Caffeine, Confidence and Careless Planning: A Personal Guide to Revision

Advice on how to get the most out of your revision, from information on visual aids to what foods you should be eating, is available everywhere.   As someone who is prone to stress, I often feel overwhelmed with everything that I am told I “should” be doing whilst revising.  After years of trial and error, I have found a few things that really work for me:

1.       Mathematics can be intense and overwhelming so I find it incredibly useful to take a few hours to remind myself why I’m doing the degree.  If I’m finding a module particularly wearing I’ll find an article, book or video loosely based on the subject to spark my interest again.  For example, after reading through my probability notes for a few hours yesterday and very almost losing the will to live, I decided to watch a video by Vsauce about the maths behind shuffling a deck of cards (which, by the way, is mind blowing).

2.       Finding a suitable place to revise was actually a bit issue for me.  At home I get too easily distracted but I can’t deal with the silence in the library.  Coffee shops were my saviour.   When I’m struggling to revise, I walk to a local coffee shop, order myself a drink and set out all my revision on a little table.  I enjoy working within a lightly bustling area; I can concentrate well but also when I need a break I can get some fresh air and take a stroll.  Obviously, the big upside to working in a café is the possibility of a constant supply of caffeine which is extremely alluring. 

3.       One major issue I used to have whilst studying for exams was confidence.  I would always compare my work and results to my friends’ and subsequently be far too hard on myself.  During exam season, I find it useful to remember that people work at different paces and revise in diverse ways.  It is for this reason I tend to steer clear of ‘group revision’ as I know I am more comfortable going through things at my own speed.

4.       Finally, I find it most useful to be ridiculously organised during exam season.  Revision timetables are my strength, however I must remind myself to be realistic.  If I had followed the first timetable I had made for myself this year I’d be clocking a solid ten hours of revision a day, and subsequently, probably would have died after about a week.  Setting myself unattainable goals is a bad habit; I am never going to be doing ten hours a day and that is completely fine.  I find it important to set myself reachable goals at the end of each week and if I was unable to finish everything one week I go back and assess what the issues are. 

There is roughly twenty-two days, one hour and 35 minutes until my first exam.  I am soon to be completely submerged in scrap notes, past papers and post-it notes.  My hands are decorated with black ink smudges.  I am simultaneously completely exhausted and also experiencing a caffeine-induced spark of motivation.  My brain seems to be completely incapable of completing any tasks that aren’t maths related; for instance, after making a cup of tea, I proceeded to put the milk in the cupboard, tea bags in the fridge and spoon in the bin. 

Revision sucks.  There is no point in sugar coating it.  However now that I have found my own little preferences, it sucks just a little bit less.

Second year – a devil in disguise ?

Yes, yes it is. I am not sure exactly how it happened or what it even is that happened, but my uni life is not as together as it seemed to be. One month ago everything was a bright pink, with some shades of red from my lipstick. Lectures were worthwhile, classes did the trick and the coursework went smooth – it didn’t exist. Now- a completely different story. With midterm season at its peak, opening the actual textbooks made me realize I didn’t know why Marx thought that there is a tendency of the profit to fall, I couldn’t figure out what makes a random sample random and I most certainly couldn’t tell you the relationship between Phillips Curve and the Aggregate Supply (the dark side of economics). Oh, did I mention the utter madness caused by desperately seeking an internship for the summer ?
What had happened to my inner peace being…well, so peaceful ? I jumped from red on my lips to grey on my soul, without even a warning. We are expected to know everything and we are questioned on everything; this everything I’m talking about is about 4 times bigger than it was last year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot more interesting, but I miss the days when reading the slides and going to classes were an almost guaranteed first. They tell you first year is to adjust, they don’t tell you that second year is to survive.

