Studying and preparing for exams

Getting off to a good start on your university journey

Mohamed Abed, UWE Bristol

Starting university maybe a daunting experience for some students, this could be from moving away for the first time or trying to understand the big jump from college to university studying. Here I will explain why it is not as daunting as you would think it is while studying at university. I’ll also share some ways in which I study and how I have managed to get through my university journey so far while still enjoying every single bit of it.

New ways of learning

The optometry degree course is not what many people think it is, ie mainly lectures with a handful of practicals. In fact, because we are in a healthcare environment we have a large number and variety of practicals through the academic year, and many face-to-face conversations with our patients about the health of their eyes and more. This blend of lectures and putting your learning into practice, is an interesting and rewarding way of learning.

Here are some of my study hacks to help you to get off to a good start on your university journey:

Always make sure you are up to date with your studies/lectures.
Make sure you finish any work you are given in time – even if you are tired or have had other things to do. Work will build up in university very quickly compared to college work, so it’s important – and less stressful to have everything under control.

Try your best to do any pre-work before the lecture
In university, and especially in optometry, you will be given preparatory work to complete before the lecture session. This will give you a better understanding of what will come in that specific lecture, and you can be prepared for any questions that may come your way – or that you may want to ask.

Create a study timetable
I have tried this and have found that having a timetable to follow helps you to focus on tasks at hand, and helps you stop procrastinating.

Different types of support at your disposal
At the end of the day, your lecturers are here to support you through your optometry degree and if you ever need help - they are always an email away. And don’t forget you also have your friends - and you can help each other. Universities have lots of support services available to help you make the most of university, including library services, financial and mental health services and a wide range of clubs and societies that you can join.

I hope my tips and tricks have helped you feel that little bit better - and will help you to get through studying optometry at university.

Study tips for optometry students

Kira Bassett, Cardiff University

It’s a big and exciting choice to pursue a degree in optometry! It can, however, at times feel very overwhelming, especially when it comes to managing workloads and study schedules. The first year of my degree was a new experience for me - not just because I was learning lots of new information but also I was figuring out how I study best in a university setting. It has taken some time to find what works best for me, and I like to share some tips that have helped me throughout my university experience so far:

Organisation is key
Organisation is essential when undergoing any degree, but it is especially important for an intense degree like optometry. Optometry degrees are jam packed with weeks of lectures, laboratory time, and clinical practicals, but there’s also the independent reading, preparations and assignments that are also required. I recommend first finding a method of organisation that works best for you, such as a classic student diary/planner or online apps such as Google calendar. Keeping track of everything such as upcoming deadlines and clinics, setting weekly goals, and even timetabling your study sessions will ensure you make the most of your time, which will hugely benefit your studies and revision.

Find your study set up
It may not always be your first thought, but having a study set up that suits you is very important. Your first term is a great time to figure out what works for you. You may find yourself more productive in the morning or perhaps the evening. You may find it more convenient to study at home in an office set up, or perhaps somewhere outside the house and more public, such as the library or a local café.

Test yourself regularly
It has been suggested that re-reading over old notes is an ineffective way to study. But I find that methods such as active recall more effective. I strongly suggest, when writing lecture notes, write a set of questions based on that lecture’s content that you can later use to test yourself and test your recall. Completing past papers and answering any practice questions that your lecturers may have provided are also a very useful tool in finding gaps in your knowledge and guiding further revision.

Remember to give yourself breaks
Undergoing a full-time degree will take up a lot of your time, so it is crucial to give yourself breaks. Research has shown that taking small breaks while studying will help refresh your brain and increase focus and productivity. There are various techniques that will help with this, such as The Pomodoro Technique which involves setting timers of 25 minutes to study, then a 5 minute break before setting the next 25 minute timer. Breaks in between studying and attending university are also equally important to reduce levels of stress and burn out. Besides, you are only an undergraduate once, so be sure to make the most of it and have fun!

