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10 Tips to study smart and have time for extracurricular activities

One of the first sayings we learn at school is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Statistics show that children today report anxiety levels of those in psychiatric facilities in the 1950s1. Extracurricular activities such as sports2 and performing arts3 are scientifically proven to be effective remedies to manage the stress levels of students in our overly competitive modern world. Apart from extracurricular activities lending us a hand in getting through high school or college, they are also character builders. We learn essential soft skills such as teamwork, creative thinking and problem-solving that are required in the workplace. Furthermore, college and graduate schools expect a student to be all-rounded with a resume that lists both academic and non-academic achievements. However, extracurricular activities are usually just the sugar on top. Unless your goal is to pursue an extracurricular activity as a full-time career, every other degree and job expects a strong academic record, foundationally. Despite that, it is easy to get carried away by extracurricular activities and completely neglect your grades. Here are 10 tips that I have grown accustomed to in order to master the art of balancing extracurricular activities and academics.  

  1. List out your goals for the semester

There could be several articles online that you may find on this topic. The first tip listed is mostly that you need to make a schedule. As a student myself, I have made countless schedules that I have failed to stick to. Procrastination gets the best of me. The #1 challenge of studying is to actually sit down to do it. We could always find an excuse to get rid of something that we don’t like. But, if we love something, we’d find the most bizarre excuse to never get rid of it. So to stick to a schedule, you need to remind yourself why you chose your major and why you began your academic journey. A poster listing my goals for the year and semester that hung near my room mirror pushed me to go sit down to study even after an exceptionally long and tiring day. 

  1. Wake up an hour ahead

While schooling, there was an instance when I finished up choir practices and came home at midnight despite having an exam to sit for in eight hours. I sat down for some revision to prepare for it and kept dozing off. After three hours of my nose in the book, all I was left with during my exam was reddened eyes due to a lack of sleep and no memory of what I decided to revise. The strategy that I adopted recently is to sleep as soon as I come home, after a very light dinner. I set the alarm for 3 am and work for a full two and a half hours before heading to school. I find these hours productive and calm, leaving me with a feeling of accomplishment. It may be hard to be an abrupt morning person. Try a week of setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier than you previously did and train yourself to gradually wake up early. Most importantly, talk to yourself before bed and consciously decide that you would wake up early the next day. This helps tune your body clock to wake up even without an alarm (with practice of course). 

  1. Pay your full attention at school

As an introvert, I was usually too shy to ask questions in the classroom or speak up when I was confused. I said to myself, “I will figure it out once I go home” but the material would go untouched until a week before exams, when it is too late to spend the required time on it. My rule of thumb now is that I learn whatever is taught to my fullest capacity during lecture hours. I forget whoever else is in class with me and clear my doubts with the lecturer during the time of questions or the break. I spend my study hours at home for extra reading, making short notes and practising essay writing.

  1. Make voice recordings of lectures

I had a friend who travelled about 21km from home to the university. So, travelling took up about 6 hours of her day. She brought a voice recorder to record each lesson after obtaining consent from the lecturer. She used her travelling time to listen to lectures and recall the lessons that she learnt that day. Long sessions of recorded lectures may bore you or sometimes the accent and audibility of the lecturer may not be clear. In such instances, make your own recordings of the lesson. You can also save a few podcasts on topics that you need some extra help with.

  1. Do your daily work

When I was told to do my daily work for each subject, I used to wonder how I could cover 6 to 9 hours of schoolwork within 2 hours. When you have learnt 60% of the subject material during the lecture, your daily work for a subject will not take more than 12 minutes. If you are truly stuck for time, at least make it a point to read the notes you have taken down and the material in the textbook while travelling back home. Doing daily work is important, especially for someone who cannot afford to spend long hours revising because it helps you recall new information and improves long-term memory of it.

  1. Finish up 75% of homework during school hours

More often than not, part of the lesson becomes homework exercises because the instructor did not have enough time to complete it. Some days, I do not have time to revise my lessons because I spend more than three hours finishing up exercises. Hence, I decided to work on them in between lectures when the instructor is a few minutes late to class and after school until my mode of transport arrives. Some facilitators may give you an assignment or project that takes more effort and time. You may not be able to finish them during school hours. For such work, take the time to plan out your project within school hours. List the items you need and write a rough process of how you are going to do it. This would help you be more prepared and faster in completing it. 

  1. Make a lesson-wise revision to-do list

Some subjects can be too overwhelming because it has too many topics to learn. I overcame this by making a checklist of all the topics on the back of my book. This made the subject look manageable. Once I studied them, I ticked the topics I was thorough with, in red and the ones that I need to revise more in blue. Closer to the exams, I spent more time on the ones in blue and less time on the topics in red. Ticking off multiple topics per day close to the exams allowed me to feel very productive which in turn motivated me to keep going. Visualising progress is key to staying motivated.

  1. Watch videos related to your subject material during your break

Some topics may have bored you in class, even caused a dislike. However, there is way more to a subject than what you are taught. Watching videos of the material at hand allowed me to become interested in a topic that I had previously despised. I had the habit of relaxing after coming home with a 20 to 30-minute video. I decided to use this time window to watch something related to what I should study for the day. This was not regular for me; it was usually close to my finals. The majority of the time, I indulge in a few YouTube vlogs and Twitch streams because a girl needs her break (winks).

  1. Learn to say “no”

Sometimes, when you have goals to reach, you cannot do it all. If you have an important exam that is coming up in two weeks on a subject that you need to work harder on, give yourself a break from an extracurricular activity until it is done. Most coaches and facilitators are understanding. If there is a competition you are invited to close your exams, prioritise which one you want more. If a particular day has significantly more homework, say “no” to a friend’s meetup. If you are part of an association or club, abstain from taking all responsibilities and negotiate to undertake just some of them. 

  1. Be curious

As I said in the beginning, you can never keep to a schedule if you do not enjoy it. Grow interested in the material you are studying. Long to learn more. Be curious. Your curiosity will wake you up at 3 am and keep you up even on particularly long days. Most importantly, you will enjoy being busy and you’ll have a reduced risk of a burnout. 

So, happy studying!


  1. Twenge JM. (2013). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology79(6). https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.1007
  2. Childs, E., & de Wit, H. (2014). Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Physiology5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00161
  3. ‌Martin, L., Oepen, R., Bauer, K., Nottensteiner, A., Mergheim, K., Gruber, H., & Koch, S. (2018). Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention—A Systematic Review. Behavioral Sciences8(2), 28. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8020028


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