It may be that I am overreacting, since I am writing this at a high point on my stress scale, but I think you could do with a warning: don’t underestimate the workload and don’t assume you can cram 3 months worth of lectures in one night- you will be proven very wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

With Christmas break just around the corner and 2 more midterms to go, I am determined to start fresh next term, put on my red lipstick and make sure I study constantly, thoroughly, to avoid midnight breakdowns…Who am I kidding ? It’s university, if you don’t have a meltdown, it will definitely find a way to give it to you. But that’s what makes it the ‘uni life’ we all crave for, doesn’t it?

Review of my second year of study

Today I finished the last of my official revision lectures before my exams, so I thought I would summarize what I thought helped me successfully study throughout my degree so far.

Buying the correct stationary equipment

For me, having eight modules (The number of modules for my degree) to study for can be difficult, however when you have the correct stationary, this can help you to keep your notes tidy so that they are easier to find when you need them. The top 3 stationary equipment I would recommend is a folder for each module, sticky labels (To label your work such as the name of a topic for particular notes.) and punch pockets (To ensure your notes do not get ripped by getting caught in your folder.). Below is an image illustrating the stationary equipment I use:

An example of a labelled sticky label on a folder with notes inside a punch pocket

An example of a sticky label on a folder with notes inside a punch pocket.

Time management skills

As I have discussed in my previous blog “Revision tips 101” having time management skills is essential for balancing study time with leisure. Without balance, in my opinion, you could  face problems such as falling behind in your studies or even neglecting your personal health by not doing any physical activities (i.e. walking, jogging, sports etc.) . I set myself deadlines for when I want tasks completed, alongside scheduling time to relax.

Asking for help when you are unsure about something

When you are unsure about something when studying, the worse thing you could do is nothing. Explain to your teacher what you are having trouble with and get help. I have found that by asking questions I see concepts from another viewpoint and I benefit even more.

I cannot stress how important the tips are that I have mentioned, and I hope this will help you in your future studies.




Revision tips 101: Quality of revision vs Quantity of revision

Since everyone is most likely preparing for their exams, here is another blog on revision tips I have learnt over my years of studying so far.

Hours and hours of revision? 

Let me begin by giving you all a bit of background: in the past especially while completing my A Levels, I had the mindset of “As long as I do lots of hours of revision, then it means I have revised well.” However, how many of you have experienced the feeling of revising for so many hours but still not understanding anything by the end of the day? This is exactly how I used to feel and it was mainly because I didn’t want to feel guilty for not revising for many hours and because I wanted to do well in my exams. What I did not know was that although I was revising for many hours in a day with minimal breaks, I was not actually absorbing the information from the study content. The quality of your revision helps you to think, “How much am I really understanding during my hours of revision?” and “Could I revise in a more efficient way?” In my case, what I did was instead of revising for hours in a day, I would revise for approximately 40 minutes just before I felt myself becoming tired, and continued revising when my brain felt ready.  For me this could be as short as two minutes or even up to an hour. In addition, in my opinion, as long as you fit your breaks into your revision timetable, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t be able to revise for as long as you want. Below I have given an example of a timetable which could be used as a guideline. It shows how a set timetable can be repeated every day:

Revision timetable

An example of a revision timetable with breaks.


What is the best way to revise?

The main message I would like you all to take away is that when it comes to revising, it is always best to revise in a way that suits you. Some people may prefer revising for an hour or more with minimal breaks, while others may prefer revising for 20 minutes and having small breaks in between revision periods. At the end of the day, everyone is different when it comes to revising and there is no right or wrong way, so why not try see what suits you when you next revise … ?

Creative Assignments

I might have mentioned before that on my course we only have exams in first year, and then usually (there are modules that do have exams) it’s 100% coursework. Therefore, we end up with quite a lot of coursework to work through in the year, which might sound scary, but don’t worry, it’s not too bad! I’ve mentioned that one of the fun parts of my course was that we got to go on quite a few trips, but another fun part is the creative assignments we get to do.

In the past I’ve done scrapbooks, written a 3000 word creative article and even created my own Google Map. Recently I had an assignment due where I had to create a number of portfolio pieces, and there was the possibility for a creative element. Seeing as it was for my British Culture in the 1950s module, I decided the best way for me to do mine was by typing out each assignment on my typewriter. I wanted to make it look like a war file, like in the films, so I also bought a plain, brown cardboard folder.

