Students share their top study tips

15 May 2019 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Je’nine May. Read time 7 min.
Hannah Mather swears by good-quality sleep and meditation for study success.
Hannah Mather swears by good-quality sleep and meditation for study success.

With just over a week to go before the University of Cape Town (UCT) goes into exam mode, students have either already started studying or are about to change gear and spend the next few weeks glued to their books.

With so much to read and remember, it’s easy – and natural – to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps you’re struggling with technique, maybe with what to eat or where to set up your study nook. Fortunately, your fellow students are on hand to share their favourite strategies for getting through the exam period.

Replicate exam conditions

Students share their top study tips
Nicholas Petersen replicates exam conditions to prepare.

For actuarial science honours student Nicholas Petersen, it’s all about replicating the exam conditions as best you can.

“Study at the same time of the day you’re writing your exam. Apply the same amount of time pressure. Mark it strictly,” he said.

Petersen added that sitting in the Sports Centre on exam day can be intimidating but studying in a similar environment can help. He suggested setting up a single desk under similar lighting and laying out your stationery as you will on exam day.

Calm environment

In addition to replicating the exam environment, finding and creating the ideal study space is important for students.

Students share their top study tips
Lufuno Neluheni swears by finding the ideal study space.

Lufuno Neluheni believes “a calm environment is key”.

“I would suggest studying in the library [and] studying at the lower section of the library, the quiet section if you really need to cram your stuff,” she laughed.

Students share their top study tips
Sibusiso Magagula takes full advantage of UCT Libraries for study sessions.

Sibusiso Magagula, a first-year accounting student, agreed.

He spends his study sessions in UCT Libraries’ Hlanganani Junction, which provides a quiet space with no interruptions.

Time of day is also important for him. “I find it better to study at night because that’s when it’s quiet … and there’s no one to disturb me.”

A bonus tip from the accounting student is to use previous test papers as practice exams.

Food and friends as fuel

Your nutrition should not be neglected either.

Business communication postgraduate Muhammed Suwayd Sablay said that while you should eat the foods you enjoy, you should avoid overeating and consuming rich, fatty foods that will make you fall asleep.

Students share their top study tips
Muhammed Suwayd Sablay is all about healthy eating during exam time.

“Also, fruits are always a benefit,” he said.

Nicole Haird, a dietetics honours student sitting alongside fellow dieticians in the making, echoed Sablay’s food tips.

She recommended healthy snacks during exam time but cautioned that these must be balanced.

Students share their top study tips
Dietetics students Megan Ropertz, Nicole Haird, Andricia Govender, Sam de Kock, Cheyenne Oosthuizen and Michaela Schultz.

“So often people eat just a fruit ... or some other carbohydrate by itself. But this can cause a spike in blood sugar levels which then ends up with the drop coming on the other side of that,” she explained.

So, ideally, students should pair an apple with some nuts or peanut butter, for instance, for balance and to ensure optimal studying energy levels.

But perhaps you see exam time as a chance to treat yourself. Friends Lucia Anthony and Casey Fredericks love to snack on chips and chocolate. In fact, Fredericks won’t start a study session without a peppermint chocolate.

Students share their top study tips
Snacks and a study buddy are essential for exam preparation, according to Lucia Anthony and Casey Fredericks.

“Snacks are so important. One of us is always eating something or drinking something while we’re [studying],” laughed Fredericks.

But outranking snacks in study essentials is a study buddy. Anthony and Fredericks usually study together, diving into the books for a few hours and then stepping away to relax, talk and joke.

A bonus tip from Anthony is finding a playlist to get you into the right mood to study, preferably something to calm you down. Her preference is old-school R & B.

Third-year anthropology, English and linguistics student Zoe Robertson also finds music essential.

Students share their top study tips
Zoe Robertson uses music to get into the right frame of mind.

“Music definitely helps me. It takes me out of a headspace where I’m [stressing]. It takes me to a place where I can enjoy myself and feel myself and know that I’ve got this,” she said.

Her genre of choice?

“A lot of K-pop. A lot of bubblegum pop to get you excited.”

Rest and meditation

A common tip from students is to get the right amount of sleep and to set aside time to rest and “re-centre” through meditation.

Media masterʼs student Zimasa Mpemnyama won’t compromise on taking time to rest. She respects her biological clock and, instead of working counter to it, ensures she’s on campus during the day and resting at night.

Students share their top study tips
Masterʼs student Zimasa Mpemnyama knows that respecting her biological clock helps her succeed.

“The best tip I can give for exams is to rest and give yourself time to do the work,” said Mpemnyama.

“So, rest and take constant breaks.”

Students share their top study tips
Femina Bompaka prefers studying in colder weather.

Femina Bompaka, a first-year film and media studies student, sees nurturing her spiritual side as key to her success.

“Meditation is important, and this might sound clichéd, but prayer as well. It keeps you focused and stops you from procrastinating.”

She added that studying in colder weather helps.

“I believe that when you feel colder, it helps with concentration, it keeps you awake, you become aware and you remember much easier,” she said.

Third-year student Hannah Mather, who is studying a triple major in politics, philosophy and English literature, knows the value of “sleep hygiene”.

Students share their top study tips
Compromising on sleep is a no-no for Hannah Mather.

This means getting enough quality sleep – between seven to eight hours – preferably without the aid of any medication.

“I find when I’m not sleeping enough, it’s easier for me to get overwhelmed. You need to sleep to consolidate information and once you learn that, you’re like, ‘I am not going to compromise on my sleep’,” said Mather.

“That is vital.”

