How to Revise a Subject You Hate

Practical and actionable tips on how to study, even when you really don’t want to do it!

November 2020
Ella Walkeden (Marketing & Outreach Lead)
Leeds - 4th Year Medical Student

This blog post will discuss how to overcome procrastination and increase motivation.

Get organised in order to minimise distraction

  1. Tidy your workspace.
  2. Plan ahead using a diary, to-do list and/or revision timetable.

By starting the day with a neat study space, all the resources you might need to hand, and a list of what you are planning on studying, you will avoid getting distracted by these things throughout the day.

You may also benefit from keeping your phone out of reach and on silent – this will reduce the temptation to check your phone constantly and hopefully prevent you from falling into the black hole of scrolling through Instagram!

What’s holding you back from revising?

Ask yourself why you don’t feel like studying…

Is the content difficult?

Perhaps it would be helpful to go back to basics and review important core concepts.

Does the teaching style work for you?

If not, take the time to teach yourself and use this as an opportunity to develop your independent learning skills.

Is this a subject that you’ve always told yourself you’re not good at?

A negative perception of our abilities can actually reduce our performance! So maybe it’s time to reverse your thinking - something as simple as telling yourself you enjoy, or are good at a subject could improve your grades!

Set revision goals

If you can’t get to the root of why you don’t like a subject, it might help to think about why you need to do well in order to reach your long-term goals. You’ll be more motivated to work, as you’ll have a clearer sight of where your revision is going to get you.

Start with the big picture and then work your way back, considering what you need to do at every step in your journey (to Medicine, or whatever else it may be!). Make your goals SMART.

Break the subject down

Once you’ve thought about your mini goals, it’s time to chunk your revision into bitesize tasks.

You could try the Pomodoro technique: work for 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks. If you do this regularly you can train your brain to really focus during the study time, however, at first, it might surprise you how tempted you are to take a break before the time is up!

And before you say you haven’t got time for breaks, I have to stress how valuable taking breaks actually is - evidence shows that memories are consolidated during rest and therefore they help improve your ability to remember things!

Start easy and work up

Some people say you should start with the hardest thing to get it over with, but that can be demoralising. I would recommend that you start your day with an easy and short task because this achievement will motivate you for the next piece of work. Equally, you don’t want to leave the work that you hate for the end of the day because then it will hang over you like a dark cloud! Find a sweet spot in the middle, perhaps before lunch, to tackle any dreaded topics!

Incentivise studying

Evidence shows that incentivising studying leads to more effort, higher levels of motivation, and better performance. Choose something you like to do but don’t like so much that you won’t be able to stop and get back to revising (note to self on this one!!).

Incentive ideas:

If the exam is close the last thing you may want to do is take a break, so an option could be to watch a video on a topic you’re revising. This gives you a bit of a breather from the hard work of actively studying but you’re still passively reinforcing a subject.

Gamify your revision

I’m a big believer in using every piece of technology out there to improve focus, beat procrastination, and make studying more rewarding. Here are some examples:

Find a Balance

Don't let studying take over your life...


If you can work consistently, you shouldn’t need to work constantly! Fill your spare time with whatever you enjoy, whether it’s seeing family, socialising with friends, exercise, reading a book, watching tv, or listening to music. Some days, no matter how much you try, you just might not be in the mood to study, and there comes a point where it’s best to move on and do something else. If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you start incorporating mindfulness and meditation into your day - apps such as Headspace and Calm are great free resources (with in-app purchases) to get you started.

References:

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0014292114000439
https://productiveclub.com/benefits-rewarding-yourself/

Author: Ella Walkeden (Marketing & Outreach Lead)

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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