My workspace

My workspace

I typed out all the pieces and also printed a few black-and-white photographs to stick in. It might sound like it took a while to create them all, but the assignment was actually fairly manageable. We had to do six pieces, around 400-600 words each, and one 1000 word essay piece. We were told at the start of the year though, so could do them one-by-one, each week. One of the weeks we also had to do a presentation, and we could use our notes and handouts as a piece. As each week was themed, we could divide up the pieces that way. I’d already typed them up on my laptop in advance, it was the physical typing on the typewriter that took up the majority of my time.

My pieces included a historical research piece, a personal story, a review, the obligatory 1000 word essay, a poem and my presentation notes. The variety was nice, and each piece involved a different element of challenge.

However, I have to say that I spent a lot longer on it than any other assignment I’ve done at uni. It took a very long time to individually type each one out, but really it was fairly enjoyable. It’s nice to get to do something different, especially when it’s an assignment that is worth a fairly large chunk of my final grade.

My typewriter, mid-assignment

My typewriter, mid-assignment

The chance to do a piece of creative writing is also fairly unusual in terms of university English courses. Not many universities offer a creative writing element, and it can be fairly encouraging when you’re assigned one. It breaks up the fairly standard, long essays and I tend to find I put a lot more thought into exactly what I’m writing, how it’s laid out, and what the idea behind it is.

The finished assignment

The finished assignment

Overall, it turned into a bit of a nightmare, I’ll admit. I ended up putting in so much effort, and spending so much time on it that I got very, very stressed. However, as soon as I realised that I was going to get it in on time, and everything was going to be fine, I was genuinely proud with what I’d produced. I had hand-typed every single piece, 16 A4 sheets, and put real effort into its presentation. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to do these creative pieces, they’ve been really fun but I wasn’t even aware they offered the opportunity when I came to Queen Mary.

One piece of advice I’d offer is that after first year, when you get to begin to choose your modules, ask at the module fair about whether there is the opportunity to do something creative. I wish I’d looked into it more, and it wasn’t until third year that I really began to check what sort of assignments each module offered.

Revision tips 101:The importance of prioritising

It’s not always possible to do everything you need to do in one day, and this is where learning to prioritise becomes important; especially when revising.

As a university student, one of the things you may face, especially around the examination period, is having lots of revision to do but not enough hours in a day to complete it all.  Lets say for example I need to revise for maths, physics and chemistry in one day – how do you think I decide what to revise first? What I would do is look at my weaknesses for each subject and decide which section would take the most time to understand. For example if I need more practice on algebra, I would revise that first.

Other tools I use to prioritize subjects is a scale from 1-8 of how difficult I find a subject (1 – Easy; 8 – Very Hard). Lets say I only have 10 hours to revise in a week, the subjects with the highest rankings I would spend more hours on. For example, if I need to study maths and physics, if I rank maths as 3 and physics as 6, I would spend 6 hours revising physics and 3 hours revising maths. With a spare hour to recap!

If possible I try to start revision as early as possible, that way I can clearly identify what areas I may need to revise more, so I have plenty of time until the final exam.


As you can see having many subjects to revise can be difficult so learning to prioritise is very important. 


When looking at universities to apply to, the course content was absolutely key in my decision making process. I looked at a lot of universities but I found that many of them were only offering traditional courses for English and didn’t study anything more modern than the eighteenth century. Many other courses had no option for choice, and you had to study prescribed texts and modules throughout the whole three year course.

I found a few universities with more modern course content, and also the option to pick modules (specific topics for teaching), and this, in combination with a number of other factors is why I picked Queen Mary. The way the English course works here is that in first year everyone studies the same modules, and second and third year is when you get to pick your own modules, with the option for more modern content.

