Exam Preparation Week 3
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Breaks and how to take them
By the time you read this, you’ll (hopefully) be on holiday, or at least approaching the break very soon. You’re probably tired, anxious to get the year over with, and absolutely dedicated to doing anything but work. Your bed is right there. The option to binge-watch Netflix or revive your Instagram influencer status is just a click away…
Before I go on, I want to emphasise that there’s nothing wrong with doing any of that. The holidays are a time to rest- physically, mentally, emotionally. You might have heard the buzzword self-care being thrown around a lot these days, often packaged with a grab-bag of pop psychology buzzwords. At its simplest, it’s about allocating some time to do what you like. Yes, even if that means watching a Gordon Ramsay compilation at 2am.
You’ll find no study tips here per se. Instead, I wanted to reflect on what I did over my Term 3 holidays with the benefit of hindsight, and hopefully extract some useful tips for the discerning student (hint: that’s you!)
At the start of the holidays, the local broadband network was being dismantled for the NBN. For two weeks I had a computer that was approximately just fast enough to run Microsoft Paint.
This had one huge impact. All the time that I could have spent doing normal leisure activities was spent 1) downloading e-books and 2) watching reviews of said books on YouTube. There was no better way to fill up a whole day’s spare time.
It turns out that two whole weeks of spare time- as unwilling as the circumstances were- gave me a chance to delve into some seriously interesting literature. Some of the highlights include:
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. This- and the Stoic philosophy it espouses- is a fascinating guide on how to respond to stress, unpleasantness, and general adversity that life throws at you. If it worked for a Roman emperor, it’ll probably work for VCE!
The Dark Tower, by Steven King. Think Lord of the Rings crossed with Star Wars, featuring magical cowboys (I’m not kidding).
Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney. I think I was recommended this by a friend who was studying it in Literature. The collection of semi-autobiographical poems makes for comfortable, reflective reading, and I recommend it to anyone in search of fancy quotes to impress friends with.
And because I read something biological:
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. Chance are you’ve heard of this from somewhere. It’s not as epic as the hype makes it seem, although it is a deeply fascinating commentary on human evolution, genetics, and technology from pre-history to the present.
An often-overlooked lesson about reading is that it doesn’t need to take place in one multi-hour block. Like every other habit, it’s slowly worked into your routine; there’s always time in the day to make it into your “procrastination station”. It can be deceptively simple: surrounding my study space with reading material helped me ‘nudge’ my decision-making towards it (there’s some cool science behind this that I don’t have space to cover)¹
Did these books help me get better at Biology? Probably not. Did they help me learn new/weird/impressive things? Definitely. When the holidays ended (and my internet returned) I was back to my old habits of scrolling through social media, but I was glad to have had such an intellectually fulfilling break while under the pressure of exam prep.
Not much here apart from what every reputable source says. 7-8 hours of sleep a day is, unsurprisingly, good for you. Sleeping helps you literally grow your brain: the ‘memory traces’ you encode during the day are consolidated into new synaptic connections in the sleeping state.
The temptation, which I fell very easily to, is to stay up late and wake up at midday, which has the added effect of knocking your hormones and blood pressure off-balance. As you should know well by now, your body’s homeostatic functions can only work so efficiently! I discovered a ‘sleep timer’ app sometime around these holidays- https://sleepyti.me/ among many others- that calculated how much sleep I needed based on alignment with circadian rhythms. While I didn’t use it nearly as much as I should have, it was an easy hack for setting my sleep schedule back in order. Your body and brain deserve as much. Other cool things
I also picked up cooking during this time, even though I’m far more idiot sandwich than Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen. It was surprisingly effective at ‘resetting’ my brain; I think it’s to do with the physical detachment of the kitchen space from everything else at home. I’d like to think my schedule became a little more orderly when I could allocate an hour to making dinner, which is always useful when you suddenly lose the regimented sequence of school classes.
Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope you can set your mind on something non-study related. Talk to your friends. Take a long walk in a random direction. Give in to the temptations telling you to zone out and ‘just vibe’ for the day. I think the best kind of break is always done for the sake of it- without work/study/exams as a motivating factor at all. It’s a tough ask, especially in our productivity-focused culture. At the same time, I hope your holidays will be all the more rewarding for it.
¹Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.