An amphibious approach to study... and life

Known simply as “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky is probably the most popular man in Canada for his achievements both as a player and coach on the Ice Rink. While his profile is somewhat diminished on this side of the Atlantic his determined yet dynamic pursuit of greatness offers a valuable lesson for anyone in their attempts to win either Olympic Gold or those extra marks to insure exam success. His mantra was simple but undoubtedly effective – ‘Maximise your output by using time to your advantage’ and for me that means don’t waste time and don’t procrastinate. Indeed, it was Gretzky who famously quipped “Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases, and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.”

Perhaps, ‘The Great One’ is merely rehashing age-old clichés, but at the risk of revealing my age and sounding like an overbearing elder I would say that the tools of procrastination are now more widespread spread  than ever before. We all do it!  Be it Facebook, Twitter, T.V., PlayStation etc. etc., and the benefits are impossible to ignore, but in the competitive world of G.C.S.E’s and A-Level’s, is there a better way to balance our desire to be social with our desire to achieve the grades we want? Like most people I hated studying, I put it off, I made up excuses, I flat out didn’t do it and always found myself stressed tackling past papers the night before, and even, I must admit, in the minutes before entering the exam hall. Luckily, I managed to pass but I often consider would a more effective approach to study help reduce stress and improve my results?

Any Google search reveals thousands of quick fix methods and it’s natural to buy into any of them, but like all these things if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. It wasn’t until very recently when I came across a book entitled ‘Eat that Frog!’ did the penny finally drop and I adopted a more pro-active approach to studying, and indeed life. The principal philosophy of the book is based on an old adage that says ‘If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day.’ Now, I’m no supporter of animal neither cruelty nor Michelin star chef so with regards to revision I take this to mean ‘do the hardest task first’. If you hate the Kreb’s Cycle in Biology make it your first priority, if you’re struggling with integration in Maths, do it before you begin statistics.  The phycology is relatively evident, feeling better about having completed your most difficult task and more enthusiastic about future ones, but the reality is most people avoid their most feared demons.

The book helps answer the difficult question of how does one wake up every morning and do what he or she fears the most first? It is an easy process, but with minor adjustments to the way you view revision it is manageable. So to help you get your daily dose of frog I have 3 simple effective tips that have helped me:

  1. Play to your personal strengths: While we are all taught the same syllabus we absorb knowledge in different ways. Some of us prefer to learn directly from the teacher, some prefer to read the text, and it is even ok to read Wikipedia or watch Youtube (as long as you’re disciplined). Obviously, learning is a dynamic process and it is likely that a combination of these approaches works best for you. Regardless of how you process information best, it is important to identify it quickly. If you are still unsure which method is for you then try, which details characteristics associated with learning styles.


  1. 2.     Fix the Environment: If you know how you work best, logistically the next step is to find out where you work best. Being organised and meticulous is a great skill, but others are more creative in an open environment. Personally, I prefer a quiet room with no distractions and I only switch my mobile phone on for short 15 minutes intervals between studies, because in reality it is fairly unlikely that someone is going to need to urgently contact me. Others are more interactive and I have heard of people listening to everything from Bach to Jay-Z in preparation for exams. But if you know you are easily distracted, don’t have your phone constantly on and try to avoid the internet etc…after all that is where the seeds of procrastination lie.


  1. 3.     Reward yourself, with realistic time keeping: When it comes to revision we all throw European Working Directives out the window, and prepare ourselves for a war of attrition against the books. Despite your political inclination towards the EU, the people in Brussels probably have solid scientific evidence for imposing regulation on employers and it is important to remember this as a student as well. Recent studies suggest the brain can constantly function at maximum intake for short periods of up to 90 minutes, so the idea of cramming for a full 12 hours may lead to trouble. Inbetween, why not let your brain recover and do something you like?  Planning your study around a game of 5 a side of football, your favourite TV programme or quick chat with your mates is healthy. Personally, I recommend some exercise (walking, jogging etc.) as it is good for the heart and the helps re-focus the brain. While sacrifices are inevitable, if you can set realistic objectives you can still do most of the other things that are important to you, and trust me they are a lot more enjoyable with the taste of freshly eaten frog in your mouth.

Exams are stressful for everyone, and dealing with the pressure can be difficult. Ultimately, people are individuals and we all need to find our own niche to allow us to translate our hard work into exam success. It is important not to run away from the frogs associated with study, but to objectively think of ways to digest them. Obviously, my preferred method of digestion may from yours, but I hope I offered some advice on how you can stomach what you don’t wish to eat. If nothing else, sit down and give it a brief thought, because as Gretzkty also said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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Additional resources:

Top Tips for Avoiding Dissertation Stress
Finding the Work-Life Balance
Life After School, Does it Live Up To The Dream?

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