lets you block anything on the Internet.
      StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on study.
      LeechBlock NG is a simple productivity tool for Firefox to block those time-wasting sites.
    Avoid procrastination

    It’s more common to avoid things when you feel overwhelmed with a task. Use a study plan to break down your revision into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each topic or unit. Use checklists and quizes to test yourself and identify what you need to focus on. Perhaps reward yourself with a coffee or treat when you check something off the list.
    Try to be selective with your reading and always read with a purpose in mind. It can help to have a set of questions you want to answer.

    Maximise your time

    We are all different so it’s important to work out when in the day you concentrate best. If you’re more productive in the morning, try organising your time so you study early in the day and take breaks or socialise later on. Or if you’re a night owl you can use the morning to relax or exercise and plan your study for the afternoon. It’s important to schedule regular breaks so that you are working at your best.

    Set yourself up for success

    Find a place to study where you won’t be interrupted. Some people find it easier to concentrate in the library or a quiet spot on campus than at home. Music and background noise can make some people more productive. You could try classical music, movie or game soundtracks, or ambient sounds (rain, waves, birdsong etc.) to help you stay on track.

    Change your mindset

    It’s easy to feel like it’s Ground Hog Day when you are studying for large blocks of time so make sure you give yourself incentives. Arrange something to look forward to after your study session, or include something fun to do in your breaks. It can also help to change up the order you study in. It may help to start with what you find easier or more interesting. This can help you feel more positive and settle in to study mode.

    Learn to say no

    You may have made a detailed study plan, found ways of dealing with the things that distract you and been really disciplined but you still don’t have enough time! It could just be that you’re trying to do too much. If you have too much going on in our life you might need to say’no’ more often – even if it’s just during exam time.

    Top tips for exam prep

    Near the end of the semester it can be such a relief to hand in that last assignment or submit that final blog post, but for most students the work is far from over. Preparing for exams can be a real challenge when motivation and energy levels are low so it helps to have a few effective strategies in place.

    Set up your study environment
  • Display your timetable and let everyone in the house know you are preparing for exams
  • Set up a dedicated space for study to help you focus
  • If you’re studying in the library choose a quiet spot and use headphones to block out noise
  • Create a plan for the exam period – including relaxation/sleep habits/nutrition/exercise
  • If you live alone prepare meals in advance and freeze them for easy access during exams
  • Think about how you can limit distractions such as online notifications, chat and social media
  • Own your time
  • Make a detailed timetable for each exam (unit) – try concentrating on one per day
  • Make sure you know the details for each exam – log in to Blackboard for updates from lecturers
  • Check that you understand the type of exam that you will be doing
  • Organise and store revision notes so that you can refer to them easily
  • Break your study into 30-minute chunks and plan exactly what you will focus on
  • Try different methods to revise content
  • Summarise the key points for each week’s topic
  • Quiz yourself to identify what you need to work on
  • Use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you.
  • Make a list of things you’re not confident about you may want to do
  • Create your own set of questions to answer
  • Find a study buddy and test each other
  • Try any practice tests that are made available to you – note what you found difficult
  • While it’s important to have a study plan and stick to a routine don’t underestimate the power of a break. Give yourself a morning or afternoon off during exam time. See friends, go shopping, watch a movie, do some exercise. Taking some time out will refresh you so that you can return to study with a clear mind and purpose.

    And, if it’s all getting too much for you make sure you reach out for support. Talk to friends, family, peers or access the free services at QUT Student Counselling and Welfare.

    Make sure your mental health and wellbeing are a priority!

    How to prepare for your timed online assessment

    When it comes to any type of assessment the key to success is preparation. This is no different for online assessment tasks and exams. Having a clear head and being prepared can make a huge difference to the outcome.

    Preparing the technology
  • Update and double check required software (e.g. RStudio, MATLAB, Mozilla Firefox, etc).
  • Install Mozilla Firefox; this is the recommended QUT browser for online assessment (Internet Explorer and other browsers may cause issues).
  • Restart your computer to free up any memory.
  • Once restarted, only open the apps you need to complete your assessment.
  • Check your unit’s Blackboard site and HiQ for who to contact if you need support.
  • Preparing the space
  • Let your housemates/ family know when you plan to begin your assessment.
  • Set up your desk with only what you need
  • Get comfortable; make sure your chair, desk and computer are arranged at an appropriate height and angle.
  • Address any potentially annoying distractions in the room (e.g. creaky doors, loud ticking clocks etc).
  • Ensure the space has good lighting.
  • Preparing yourself
  • Have notes ready and pages bookmarked; organise them into themes or categories and use labels to help you find things quickly.
  • Plan time for your assessment; allocate time blocks to peruse, answer and revise the different sections. Also allow enough time toward the end for uploading files.
  • Turn off your other devices to avoid being distracted by texts, phone calls, notifications, etc.
  • Take 5 minutes before you begin to do some light stretches and breathing.
  • During your assessment
  • Read all instructions carefully.
  • Stick to your time plan – don’t allow yourself to be stuck on one question or problem.
  • Check that your answers are inserted correctly and are in an acceptable format for the system.
  • Follow all directions regarding academic integrity. QUT has systems in place to check for this.
  • Tests can be set up with different options, so each test you take may be different to one you have taken before. Your lecturer, tutor or unit coordinator may give you details about the test’s settings, and you will also see a screen summarising the settings as you enter the test. Check out Preparing for Exams for more tips on revision and time management.

