How I Study as a Chronically Ill Student

Studying is tough. Studying while dealing with chronic illness is even tougher. Here, I’m sharing some tips which have helped me deal with some of my symptoms:

  • Stay hydrated. It may sound obvious but it is so important. Leaving an empty 200ml glass on a bookshelf doesn’t count! I try to keep a large, refillable (to save the environment) water bottle on my desk when I’m studying. In particular, I love Contigo water bottles because they store loads of water while remaining lightweight – making them easy to carry. The more water the bottle can hold, the fewer trips for refills necessary. This conserves energy, which is especially important if you’re studying while chronically ill. In addition, fewer trips limit possible distractions.
  • Find the specification. Hunting down the specification for your subject and exam board can avoid unnecessary work. Textbooks can contain extra material which will never appear on an exam paper, so just using them can waste time, resources and – most importantly – energy. By having the specification, any ambiguities about the material covered can be clarified. Knowledge of the specification can also make it easier to catch up on missed lessons to avoid slipping behind.
  • Watch where you’re sitting. Ensure you’re in a comfortable position. I used to get back pain from revising on the floor rather than sitting at my desk! Remember to readjust to avoid stiffness and try to stay as active as possible outside of studying.
  • Keep notes clear and concise. Beautiful notes may look fantastic in your Snapchat story; however, they take a lot of time and might not contain all the necessary information. This could mean there is an over-expenditure of time and energy when simpler notes would suffice. This becomes especially true the closer it gets to exams. Trying to write out gorgeously illustrated guides to each scene in “Romeo and Juliet” the day before an exam will not work! It just causes burnout. Writing up quote maps for themes and characters would be less pretty but far more effective.
  • Make a plan but remain flexible. Planning tasks in small increments can help to conquer obstacles while studying. So, rather than putting “Biology” on a study plan, put “Biology: structure of a human cell vs structure of a plant cell: comparative bubble map, 20 minutes”. This means that what, how and for how long a task needs to be done is immediately clear. This is highly beneficial: it ensures that all work is done to the specification as well as helping if brain fog strikes. However, flexibility must be maintained. If rigidity remains, then a flare up could be brutal to the regime of studying. Including rest breaks (20 minutes of every hour) can help to ease this. Rest days should also be scheduled to avoid burnout. Another way to plan is to use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle, which aims to evaluate the relative priorities of tasks.
  • Listen to foreign or instrumental music. When I get brain fog while studying, I find that music helps to drown out some of the static. However, listening to music in your native language can be incredibly disruptive. I used French music when I wanted to hear someone singing but didn’t want to get caught up in the lyrics. Maître Gims, a rapper, was particularly fun and easy listening. There were also days when the sound of anyone’s voice – no matter which language they were speaking – hurt my head but I didn’t want to study in silence. Then, I used classical music. There are so many freely available playlists on apps like Spotify. Classical music is also useful as it gives the impression that you are incredibly erudite!
  • Listen to white noise or other repetitive sounds. The use of white noise is another option; white noise generators can be bought online or the sounds can be found on YouTube. I tend to use white noise when I have painful headaches which are worsened by unexpected sounds. If white noise feels too emotionless or clinical then waves, storms or rain sounds are other options. They can “cushion” any other noise. This helps to avoid distractions.
  • Get online. It is shocking how many online study resources are available. For example, TES is an online community where teachers share resources; fortunately, you don’t have to be a teacher (or even say you are one!) to make an account. Thousands of worksheets, revision notes, and lesson plans are available. This can save time but remember that merely reading others’ notes will not help you to fully understand the course material! Twitter also has a thriving network of lovely teachers who answer queries and share their materials in order to help students. If you want to maintain a social media study-life balance, it may be worth creating a school account to follow these teachers on and then keeping your personal account for memes. YouTube is also a fantastic educational resource. Students and teachers post videos covering the specification, going through mark schemes in detail and sharing their exam technique tips and tricks – this is especially helpful if you are not in class often, as you can gain a similar learning experience. An extra tip: when on YouTube, watch videos once on double speed with captions, then skip to places you didn’t understand on single speed – it functions as a great review of work!
  • Find out what your educational facility can do for you. Whether it’s extra time or rest breaks in exams, a private room to work in or a “time out” card, schools typically have options available to those who ask. In the UK, schools are legally obliged to treat disabled students equally under the 2010 Equality Act (similar protections exist in the USA) – knowing your rights can help, especially if schools are reluctant or simply do not know how to help.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for other help. Teachers and support staff are there for a reason: to help you to learn. If you feel overwhelmed, communicate with them (writing an email often makes this easier as it is recorded – which can be very useful when dealing with a difficult teacher).
  • Remember that health is more important than studying. Health, whether mental or physical, should not suffer as a result of studying. Take breaks, look after yourself and remember that grades will not impact you forever; there are always alternative routes.

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3 Comments

  1. Ben

    For background music, you might find https://rainymood.com/ and / or https://coffitivity.com/ helpful!

  2. Elle Wilson

    You are inspirational and brave xx

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