5 minimalist principles to help you study

Right now, I’m in the midst of exams, so you could say they’re on my mind. I thought I’d share some ways minimalism helps me make studying easier.

1. Get rid of the unnecessary. Use the 80/20 rule as a guideline: probably only about 80% in the syllabus will actually come up in the exam. That means that if you study everything, roughly a fifth of it would be a waste (if your goal is purely to pass the exam). Because of this, try to identify which areas are the most important, using tips and clues given by the lecturer and look back at things you have covered extensively in class. Don’t just work blindly memorising from the textbook, be savvy and try to get your hands on past papers and become familiar with exactly what they’re looking for.

2. Simplify. Make life easier by breaking things down into small manageable steps. Draw mind maps using different colours to lay everything out. Mind maps are great because the general rule is that you can only use one or two words per branch. Spread out, try not to cram too much on one page and embrace the white space. Giving yourself room calms your mind and allows it to think with more clarity. You might even find recalling things easier if you can remember the layout of your notes.

Download mind mapping freeware here.

3. Know the fundamentals. Even if you don’t think you know everything in terms of scope, taking care of the essentials is just as important. Lecturers tend to set questions that seem complicated, but they are really just testing if you know the basics. Make sure you know them like the back of your hand. You can even make an activity out of it by making a poster summarising the formulae, key points and basic steps and putting it up by your mirror.

4. Focus. Decluttering your desk can make all the difference in your concentration levels. Clear everything off and only put on what you need for the next hour. Chances are you’ll only need a book or two, a pen and paper. If you’re not using your laptop, it might be best to hide it that as well so you’re not tempted to get distracted.

5. Disconnect. Now that I’ve switched to Chrome, I use the StayFocused extension to cut down on the time I spend on facebook and twitter. I finally found an extension that actually works and does a pretty good job at keeping me on track. It even has a ‘nuclear mode’ which blocks all websites for as long as I want. I also turn off my iPhone or at least put it on silent. I have never encountered a situation when I got a call or text that had to be answered immediately anyway.

I hope these tips helped! If you’re in the middle of exams too, I wish you the best of luck. If you have any more suggestions, please share them with everyone in the comments!

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  • I found a brilliant extension to go along with StayFocusd called RescueTime. It tracks your time spend on the internet, uses a large database of user defined levels of “productivity” to gauge your percent of productivity in a given time period. Like today, I’m 42% distracted (58% focused) and I’m more productive than 58% of the other people using the app.

    Its a great way to keep yourself away from the sites that you waste time on. That is, if you care how much more productive you are than everyone else.

  • Vicki

    I just switched from Safari to Chrome to get the StayFocused extension which is so good! I even tried to cheat by adding more minutes and it stopped me! Just the little bit of help I need to avoid getting distracted 🙂 Thanks!

  • more and the best on this topic on cal newport’s study hacks blog

    • Thanks Vincent, I would also recommend Scott Young’s blog too! I wrote this post a long time ago now, I have learned a lot since then, maybe I’ll update it soon!

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