Look, another personal one. Well, I hope it’s one you end up being a little wiser after reading. I have absolutely no clue if that will be the case (or if it should be that way, since I definitely don’t know if any of the stuff I have to say is to act upon). But before you skip this one right here, just let me say, I lived and I downright didn’t think I would. So, that’s something.
I’m a natural worrier. I over-think a ton. I’m also a perfectionist. Yet, a lot of things don’t come easily to me. I’ve always had to work a lot to do well. To some gifted humans out there it’s all quite natural, they can do well in all different kinds of fields without making the greatest possible effort. I’m not one of them. My special field is languages, no matter if it’s my mother tongue, which is German, English or French. I have a sense of feeling to rely on there, but I still worked so much for them, yet that was more due to my sense of perfectionism and wanting to do more than just well in assignments, exams or class in general. But no matter whichever type you are, if you have a special field or if you don’t, senior year can be quite overwhelming. I’ve been there, but I lived. Here’s what I believe helped me get through in one piece:
- Don’t study with the same notes you wrote in class. I know, this might sound strange and sometimes there isn’t enough time to do it, but at least re-write your notes for an exam. I will never stop talking about how much more effective this is. If you study with the notes you took in class, you don’t have to think about the content again and you’re likely to just learn the words by heart. If this is what you do, then it’s possible that you don’t fully understand a topic, even if you’ve studied it several time. So, if a bigger exam is approaching, take the time and go through your notes again. Think about what knowledge you really need for it. Collect it, rearrange it, if it makes more sense in a different order (yes, that can happen!!). Read about it in books and on the internet to widen your knowledge or solve problems you might have with the topic. I’ve been doing that all the way through middle school and high school for almost every exam in all kinds of different subjects. It really helps. I promise. It gets you to a whole new level of understanding.
- But I have another tip to add here. Everyone studies differently. There are people who memorize information best by listening, others by looking at it, …and far more than only these two kinds. Try to figure out which study-type you are. At the very start of high school a teacher of mine had my class turn the information of a text into little pictures, using as little key-words as possible to support them. I still have the sheet from that class and it was only a little later that I realized I was that kind of visual type. When I studied for an exam with my class notes I’d often know how the paper with the information looked like or where on the page it was situated, even if I could not remember the content. But not only do I still have that sheet of paper, I still remember the illustrations and the information they stand for. Visualization makes me study more effective, a lot faster. I need a lot of time to remember things, normally. I have to start studying far in advance to even have a chance to really get the knowledge through to me. Often times that time is simply nonexistent during A-levels. So I got back to doing doodles and it saved my life. Never would I have been able to pass my advanced history exam without it. The trick behind it is simple and you really don’t have to be a talented artist. The little symbols you come up with to remember content are for yourself and yourself only. Strangers often aren’t going to figure them out and they don’t have to. What’s important is that you do. The illustrations are something your mind can cling to while reproducing the knowledge during the exam. There are three steps to take when you want to study like this. 1) Make up the doodles based on the key-information. 2) Repeat the information to yourself only by looking at the symbols. 3) Repeat the information in your head only, going over the symbols in front of your inner eye …and there you are. (If you have any further questions about this, sure let my know and I’ll do my best to help!)
- Take time off (even if it’s hard). I can’t say I really mastered this myself, but I highly recommend you to at least try. The point I’m trying to make is that breaks can be more effective than studying straight on for hours. Sit yourself down and tell yourself you’re going to take on one topic for thirty minutes and power through. Get something done and then go for a walk. Or read a few pages. Do whatever you enjoy, but find something that relaxes you, that takes your mind off things for a bit. My go to options during A-levels were taking a bath, going for a walk, journaling, napping, going out for coffee, meeting a friend or doing yoga, but it can be anything. Just maybe make sure to stay away from your phone, because when you spend all of your break scrolling through Instagram feeds of people doing anything except for studying that’s not going to brighten your day. Actually do something during that break, act like you’re not going back to work in a few minutes. Then sit yourself down again and study actively for another short amount of time. If you feel like you’re in a zone, keep going. You’re doing an amazing job xx.
- Try not to over-think and don’t dwell on what belongs to the past. It’s that nudging feeling going out of an exam that didn’t quite go as we would’ve wished it would have gone and then thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it. Then crying. Then thinking some more, going through all the What-If-Situation. “If I would have studied even harder, stayed up longer, this might have gone differently.” Going through all the questions in your head, counting points, googling answers. I’ve done this. Several times. It’s definitely not healthy and it doesn’t help your overall progress. It gets you right to the academic bottom you never want to hit. All you can do is write it off. It happened. You tried. You did your best. Move on. Just keep going. You’re still going to get there. It’s all going to be okay and believe me, one exam, maybe even one whole subject, or two, are never going to give your certificate the death blow you imagine right now.