Starting with first year, we all study ‘Shakespeare’, ‘Literatures in Time’ (Medieval texts) and ‘Reading Theory and Interpretation’ (reading books “through the lens” of theories such as Marxism and Feminism). We also study two other modules, for half a year each: ‘Poetry’ and ‘Narrative’ (reading books that demonstrate different elements of books). These modules cover most of the key elements that come into English studies later on and prepare us for the course.

When I saw the list of first year modules for the first time, I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. I’d never got on well with Shakespeare at school and I’d only heard rumours of how ghastly Chaucer (for the Literatures in Time module) could be. When the Shakespeare book we needed for the course arrived (pictured below), needless to say, I was still worried.

The Shakespeare textbook, complete with pound coin for sizing reference

The Shakespeare textbook, complete with pound coin for sizing reference

But studying topics at university is very different from school. Like I said in my last post, a lot of it is self-study and the way you’re taught is different. For Shakespeare, we had a film screening of the chosen play every week, so that if we were struggling to understand what was happening in a certain scene, we could see it performed. We also had lectures (where a lecturer – like a teacher – talks to the whole group) that linked the plays to modern film, television shows and art and then in the seminars (a group discussion on the texts and the lecture) we could discuss anything we didn’t understand or wanted to focus on more. We even got to go on a few trips to the Globe – a replica of the theatre many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then back again to perform a scene from it on the stage!

The view from on stage at the Globe

The view from on stage at the Globe

This was an incredible experience and it totally changed the way I thought about Shakespeare. Chaucer turned out to be not that bad either. We even studied The Summoners Tale which is all about farts (no seriously, it really is) which had everyone giggling all the way through the lecture. We got to do another trip for that module (English gets quite a few trips) to the V&A where we looked at all the artefacts that tied into what we had read in the texts. It even involved some dressing up…

My two friends trying on some of the costumes available.

My two friends trying on some of the costumes available.

Another feature of first year that came as a surprise to me, as I hadn’t seen this when I was researching my course were exams. We only had to do two exams in first year: one on Shakespeare and one on Literatures in Time. However after that, in second and third year (except for a few modules) the assessment is all coursework – so no more exams! As someone who struggles to revise and would much rather do things in my own time, this is really helpful and takes a lot of stress and pressure off.

Second year was when I got to pick my modules for the first time. When looking through the modules before I came to university, the ones focused on London really stood out for me, so top of my list was a module called ‘Representing London: The Eighteenth Century’. I also took ‘Renaissance Literary Culture’ which looked at how arts and literature really came about in that time and ‘Modernism’ – a module that included a lot more modern texts. I then took ‘Writing Now’ for half a year, all about texts published in the last few years and ‘Satire, Scandal and Society’ for the other half of the year which linked very well with the London module and studied satire in the eighteenth century.  I found that overall I had more motivation because I was getting to study topics that I had picked for myself. We also got to go on more trips. Pictured below are a couple of the pictures I took on a walking tour we did for Representing London: The Eighteenth Century, where we walked along and thought about how the London landscape has changed.

The first part of the walking tour, up the Monument

The first part of the walking tour, up the Monument

A very attractive selfie of me and my walking tour group

A very attractive selfie of me and my walking tour group

Finally in third year, the modules I’ve picked are my favourites yet and I’m really enjoying them! I have to do a dissertation this year which counts for one of my modules. This is a 10,000 word final essay about a topic of my choice. I’m also doing a module called ‘Writing Modern London’ which was another module that excited me when I was doing my university research, and ‘Feminism(s)’, a module exploring feminist theory. Then for half a year I’m doing ‘In and Ideal World: Utopias from Plato to the Present’ which looks at utopian fiction (stories about ideal societies) and in the next half of the year I will be doing ‘British Culture in the 1950s’. I feel more motivated than ever approaching these modules and find that I am enjoying third year study the most. And the good news is that I still get to go on trips! This week I’m going to be going to the Tate Britain for my Feminism(s) course, looking at Tracey Emin’s famous bed and a photography exhibition, among all the other art. The fact that I get all this choice continues to excite me in my learning, I love getting taught about subjects I am really passionate about, and feel that I’m personally shaping my degree into what I want it to be.

