Lessons from Learning Support: Finding motivation to study, when exams seem sooo far away.

Sunday 11th August 2019

This lesson is inspired by a comment in one of my classes this week.

As a class, we were reviewing our plan for the rest of the term and ultimately our last 10 weeks of classroom time, the comment was passed: 'But exams seem so far away, it's hard to get motivated now.' 

This is true, goals that are far away are harder to maintain focus on, so I have come up with a few tips to keep you focused and on the right path.

Some people say that the hardest step in studying is to get started. Other people find it difficult to stay motivated when studying, especially when the end seems a long way away.

You definitely need to work out what works for you as there is no single strategy that will work for everyone in supporting ongoing motivation. However, there are plenty of options that you can try, to see if they work for you. If they do, you should incorporate them into your ongoing strategy. If not, then put them aside and try something else.

The important thing is whether your strategy keeps you motivated, not whether other people agree with you.

1. Break the task down into manageable chunks

A big task, such as writing an essay, or revising for an extended period, can be demotivating because it seems so big. With NCEA there is the added pressure of having multiple subjects to study for.

Breaking the task down into manageable chunks can help make it seem less daunting.

Think of your subjects individually, then break each subject into the different exam components (English would be a response to text essay and unfamiliar text). 

Break these down further into the individual parts you may need to focus on. From there you can work on each part rather than a big non-specific goal such as 'studying for my English exam'.

2. Keep your end goal in mind—but also use interim goals on the way

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to remember why you are studying in the first place.

‘Getting good exam results’ is not necessarily very motivating. Instead, you need to look beyond that to what the exam results will get you. What opportunities will they present to you long term? The more detail you can provide for your goal, the easier it will be to keep in mind.

However, even an end goal may not be enough to keep you going, especially over a long time.

A series of interim goals and suitable rewards may also be needed. You will need to work out whether you are better with a small reward daily, or after each task or a rather bigger reward saved up for the week or month.

Suitable rewards might include time off, treats and visits, but should be things that you really want, to keep you motivated. Talk to your parents about what these rewards could be and how they could support this.

3. Get into a study routine

It is generally easier to stay motivated if your studying becomes part of your everyday life and routine.

You might choose to get up an hour earlier, and spend that hour studying each day, or work every other evening, or perhaps study for one day a week. That way, it is easier to avoid being distracted during your study time, because you know that it is set aside for a purpose. Your family will also get to know when your study time happens and can support you in meeting the goals you have set.

You should also ensure that when you start your study period, you minimise distractions. Put away or switch off your phone, so that you are not tempted by distractions.

You can also build the tutorials that offered at school into your study plan. This is a valuable resource which can serve as a great tool to support your individual study plan.

If you have a friend that tells you, 'Sorry, I can't, I'm going to study.' Support them in that, or better still, join them.

4. Try different study approaches

Especially when you first start studying, you will not necessarily know what works for you.

It is worth trying different approaches, to see which you find most productive.

It is also worth varying your studying to keep you interested. Some days you may want to look at one subject and try another on a different day. You may also find it helpful to vary your style of working. You could, for example, try working in different places, and varying whether you work alone or with friends.

You could also try different types of activities. Options include:

  •  reading over your notes
  • writing a mind map or drawing pictures
  • making up songs or poems to help you remember facts
  • doing practice questions
  • teaching something to your friends, and having them teach you something you find difficult

Meeting as a group to share and discuss exam answers prepared by each person can give you a helpful critique of your own answer, and also help you think of other ideas.

It all helps to keep you interested and motivated, and stop you getting stale.

This need for variety is another reason to break your studying down into tasks so that you can start a new one if you are finding one especially hard to manage.

5. Don’t let your studying take over your life

When you start a long course of study it can feel like it is all-important. This is especially true when exams loom. However, it is important not to allow your studying to take over your life.

Especially when you are going to be studying for some months, you need to make sure that you build in time for family, friends, and exercise, to keep you feeling healthy in mind and body.

6. Don't beat yourself up if you 'fall off the wagon'

Even with the best-laid plans your motivation with rise and fall, tasks will seem easy and hard but you will gain more from any time you study than you will from the times that you don't even begin. 

So if plans fail, or other commitments get in the way, reorganise your time, re prioritise and start again.

Image by: Donna Smith