Top tips for studying optometry

Tung Ching She, University of Manchester

I still remember when I first started this course, I was so thrilled and intrigued by what I’m going to learn. But as time passed by, I found that the content became increasingly difficult and I could hardly catch up with the packed schedule. I would like to share three top tips about how to study optometry effectively, with anyone else who may feel the same way:

Be prepared
Optometry is never easy. It’s a profession that comprises of different fields of knowledge, ranging from pharmacology to anatomy, and complicated calculation for courses like geometric optics and physical optics that require complicated calculation. And there will also be a large amount of time spent in clinics. Being prepared mentally will be helpful when it comes to adapting to the packed schedule. It will reduce stress and anxiety as well. Go through the learning materials like PPT slides and practical handouts before a session. This will help you to absorb the knowledge more quickly.

Practice makes perfect
This is so true for optometry students because we need to harness various clinical techniques, which can’t be learnt simply by reading. For example, only by practising repetitively can we master how to use instruments like the slit lamp. Practising on patients or fellow course mates will give you chances to come across different scenarios. These later will become valuable experiences.

Practice will help you to develop an organised routine, which will help to build your confidence and improve your performance. Revising what you’ve learnt is a part of ‘practice’ as well. As I’ve mentioned, we have to study numerous courses covering different fields at the same time. Revisiting your notes is the most effective way to consolidate the knowledge so you won’t be overwhelmed. Don’t leave it until you desperately cram for the exam because there is no way this can work!

Make the most of the experience
Last but not least, the last tip that I’d like to give is ‘enjoy yourself’. Despite the difficulty I listed, optometry is so interesting and amazing. I will never forget when I first successfully used the slit lamp to look at the corneal section of the eye. It was such an unforgettable experience (and this is also the reason why slit lamp is my favourite instrument). The moment when you feel joyful in the course, you will find that you can overcome anything. All difficulties are nothing more than an enriching challenge.

So, in conclusion - be prepared and practice whenever you get the opportunity. And enjoy the magnificent world of optometry!

Coping with exams

Sairah Baig, University of Bradford

Yes, it’s that time of the year – and it’s not only hay fever I’m referring to. Exam season is fast approaching with a generous side of stress. Here are a few tips that, hopefully, will get you through it:

Focus on what you don’t know
We all have weak points, broken pieces of knowledge that need mending. That’s why it’s vital to create a checklist of topics to go through. Go through each lecture, make your notes and solidify them. Remember, your exam is most likely created by the same people who gave those lectures.

Test yourself
You may not get 100% in everything and that’s fine. There is no such thing as perfect. The eye is so intricate and there’s so much information to learn. As long as you feel comfortable with the knowledge you have, alongside a good understanding, you don’t need to obtain perfect scores. If it’s affecting your mental health, there’s no need to jeopardise that.

Use your contacts
Of course, you should use your contact lenses but also use the contacts in your phone. Sometimes life can get difficult, even more so during exam season. Who understands that more than your peers? Just knowing you’re not the only one can really alleviate that built up pressure. In doing so, you can work together, you can fill each other’s gaps of knowledge – perhaps they can explain things better. Similarly, receiving support from family will also give you that reassurance you need. So, give them a call.

Take a break
We all know someone who takes that triple shot of espresso, has developed insomnia and you simply can’t get a hold of them because they are buried in books. If that’s you, please take a break. Drowning yourself in work will eventually burn you out, both mentally and physically. It’s best to be energised before taking your exam. Indulge in that hobby you’ve pushed to the side, take a nap, watch a show, read a book, draw, sketch – release that frustration. Even gifting yourself thirty minutes will give you the rest your body needs.

Acknowledge your progress
Whether it’s a little class test you scored well on, a topic you understood instantly, acing your practical exam, the list goes on. It’s important to acknowledge that you have the skills to become an optometrist. You’re not going into an exam empty handed, you’re good at something and shouldn’t compare your progress with others. Everyone has their strengths, be proud of yours.

