One of the bigger contrasts between university and school/college is the contact hours. Like school, you have three terms (semesters), with exams concluding your third term in the summer. However, at Queen Mary, in your third semester you have nothing timetabled before the exams in May/June, so when teaching ends in late March, you are left with enough time to prepare for exams.
In semester three, you must become a sponge. You have up to eight modules’ worth of physics to absorb in around five weeks before the exams start. There is generally a series of revision lectures just before exams kick in, but until then you are left to your own devices. This is the real test of independence if you have left home – can you wake at a reasonable time, cook yourself more than tea and biscuits, do your laundry and make sure you get some work done?!
I have an iPad full of all the homeworks, tutorials & lecture notes (I use the Evernote app to keep everything together and find it much easier to keep everything organised virtually than with paper), and each day I work through problems, creating flashcards as I go so I can go back over everything efficiently when I need to. It’s actually quite therapeutic at times, figuring out solutions to problems and making pretty colourful cards (that definitely does not constitute procrastination because of course that many glittery gel pens is absolutely vital to my understanding of thermodynamics). That is, until you remember just how much you need to learn and how little time you have to learn it all… anyway…
Personally, I prefer this semester. Being on the canal provides me with a peaceful environment in which to study and always having my dog by my side does wonders for my stress levels. It also makes a vast difference to me to be able to work at my own pace – I have a short attention span and like the odd nap (okay yes I’m pretty much a toddler), so I tend to put aside the whole day, every day, to just work in short bursts with various little distractions in between. This ensures that when I am having my short (but frequent) periods of productivity, my brain-sponge is truly absorbent and I don’t have to keep going over the same things.
This works for me but I don’t really have a social life during this period. I enjoy studying and like to just put my head down and engage hermit mode, especially knowing it will be worthwhile in the end. Some of my colleagues have greater self-control, working certain hours each day and then having their evenings free (for example), so it’s manageable to balance social or work commitments if you need to. It’s also an option to actually combine being social with their studies – going over problems with friends can be a great way to get your head around difficult topics and can really reinforce what you learn. University remains open throughout the year offering both silent & social study areas. Everyone revises differently and it’s so important to not feel pressured by what others are doing!