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Study Essentials - Top Tips From a Final Year Student!

Facing exams or assignments can be intimidating and stressful. Final year medical student Kathryn is here to share her essentials for studying at uni - and they may not all be what you expect…

Student studying in McClay
Hard at work in the McClay

During my five years at Queen’s, I’ve survived numerous exam seasons tucked away in the McClay library, working hard to learn content or complete work. Even when you enjoy your degree, assignment season can be tiring and stressful - so I’m here to share my study essentials to help you survive and thrive despite that.

A planner

Having an idea of what you need to do and when is the first step to success for any work you have to do. It can help you to feel confident about what’s expected, know when work is due, and relieve anxiety as you plan out your study.

I use a planner to block out my time for library sessions, group work and classes, as well as pencilling in breaks and time to relax - whether that’s catching a quick coffee with a friend or finishing up earlier to get to bed before a busy day. My planner also has to-do lists, which helps me to stay on task and feel productive when I’m ticking off each topic.

There are loads of options out there, from physical academic planners to digital downloads. It can be as simple or as fancy as you want - just find what works for you!

A good diet and plenty to drink

Looking after yourself physically in the middle of exam season can easily slip down the priority list - but it is essential for keeping you well enough to work and smash those exams or assignments! Making sure you have a water bottle and you’re keeping hydrated throughout the day is the easiest self-care hack which can actually make a big difference - studies have shown it can improve memory and exam performance!

Salad and croutons

Save money and time with a pre-prepared healthy lunch

Similarly, eating well during exam season can help you to feel better and work better. I have a few go-to recipes that I can cook in bulk and eat over a few days, taking them with me on the way to the library. Things like couscous salads, salad bowls packed with roast veg, a big batch of pasta or a simple sandwich mean you know you’re getting the nutrients you need to power your brain and saving time on cooking each day - though the odd Tesco meal deal and sweet treat are exam season staples too!

Resources that work for you

From my own experience of studying medicine, I know there are so many different methods for study out there, and I’m sure the same applies to many other courses. We each have our own unique learning styles - some people love flashcards, some do practice questions, some might find one website more helpful than another.

White flash cards

Flashcards can be a helpful study tool

If you’re at the start of your course, it can be helpful to ask older students what works for them and try out a few different techniques, then commit to a few things that suit you. Having a clear idea of what you’ll do in your study sessions can help you focus and break down an otherwise overwhelming exam season into a manageable plan.

Study buddies

Studying is always easier with a friend or two! You can utilise studying with others in a number of ways. If you struggle with getting out of the house in the morning to start your work, why not agree to meet a friend and walk to the library together at a certain time for some accountability? If you’re uncertain on a topic, could you try explaining it to a course-mate and helping each other learn? If you do a course with practical exams (e.g. the OSCEs, for medics), how about making preparations more fun by getting a group together and working through some questions?

Four Students in McClay Library on desktops

Encourage each other during busy periods

You might study with someone on the same course as you or doing something vastly different - regardless, in the midst of busy season, it can be a nice way to see friends and encourage each other through the ups and downs of university life.

A good backpack

While this might seem a little random, bear with me - when you’re walking to and from classes and the library all the time and lugging books, laptops and other study essentials around with you, what you carry them in does matter!

Two backpacks

My trusty backpack goes everywhere with me

Last year, I did a whole exam season with my study things packed into an over the shoulder tote bag, and while it looked cute, my shoulder was aching after a few weeks. I’ve reverted back to my trusty kanken for final year and I’m glad of it! Like most things I recommend on this list, it doesn’t have to be fancy, just something practical and comfortable. When you’re already bent over a desk all day working, your back will thank you for it.

Something to look forward to each day

My friends and I call it ‘misery prevention’ - doing something nice for ourselves during exam season each day. This can be something small - lunch outside when it’s sunny, a walk to get coffee in the middle of the day, a chocolate bar - or something bigger, like an evening off to the cinema or a takeaway from your favourite place for dinner.

Bao buns and fries

Dinner in the park during a particularly sunny exam period!

Exam season can feel long and bleak - having a few things planned throughout it to make the period more enjoyable is something I’ve found to be great for my mental health over the years, because it helps me to appreciate the small things and feel like I’m working towards a reward each day. I highly recommend!


At Queen’s, we have lots of study spaces on campus - keep yourself sane by rotating though a few of them and having some diversity. I sometimes work in the MBC library, sometimes the Students’ Union, sometimes a coffee shop near campus, sometimes my student house, and sometimes the McClay itself - each has its own pros to offer and serve me well for different types of study! Switching up your location can keep you engaged with the content you’re studying and makes it less like you’re living the same day in the same place on repeat.

Student's bedroom with laptop on table

My study set up at home - cosy vibes only!

A good playlist

Personally, no study session is complete without a good playlist. I listen to music all the time when I work to set the mood and help me focus - interestingly, I find music with lyrics is easier to focus to than classical or instrumental, but I know it’s the other way round for many people.

If you’re struggling to get into a study session, put on some good music and romanticise the experience, whether that means feeling like you’re in a movie, or studying at a gothic library of centuries ago. Music can also help to calm me down when I get anxious or hype me up to push through some work when I am tiring - it’s a tool to be used in whatever way helps you study the most!

Student's spotify playlists

I take my Spotify VERY seriously

So, there you have it - 8 tips I find help me in any exam season, as I approach my last set of university exams. Hopefully they help you too- remember, assignments and exams are a necessary part of university life and while they can be stressful, you can do things to help keep yourself calm and actually enjoy the time you spend working. Look after yourself, and good luck!

Find out more

More blogs about Studying and Courses

Study Medicine at Queen's

Also by Kathryn: Revision Weekend at Queen's (vlog)

Kathryn Allen

Medicine | Undergraduate Student | Lisburn, NI

I’m in my final year of Medicine at Queen's - I love my degree because it combines caring for people, learning fascinating things and working as a team. When I’m not busy surviving placement and exams, you can find me in one of Belfast’s great coffee shops with a friend, going to concerts to get my fix of live music, or curling up to read a book with a carefully curated Spotify playlist on in the background!

Kathryn Allen