    Procrastination is your enemy during exam time

    Procrastination is the art of putting off until later what you could do right now. We all do it but unfortunately it’s one of the most common reasons for poor performance during exams. If you want to ace your exams then studying needs to be the most important thing you do.

    So how do you make it a priority? Check out these strategies to help you stay on track for exams.

    Own your study space

    Creating good study habits relies on finding a space in which you can be most productive. This may be somewhere quiet where you’re on your own or it may even be in a space where you are surrounded by people and noise. Some people listen to music while others require absolute silence to study. Whatever works for you. The key is to find your preferred space and stick with it so you can create a consistent study routine.

    Make a plan

    It seems obvious but careful planning is essential for effective exam preparation. Make sure you know exactly what is going to be covered in each exam – check Blackboard for unit outlines and any other information about the weeks or topics included in the exam. Then plan out each day of your study period by dividing your available time into chunks of 30 mins to 1 hour. For each time slot plan what unit and topic you are going to revise. You can break this down even further by creating a checklist for each topic and ticking things off as you go.

    Get organised

    Once you have a plan in place the next step is to arrange all your notes from lectures, tutorials and readings into some kind of logical order. Use unit outlines and lecture topics to organise your notes and rewrite the main points. Try and add diagrams and mind maps to connect the content where possible. If you don’t understand something or need more information then do some research so that you feel more confident about answering any quesions about the content. Summarise each topic further to about 2-5 pages by rewriting only the major points. Then just before the exam condense your notes down to one page.

    Test yourself

    One of the best ways to revise content is to test yourself or have someone else test you. Access any practice exams that have been provided and use chapter quizes from your textbooks to help with sample questions. Create a bank of questions or use flascards to keep checking your knowledge and understanding. You can use apps such as Quizlet or stick to hardcopy cards to carry around with you. This is an effective way of identifying gaps and prioritsing which topics your need to spend more time on.

    Take a break from social media

    We all know that surfing the net and social media can take up huge amounts of our time. You might start out checking a few messages and then find yourself spending a couple of hours scrolling through social media or watching videos. Why not take a complete break during exam time so that you can focus on your revision? If you can’t give it up altogether then make it part of your daily study plan so there’s a limit to how long you spend online. For example, allocate an hour at night or at lunch time when you need a break from study.

    Access resources and support

    Sometimes the stress of preparing for exams can lead to anxiety, depression and fear which stops you from being productive. If you find yourself struggling emotionally reach out to family, friends, peers or uni support services.
    You can also access free, confidential counselling by qualified professionals.

    Check out other QUT resources for successful exam prep.

    Preparation is the key to exams

    There’s so much you can do to make exam time easier. Preparation is truly the key to exam success, yet the reality is, many students leave revision until the week, or night before the exam itself.
    Here are a few common strategies to help get you in the zone:

    Before the exam

  • Plan out your time using a study planner or time management app.
  • Try to remove distractions so you remain focused.
  • Make notes and then make notes of notes.
  • Find out what type of exam it is and if there are past papers you can look at.
  • Check where and what your exam is and note the details.
  • Check Blackboard for notes or guides from your lecturers on what to study.
  • Eat healthily and sleep well, also try to limit your alcohol intake.
  • Exercise and look after yourself.
  • Study with friends.
  • The night before the exam – pack the things you need in your bag: pens, pencils, calculator, water, student ID, snacks and briefly look over your notes. Set an alarm and then allow yourself time to relax.
  • On the day of the exam – leave home early, take your bag, and remember to breathe.
  • During the exam

  • Read all the questions and if allowed, mark the ones you are confident answering.
  • When allowed, write down anything you can think of in bullet point form while reading the exam paper.
  • Look at how much questions are worth, allocate your time, and answer accordingly.
  • Work logically through the questions you know you can answer and then work on the remaining questions.
  • Don’t get distracted by other people. They have their own strategy for answering questions, so you shouldn’t compare yourself with them.
  • Check out QUT’s guide for preparing for exams to access more resources.