She recently started allocating 20 minutes every morning to meditation and as someone who is “naturally anxious”, this helps her focus and re-centre herself.

Her final strategy for surviving a stressful exam period is committing herself to socialise. She makes sure that she spends time with friends every evening, allocating roughly two hours to relaxing every day.

“You need that break because studying all day for how many weeks straight ... that’s also not healthy.”

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Highlights from 2019


As we look back on 2019, we celebrate the top 40 stories that were most popular with readers of the UCT News website during the year.

Prestigious scholarship for star pupil Prospective UCT student Terrell Demorgan has been awarded the inaugural Daniel Samuel Maseko Memorial Scholarship for 2020. 31 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT adds Khoekhoegowab to its language courses UCT announced during its Africa Month celebrations the addition of Khoekhoegowab, the indigenous Khoisan language, to its multilingual short courses. 30 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT in top 1.3% globally UCT ranks best in Africa, according to the latest Center for World University Rankings. 30 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Touch down for SA’s banking Siri Four UCT students have developed a one-stop banking shop that performs banking transactions, monitors account activity and speaks four South African languages. 30 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Warm response to Moloi-Motsepe’s election as chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe has been elected as the University of Cape Town’s sixth chancellor. She will take up the position from 1 January 2020. 29 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT tops in Africa in all five major rankings UCT took the top spot in South Africa and jumped back into the 201–300 band in the latest ShanghaiRankingʼs Academic Ranking of World Universities 2019. 28 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT best in Africa in world rankings UCT has been ranked the best university on the continent in the 2020 US News Best Global Universities rankings. 27 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Cape Town’s drought under the microscope PhD candidate Precious Mahlalela dedicated her masterʼs thesis to understanding the cause of the Mother City’s recent drought and received recognition in a top international journal. 27 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
SA’s first ‘LinkedIn for creatives’ Three UCT Commerce students have designed an online platform that gives creative professionals a way to network and share their work with a vast audience. 27 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Common contraceptive could raise TB risk A breakthrough study at UCT has revealed that one of the country’s most commonly used injectable contraceptives could potentially increase users’ risk of contracting tuberculosis. 26 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT graduates ‘highly sought after’ UCT Careers Service’s Graduate Exit Survey confirms that the university’s graduates remain “highly sought after”, with only about 10% of the 2018 class still seeking jobs. 25 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Levelling the maths, physics playing field Thabang Sebetoane’s brainchild, the tutoring project Tshehetso, uses coaching and mentoring to prepare potential engineering students for success at university. 24 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Dual degree was ‘a juggling act’ With diligence and perseverance, UCT student Kira Düsterwald simultaneously graduated with her degree in medicine and her masterʼs in neuroscience. 24 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Balance key to two-in-one degree Balance was key to UCT’s Nicola Steinhaus graduating with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree concurrently. 24 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT master’s degrees pull international students A significant number of UCT’s 605 new international students in 2019 have signed up for master’s degree programmes, a trend that’s evident across all six academic faculties. 23 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
‘This is my mother’s graduation’ While it’s his name on the degree, Ntebogang Segone says his 17 April graduation belongs to his mother. 23 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
New ‘fully funded’ scholarship for top young researchers UCT's new Vice-Chancellor Research Scholarship will support and develop the university's top young researchers as they tackle society's most pressing challenges. 23 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Hon doc for maths ‘trailblazer’ Phakeng VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng says her honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol is “a recognition of the many people who made me, those I represent”. 22 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Student’s urine-recovery system for R600m building In a first for South Africa, a urine-recovery urinal system developed at UCT has been incorporated into the design of a R600-million Centurion office building. 21 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Tackling the fake qualifications threat Universities and employers in South Africa have a vital tool to tackle the fake qualifications menace, thanks to the country’s world-first online verification system MiE. 20 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Changing face of UCT infrastructure A new 500-bed residence, an education building and a redeveloped North Bus Stop are among seven new developments in the pipeline to meet UCT’s needs to 2035. 20 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Student’s 3D-printer plan to change education UCT student Denislav Marinov has big plans for democratising quality education in South Africa, one 3D printer at a time. 20 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Black women academics: ‘Stay in the system’ Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s plea to young black women academics ahead of Women’s Day is that they “stay in the system” to change the status quo in academia. 19 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT back in top 10 for development studies UCT has moved up two places in the 2019 QS World University Rankings by Subject, to reclaim its position in the top 10. 19 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
‘Something is deeply wrong with our society’ During a memorial service for Uyinene Mrwetyana, UCT chancellor, Mrs Graça Machel, said South Africa faces a deeply rooted problem and needs help. 19 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Students share their top study tips With just over a week to go before exams start, UCT students share their tried and tested tips for study success. 18 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Leverage privilege to change education, Madonsela urges Apartheid has cast a huge shadow over the country, particularly education, and it will need all of society to break the cycle of poverty. 18 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
UCT says ‘Enough is enough’ at Parliament picket UCT students and staff were joined by members of the public in a picket at Parliament to protest escalating sexual and gender-based violence. 18 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Matric maths pass rate poses significant challenge for universities Universities may have to swop targeted interventions for systemic change if they are to successfully graduate the strongest students currently exiting the South African school system. 17 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Solving SA’s literacy crisis An education expert told UCT Summer School participants that thereʼs no quick fix for South Africaʼs literacy crisis. It will take time and hard work. 17 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019
Racism and ‘xenophobia’: 10 key points UCT News highlighted 10 key points from UCT PhD candidate Ivan Katsere’s op-ed on the centrality of racism in violence against African migrants. 17 Dec 2019 Highlight from 2019