Back to School, Plus My Trip to Oxford

Lately, I haven’t been writing new blog posts, so hopefully I find the time in these next few weeks to update what I’ve been doing during my time in the UK. My winter break was quite interesting, and I’ll have to make a post about that later, but for now, I’d like to share my experience returning back to school after a month of holiday (or vacation, as Americans call it).

Since I’m an English major, my modules in Queen Mary don’t require final exams like the modules for sciences, etc. (Whereas, in America, most of the English courses I took had final exams at the end of the quarter. Some even had multiple choice exams!). Instead, all my modules required 2000-3000 word essays due about two weeks before the second semester. Writing these essays was stressful, especially since there’s a difference between the expectations of British courses and American courses, and it took a while for me to notice and adjust to these differences, but now that I’ve finished a full semester at Queen Mary, I have a better understanding of how to prepare myself for this new semester.

For example, I found that keeping up with my course readings was the most important thing to do. As a study abroad student, it’s easy to get distracted and make excuses for putting off readings, but with the few contact hours we get, it really is essential to come to class prepared and ready to discuss the material.

Another important thing is to go over the secondary material that professors suggest looking over. Many of the final essays I wrote last semester required the use of secondary sources, so it’s better to go over these throughout the school year, rather than spending a chunk of time sifting through multiple sources in order to find the relevant ones for your essay.

And while we’re on the topic of academics, here are some pictures of my trip to Oxford last semester:


While we were in Oxford, there was a small march going on for the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri this past Fall. It’s nice to see solidarity in the UK for an event of such significance in America.


View of Sheldonian Theatre from University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

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Magdalen College

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Christ Church


Ashmolean Museum


It’s actually very inspiring to go to a city that’s known for its education. According to my tour guide, Oxford is the oldest university in the UK. Isn’t it awing to think about the number of significant people who were educated there?

In terms of seeing Oxford as a tourist, you can’t go wrong visiting any of the buildings of the university, but my favorite was the tower in University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. From atop the tower, you can get a great view of the university, but the swirling steps are a bit  narrow and steep, and it was really crowded with a bunch of people going up and down the stairs. I’m usually afraid of heights, but going up to the tower was fine for me, so I would definitely recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of physical exertion.

After our tour, an acquaintance said to me, “When I’m older, my children have to come to school here.”

Yes, hopefully mine too (I say this half-jokingly). But until then, I have a handful of readings and a full semester ahead of me to distract me from these hopes….

Crunch Time

There’s this disease that is well-known to college students. They call it end-of-term-itis. It sneaks up on you, especially as a study abroad student who has been exploring and traveling at every opportunity. All of a sudden, there are only a few weeks left in the semester, and you actually have to start working on the five essays you haven’t thought about since they were assigned. Where did all the time go? you think. There was so much of it, and now it’s gone! And then the Stress Monster attacks. I’ve compiled a few tips on how to banish him and finish out the semester as strongly as you started it.


  1. Look at your reading lists. All of my professors gave supplementary reading lists at the beginning of the semester. I didn’t really pay much attention to them when I got them, but they are proving very useful in finding resources for my essays.
  2. Take one thing at a time. When I sat down and looked at the assignments I needed to complete, I was totally overwhelmed. My mind was pulled in too many directions and I couldn’t focus on any of them. Once I decided to tackle one assignment at a time, I became a lot more productive.
  3. Go to the library. Aside from being a great source of research material, the library can be a good change of pace. The upper floors of the library have lots of quiet study spaces that can make it easier for me to focus because everyone around me is focused. Added bonus: no need to leave the building to get coffee or a snack – there is a café inside the QMUL Mile End library.
  4. If you get stuck, take a break. Go for a walk, read a fun article on Buzzfeed, or watch a few YouTube videos. It may sound counterproductive, but when I find myself getting mentally blocked, the most productive thing can sometimes be to step away from it for a little while.

Happy studies!

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