5+ ESSENTIAL Back To School tips to help you study

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Right now, Australian school kids are going back to school after their summer holidays. However, we all know that the level and amount of study increases – especially when they enter their final years of school to complete their VCE, HSC or equivalent. Since I finished high school last year, I decided to write down how I managed to study – while, of course, balancing my time on the site.

I know studying is hard and will be painful. But, with these tips, these will hopefully help you study efficiently.

Get a Calendar – Google Calendar

Google Calendar is your friend. Use it to keep track of any scheduled exams or when major assignments are due. What’s a big plus for Google Calendar compared to using Outlook is that it is available on every platform – mobile, desktop or tablet – via the web or through several methods, with native integration with iOS and Android phones. What’s also neat is that every computer or phone will be in sync, so you know you will not miss a date.

The great thing is that it is free, and if you already have a Gmail account, then you’ll be able to access Google Calendar as it falls under your “Google Account”. This also means that you have access to Google Docs – which is a great tool for collaborating on projects and on storing documents as a backup.

Limit Your Facebook Time

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can be huge distractions – so it’s time to limit your usage. The key word is LIMIT. I’m not going to call on you to block these sites, because we don’t want to kill your social life (or what’s left of it). There are two extensions that can do this – LeechBlock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome. Unfortunately/fortunately, there isn’t one for Safari, Opera or IE.

If you are desperate, then you should really consider blocking them. There are a few ways of doing this – find an extension or application to do this, or simply modify your HOSTS file with a long bunch of URLs relating to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the alternative URLs that you usually go to in order to bypass a filter. Though, if you choose to modify your HOSTS file, back it up before you do any changes. It is a systems file, and if you screw this up without a backup, then you may potentially harm your computer.

Don’t get distracted when writing typing

You’ll often notice when writing your essay or assignment is that you lose your attention when you see a little notification or even possibly the time on the taskbar simply because you just don’t want to do this. I know, I’m doing it right now. If you find yourself experiencing this problem, then maybe you should consider getting a distraction-free writer. Many of which are free.

However, you will not be getting the same features as Microsoft Word, like styling and adding images – the crux of any document editor. And while it will be annoying, just do a simple copy and paste when you are finished with it, or just open the .txt file to your document editor – all document editors will read .txt files.

While there are plenty of distraction-free writing software, some of the better ones include OmmWriter (Mac/PC/iOS – free/donation), WriteMonkey (Windows – Free) and Q10 (Windows – Free).

(Cloud) Bookmarking is your friend

Finding evidence or sources for an essay or project will most likely be easy – do a Google search. However, recalling this is a pain since Google’s results change every day. You can always look through your history – but everything will be a mess. So, make sure you bookmark those pages – and it is a simple click in many browsers. Firefox, for example, is a simple click on the star.

But what about if you are on another computer – especially at school – you can’t access your bookmarks. That is why you should bookmark your pages on a service like Delicious. All you need to do is to install a plugin or add a bookmarklet – which is a piece of Javascript that you add to your bookmark bar, so when you press it, it will let you save it to your account. And you can keep track of links and tag them for organising them.

And did we mention it’s free? So, if you need to collate sources for a project or essay, then this should be a must-use tool.

Create Flashcards – and take them everywhere

One of the brilliant ways to study and revise for a test is creating flash cards. Summarise what you have learnt, add questions and definitions, and finally motivate yourselves to revise again, and again, and again before your final exam. However, now there are services that bring flash cards to your smartphone – so you can take it, and study, at any time and in any location without carrying lots of paper.

For the iOS (except iPad) and Android platforms, there is a service called StudyBlue, which lets you create flash cards on the fly. You can also track whether or not you got the answer right or wrong (meaning that it is heavily based on trust), so you’ll know whether or not if you are retaining that knowledge or you have to go back and study before the final exam.

Another app, which supports the iOS platform (including the iPad) is called Flashcards Deluxe by OrangeOrApple.com. The app lets you create your own flashcards via a text editor or spreadsheet, via online services or within the app. And if you do create your own outside of the app, you can upload it to their own servers or retrieve it via Google Docs or Dropbox. It comes in two versions – a free version that has a limit of 4 decks with 6 cards per deck; or a paid version with no limits for $3.99. I suggest you take the latter version, because it’s worth it.

Extra 1: Back Your Files Up!

One of the most important things is to back up all your files. I have lost my USB drive so many times, and I am thankful that I at least have a copy somewhere. The basic principle you should follow is to store it on your computer, store on a USB flash drive or an external hard drive and store on the cloud. And make sure you keep each version updated – or at least one version away so you don’t lose all your work. It may be a huge effort, but you do not want to spend all night rewriting a piece of work you finished but were stupid enough to lose it.

For cloud storage, you should either use Windows Live SkyDrive or Dropbox. SkyDrive gives you 25GB of storage for free – and that will take you ages to fill up. Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage for free, but you can subscribe to a 50GB and 100GB plan. Dropbox also has an added bonus of having a dedicated app to syncs your files from a specific folder to its servers – so any change will not be lost.

Extra 2: Go Outside

You should always strive to find a balance of school work and your social life. Don’t focus on one or the other, because you’ll either feel too exhausted to be motivated to do work, or will keep pushing studying for something back further and further away. But do go out once in a while, as it will keep you grounded. My friends and I always have a day during the school holidays just to catch up – and for many, breathe fresh air after days locked in our rooms trying to finish the massive school load of homework.

Even if it is like two or three hours in a friend’s house, just have a period where you don’t do any homework and be with friends. You’ll be relaxed and hopefully less stressed out about how to do homework.

(This does assume that you managed to find time to allocate it somewhere else, however. So maybe it’s a good thing you have a calendar to help you – see tip 1)

Image: Bart Everson/Flickr (Creative Commons)