Let’s get this clear–I am posting this with absolutely no intention of bragging, but I’ve promised myself that if I get better grades than those I received in my first year of graduate school, I would share how I did it. So, here I am.
To be honest, I am still in a state of disbelief. That I was able to do it. That I was able to perform well in graduate school and in the university nearly every Filipino wants to study in, no less. However, I have to believe it, because a lot of hard work went into it. And for the first time, the grades were commensurate with the effort I put into my studies.
So, how did I do it? It wasn’t an easy process. It took dedication, determination, and discipline to get it done. I’ll be sharing my process, which you can try and tweak.
- Make sure that your health is in good shape. This covers both mental and physical health. Eat healthily–make sure that you eat fruits and veggies. And get an adequate amount of sleep. My philosophy: I’d rather sleep early and wake up early to study than to stay up late and burn the midnight oil.
There’s a little science behind that. Jalali and his colleagues have pointed out the effects of sleep on academic performance, and their study reveals that students who do not have adequate sleep do not perform as well as their contemporaries who have enough sleep. Sleep allows your brain to recharge and repair.
Milojevich and Lukowski revealed in their study that sleep is closely associated with the mental health of students. A large number of students with sleep problems also suffer from mental health issues. Listen to your body and brain: if they are tired, then go to sleep. You can’t tweak this. Sleep is definitely not for the weak.
- Make studying a habit. I anticipate that you’ll be scratching your head at this. I’ll clarify: set aside study time and spend time with your readings EVERY DAY. Don’t just study when an exam or quiz is scheduled. Allot an hour or two on your readings for your classes. For example, I have two subjects this semester. We will be given a list of readings, and we need to read them all to make a reflection paper or summary. So, I’ll read as many of them as I can in two hours and if there are any questions, I’ll write them down on a Post It and mark the passage where I need clarification. That way, I can go back to it and re-read it. I will be doing the same for the other subject. I also did this last semester.
- In relation to No. 2, I set artificial deadlines. I set them so I will have enough time to make notes from my readings, and it is usually a week or two ahead of the actual deadline. For example, I need to annotate xx number of annotations and hand it in on December 15, I should be able to get it done by December 8 so I can have time to check my work for spelling errors, incorrect references, and gasp, even plagiarism.
- Make time to make your own notes. This part is a bit labour-intensive. I make two sets of notes: 1. notes based on what I understand from my readings; and 2. notes from my professor’s lectures. I audio-record my professor’s lectures as there are times that my professor gives additional insights that are not in the slide presentation of his or her lectures. And more often than not, these insights are included in the exams. So when I make notes from my professor’s lecture, I incorporate the additional insights into it as well. I allot a few days to go through my lecture notes and self-prepared notes, weed out unnecessary information and make a third set of notes, which I call my revision notes or reviewer. To get a clearer idea of how to make revision notes, watch Eve Cornwell’s video on how to make first-class lecture notes. I swear by this. If you want a template of my revision notes, I invite you to check out the Shareables link on the top menu of this blog.
a caveat: I understand that if you are a law student in the Philippines, LECTURES are rare as blue moons. So, when that happens, be attentive, and take notes. Also, ask permission from your professor if he or she will let you audio-record the lecture for you to transcribe later. Otherwise, go back to step 1: be attentive and take down notes.
My apologies: graduate school is a different ballgame compared to law school.
- Get your shit organised. You have to organise all your study materials. If your professor gives handouts, store all these handouts in one place. The same goes for your notes–be it self-prepared or lecture notes. You do not want to waste time searching high and low for your readings and notes.
HOW I KEEP MY READING MATERIALS ORGANISED: I store my notes and readings in colour-coded binders for each semester. For example, for my Labour Relations class, I use a big red binder to keep all my notes and readings. Each study material has a respective divider to distinguish it from other materials. For self-prepared notes, I organise them with a red divider, for case digests, I use a blue divider, for journal articles and jurisprudence, I use a yellow divider, and for revision notes, I use an orange divider.
- Flashcards are your best friend. I repeat, flashcards are your best friend. They’re a more portable way of revising for a recitation. I use my notes to make flashcards. On one side, write the question, and on the other side, write the answer. Holly Gabrielle also said something about making flashcards too, with an added twist. When I was still in law school, I studied for recitations using flashcards. It certainly saves me time from pulling out my book from my bag!
7. CLAIM YOUR WEEKENDS. Yes, I know, even in graduate school, we have Saturday classes. But there’s still Sunday! So I reserve Sunday as my Self Care Day. There’s a reason why weekends exist, and that’s for you to take a day off from anything academic. Meet your friends–go out for a coffee or dinner, or even go for a walk in the park. You are not just a student, but a brother, a sister, a son, or a daughter, or a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and a friend. However, with the pandemic, face-to-face contact should be at a minimum, but fear not–you can still meet your friends virtually–via Zoom, or any other medium.8. Take note of important deadlines–you can’t afford to miss them. Some professors may not be as understanding and might deduct points from your work when you hand it in late!
I have shared this rather amusing video clip from the period drama Downton Abbey, where the legendary Dame Maggie Smith asks what a weekend is after Matthew Crawley (played by the debonair Dan Stevens) explained that he will help in estate matters in the afternoons and in the weekends. Why? Because there are, after all, seven days a week. And in those seven days, there has to be time for rest, among other things. Even “estate things”.
And that’s that! I hope these tips help. You don’t have to do all of these things–please feel free to try any of them and to just keep doing whatever works.
9. Pray. It works.
See you all soon! 🙂
PS. If you have any questions or if there’s anything you want to clarify, please feel free to drop in a comment or two and I will do my best to help! 🙂