How to stay on top of uni work

Priya Doal, Cardiff University

Studying optometry can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start. I believe that experimenting with different techniques should be the first place to begin when not knowing where to start with anything! By trying out different ways of working as student during the pandemic, I was able to minimise distractions and work in an environment that I believed I could never be productive in - my room. Here are some ideas to try to stay on top of uni work throughout the year:

Spaced repetition: Optometry is a course with a lot of content which you need to both understand and memorise. Memorising so much content is difficult - and spaced repetition could become your best friend for this! Spaced repetition is based on the theory that our brains learn more effectively when we space out our learning over time. The interval between reviewing your notes on a topic increases over time. This makes sure the content is engraved in your long term memory and is especially good for memory based modules like pharmacology! I use is an app called Anki, which uses flashcards that you make yourself to repetitively test your knowledge. After each flashcard you can click on whether you found the question easy, hard or really hard and based on this, the time interval for this flashcard to appear again will increase or decrease. I find this to be a really good method for someone who doesn't have the best memory but it's also very convenient as you can download the app on your phone too!

Organisation: It’s essential to stay organised throughout the year to keep up with deadlines and avoid falling behind. My biggest tip is to make daily and weekly lists and to keep a planner, whether this be a physical one or an online one on Notion, Good notes etc. By organising your time effectively, you know which tasks you have to complete, which ones to prioritise and have a timeframe and deadline for the tasks that need to be completed. Seeing how much work there is to be completed in a specific amount of time allows you to plan ahead so you know how much time to allocate each day on uni work and help you maintain a good work-life balance. Keeping a planner will also help you avoid missing important events.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes you won't complete everything on your list and that's fine! It's easy to get burnt out and exhausted so make sure not to add too many tasks to your lists and have very high expectations!

How to improve wellbeing during the exam period

Pamela Cheung, Cardiff University

When exams are looming, many students will be stressing on how to revise without experiencing burnout and last minute cramming. Although you cannot avoid the inevitable such as revising that one module with heavy-loaded content, there are many ways to improve your wellbeing to ensure your cognitive speed and mental health stays that bit better.

Remember to drink water
Did you know our brain is made up of 90% water? And just 1-2% of water loss has been scientifically shown to impair cognitive function and short-term and working memory, as well as producing feelings of fatigue. The European guideline suggests two litres a day, dependent of activity levels. Small, simple steps to increase your intake include having a glass when you wake up and with every meal. And don’t forget that water content in food also counts towards your daily fix!

Go for an early morning walk
By exposing the body to daylight within the first two hours of waking up, you can improve the quality and quantity of sleep, and boost levels of the hormone melatonin, making you more alert and energetic throughout the day. Sunlight at the start of the day can also boost your vitamin D levels, improving immunity and bone/ muscle strength, reducing fatigue, and a releasing serotonin for better mood.

Take mini breaks between studying
Stop that eyestrain! Staring at a near distance screen all day puts a toll on your eye health, stress level, and ability to focus. Many students will experience dry eye, headaches, eye strain, but a five minute break every half an hour, using the Pomodoro technique or 20-20-20 are tried and tested ways to give the eyes and brain a bit of a break.

Have study sessions with friends
Don’t lock yourself alone in a room all day because you’ll inevitably burn out…trust me I’ve done it before! It’s easy to be hard on yourself, especially if you feel like time is running out and you need to cram as much information into your brain as possible, in fear of missing content that pops up in the exam. Friends can give the motivation, support, and schedule for study when the urge to give up is real. Studying with friends from your course will help you to share ideas, explain concepts to eachother, and test your knowledge. However, some course friends will know more than others and this can make you feel behind in certain areas. So, remember to go at your own reasonable pace and choose your own personal areas of focus.

Have a good night’s sleep
The urge to skip sleep time, either to study more, or use as “free time” as a result of working throughout the day is not the healthiest of ideas. Not only does this produce a moodier, grumpier you during the day, but heightens stress levels and decreases cognitive function. Easier said than done, but trying your hardest to stick to a sleep schedule helps improve memory, mood, and immunity.

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