Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ – Tim Notke
I see this quote all the time in almost every single classroom at school. As cliche as this quote sounds, it really is important to establish a strong QCE work ethic. Even though it would be great to be able to wing an exam, many of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to score perfect marks and thrive on stress. This is why motivation is the key to success. One of the reasons why there are so many Year 12 success stories is because these people have a goal and are determined to achieve something, and thus I segue to my first point on developing a strong work ethic.
Short term and long term goals are extremely helpful in keeping you determined. That doesn’t mean have your life planned out, but simple goals such as doing well in an exam or setting up a study group is already enough to help you feel determined. And note the word realistic. Personally, I struggle in setting up realistic short term goals because I get so carried away with planning I don’t consider my limitations. That being said, don’t be too focused on what you want to do, but emphasise on things that you need to do. When I say ‘want,’ I mean constantly saying something like “I’m going to write up two chapters by the end of the week” and say you will do it, but you never do it. Following the wise words of Shia Labeouf, “Just do it.”
To set up realistic short term goals, break down your tasks bit by bit. I hear a lot of people call this process as ‘building a ladder.’ Whenever you accomplish something small, it’s almost like you’ve completed your first rung in the ladder, and this can be as small as finishing ten questions for math or finishing a scaffold for an essay. I found this really helpful::
Notice how my tasks aren’t too heavy, like how one of my goals is to complete a scaffold for Chapter One and half of an introduction by the end of the week. These tasks are quite light, and I’ve made them light so I can feel more motivated to do more. It took me a while to really think about my limits because I struggled a lot during my first week when I decided to annotate ten more sources – it was a bad idea because I stayed up completing this goal.
Moral of the story: Know your limits.
These small steps can help you achieve more long term goals, such as doing better in a subject or if you are up-to-date, you can spend more time editing and polishing your work. And when I say long term goals in this instance, I mean more like helping you improve in a subject. Notice when you read Year 12 success stories, many students set up short term goals such as talking to their teacher to discuss any problems they had or redoing an exam if they didn’t do so well. These are short term goals that can help you take one step closer to your long term goals.
There is also another aspect of long term goals, and that is setting an ATAR goal or your dream job. Like I said before, no need to have your life planned out but having a long term goal keeps you motivated. On my desk, I happen to have an aerospace engineering pamphlet- that is my source of motivation. Even though I break down and feel like giving up, that pamphlet reminds me what I want to do and my ATAR goal.
When I say ATAR goal, I don’t mean like “I want a 99+ ATAR because I want to do medicine.” Just pause and think: why do you want a 99+ ATAR? Is it because it’s the ATAR cut off for your desired degree? Are there any alternative paths for getting into tertiary education? Why do you want to do medicine? If your answers fall something along the lines of “I want to be the Dux of my school” or “You get a lot of money in *insert job here*” then you might be applying for an ATAR for the wrong reason. Your university goal should be based on what you enjoy the most. Your ATAR goal should be one of the biggest motivators in keeping you determined throughout the year.
Procrastination is one of the biggest signs of losing motivation. Unfortunately, my procrastination habits kick in during exam block because I’m so exhausted that I don’t want to do anything. However, note the difference between active and passive procrastination. Active procrastination, as oxymoronic as it sounds, is basically delaying your task but you’re also being productive. An example of this is cleaning up your desk. Although this isn’t going to contribute to helping you finish off homework or studying, having a clean desk can help you view your tasks in a fresh mindset.
Another thing you could do is if you’re struggling to, say, do a math question, move on and change the subject to a more content-based subject, say English or History. This allows you to reset your brain and think about other things rather than wasting hours trying to finish one question. After you finished, go back to the same question and have another attempt. I actually found this helpful whenever I’m doing math homework because staring at the question for hours isn’t going to help – moving on and then going back to the question can clear your mind and maybe, by the time you completed other tasks, you might have figured out the question.
Having a strong work ethic doesn’t mean studying 24 hours a day. In fact, this isn’t healthy for your mental wellbeing because you need to take note of your limits or you’ll end up burning yourself out before the exams have begun!
This is why quality study sessions are important. Just like how I described breaking up your short term goals into shorter tasks, break up your study sessions into short sessions. Some of you may know this as the Pomodoro technique, where you do 25 minutes of studying and a five minute break in between. This technique is extremely helpful for those who don’t have the longest attention spans or if they haven’t disciplined themselves in developing study habits. Personally, I prefer 50 minute study sessions with a ten minute break because it mirrors the duration of a period at school and my tasks generally consume more time and 25 minutes isn’t enough for me. I actually did this technique with a friend of mine over Skype and we managed to get a lot done, so maybe it’s a calling for you to get your friends to sit down and complete a study session together!
Routines are also important in developing a healthy study habit. When my school had a High Achievers forum with our past students, most of the students were actually well-rounded people; well-rounded in terms of contributing co-curricular and extracurricular. Initially, I dismissed these ideas to be time consuming, but in fact, they’re actually great for reminding you to be on task. If you do extracurricular activities, you would know that you should complete a certain amount of homework before doing any of those activities. This can push you to complete more quality study sessions since your study time must be shared with extracurricular activities.
Thus, planning out your week is essential to time management. I have a study schedule stuck on my shelf next to my desk. Do I strictly follow my schedule? To be honest, not really, but only because I’ve gotten used to following a habit every afternoon. However, it can be more like a guide. For example, I have put math homework as my first priority before doing other homework because I have tutoring the next day. Planning out your week can help you see what’s happening and also reminds you what you need to complete.
Unfortunately, developing a routine isn’t something that occurs overnight. It requires a long process of following the same (or similar) patterns every day until you get used to it. Although it may sound tedious, it is great for self-discipline.
Establishing when you have breaks is equally important to developing healthy study habits. Breaks are useful to take your mind off what you’ve just studied. Remember, developing study habits is all about quality study sessions. If you sit at your desk for a long time, your mind is going to be exhausted. Instead, taking breaks can help you reset your mind so when you go back to work, your brain is refreshed. I would suggest a 5 to 10 minute break, just like my suggestion with the Pomodoro technique.
But what should you do during your breaks? Do not watch YouTube videos, unless you’ve fully disciplined yourself and you have the willpower to exit out of the YouTube tab after your break has finished. Toilet or water breaks are highly suggested because it’s encouraging you to move around. Sitting at a desk all day is bad for your waist and your back so walking around can help with the circulation. Plus, if you’re staring at your laptop for too long, it can ruin your eyesight. Have a look outside your window and just stare at the green grass, or the blue sky so your eyes aren’t too exposed to the blue light. Unfortunately, nearly all our study materials are online so looking away from the screen can also help you rehydrate your eyes – trust me, dry eyes are the worst.
So here are some ideas to help develop a strong work ethic! Remember, this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. It takes a while for you to establish study habits, but it is important to have a good work ethic because having a goal is what keeps you motivated throughout your last few years of high school!
Remember to follow Olivia on Instagram @studywithlivia. It’s great for work ethic! 😉