- Get organized. This is one of the basics, but it just had to make this list, because planning and organizing and writing a hundred To-Do lists partly got me through too. I even got a little note pad that says “I love lists” and I really do. To make it easier just get a nice calendar or planner you will enjoy carrying around and writing in. Keep track of everything going on. What you want to do (to relax), what you want to do if there is time (school work only due in a week, for example), what has to be done (school work due the days ahead) and what you need to do (like cleaning, going to an appointment, ect.) for example. Get it all mapped out. Make lists. Tick things off as you go. Feel achievement setting in as you get things done.
- Take naps. Yes, I know, there’s not much time for sleep, but if you are tired take a nap in the afternoon. When I came home in senior year I took a nap every single day. Half an hour already helps. Even twenty minutes would help and if it ends up being an hour, so what? You need sleep. I was really sleep deprived during my last year of school. I only got to bed between 0 and 1 am and had to get up at 6. It was great fun, but yet, here I am. Thank you for getting me through, naps! This one goes to you! Which brings me right to…
- Always carry coffee and food with you. Fuel your brain, fuel your body. Don’t skip eating and no, not even breakfast. Breakfast is where it all starts. Yes, I get the no time thing, but then have something simple. An apple, a banana, yoghurt, cereal, juice, toast. Or have something ready the night before! There is a genius thing called overnight-oats and it’s really good. I’m serious, please eat. And don’t get me started on coffee. I don’t think I would’ve graduated without coffee (I’m kidding, a little). No, my point is, if there is something that can accompany you while studying, that you’re passionate about then that’s to you what coffee is to me. Sitting down to study with a cup of coffee always felt better than sitting down “alone”, if you get what I mean. This brings me to my last tip…
- Create an atmosphere you feel motivated working in. Keep your desk clean, but make it a little personal too. Decorate it, if you feel like it. Put up photos, line up your pens, whatever. You name it. This is your space. This is where you’re going to get that work done. Make it yours. My most loved study-setup will always be Ava (my dog) sleeping beside me, a cup of fresh coffee, a crisp breeze coming from the open window, a lit scented candle. Some people love studying in pajamas. I’m not really one of them. I’ve definitely done it, but if I have the time then I prefer getting a little more “ready”. I don’t get dressed up, definitely not, but putting on a fresh shirt and a comfortable jeans already does a lot for me. So, figure out which kind of person you are, what you need to have with you to get you behind that desk to get some work done.
- But also remember that a change of scenery can do wonders if you are stuck. Or if there is just so much course work and studying to do you don’t really have time to take breaks and you’re in that non-stop working grind. I liked moving out to coffee shops once in a while. Though I was usually most productive behind my desk at home, going out to a café and taking some work with me at least helped me feel less guilty about leaving the house (yes, I was that deep in the zone). And hey, coffee shops serve coffee and food! What’s more motivating? If that still doesn’t do it for you, invite a friend. Have a study-date. I’ve had a few during A-levels and I really recommend you to do it. The presence of another working human next to you sometimes is all it takes to get you going too. Try it out.
But senior year is far more than just the studying, the tons of assignments and important exams. Because suddenly there is this unknown darkness lurking at the of the tunnel, the future, that time after graduation. I’ve been there, god, I probably still am in the very mid of the whole transition. Graduating was hard for me. It was an emotional rollercoaster. The day I had my last real classes before leaving to prepare for finals I lay on my bedroom floor and cried. It only took me two days to start missing class. The first Monday after I wanted to go again. I wanted my routine back, I wanted everything to go back to normal. But there was no going back. So I immersed in studying for finals. I studied and studied and then they were there and a whole month had passed. The day after my last written final I started preparing my oral one. I went all in, studied every single day for another month. The moment I walked out of that exam I was ready to burst into tears of relief. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. I took a weekend off from studying before going right back in, because I had signed up to do DELF B2, but I was downright exhausted. Time was running. A week from there I finished DELF and all of a sudden it was June with only a few more weeks to graduation and prom. I expected the emotions to hit me, but they didn’t.
It took me almost another month to sink in. There were so many tears. I just missed class (I still do) and even though school often brought me to absolute rock-bottom I was desperate to go back. Not everyone feels like this, but this is what graduating was like for me. I just couldn’t imagine how life was supposed to keep going. I was afraid of letting things go and changes and breaking out of routines and leaving familiar surroundings. Graduating meant all of this. I’m still afraid, but I’ve come to the point of accepting that there is no going back and that it’s okay. I’m still afraid, but I know where I’m headed towards. I’m still afraid, but I know I’m going to be okay. I know that I’m going to love studying at university. It’s what I’ve always imagined myself doing. I know that I’ll grow to love the surroundings university provides, even though they are entirely new to me now. I know that it will take me some time to get there, to stop being downright terrified about the change, about having to meet a ton of strangers, getting lost trying to find a class and being late. I know that I probably won’t make the transition without shedding a couple of tears, may it be out of fear, panic or stress. But I know that I’ll get there. I know that I’m going to be more than just okay. I know that university will take a special place in my heart. I just know and I can’t wait for the adventure this journey provides. I thought I would never be ready for it, but sitting here finishing writing this, tears are stinging my eyes and just like that I know. I know that I’m ready for this.
May you live bravely.
Love to you all, Anna Xx