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Studying and making exams at home

Last updated on 22 September 2021

For many of us, having to study at home for such a long period can be unpleasant and there may also be practical issues. Below, we provide some tips for studying at home. 

Is your home situation unsafe, restless and/or unsustainable? Please contact the academic advisor to discuss your situation.

Watch this video from VU Amsterdam with tips on studying during the COVID pandemic.

Tips for studying at home

  • Create a healthy working environment

    Separate study / work & living / living / relaxing place

    Do: create a study / workplace where you work alone. Get creative if you are short on space, think about using just a part of the kitchen table for study, instead of using the whole table. You can then pause and relax in somewhat of a different place.

    Don't: don't study in bed or on the couch. These places are for relaxation. If you often study or work in your bed, you might associate your bed with studying more than with sleeping. This will not help you.

    Where can I best organise my study place? 

    Choose a quiet place where you can work undisturbed if possible. Make sure that no direct light falls on your screen and that you do not look directly at the (sun) light. Subdued light from the side is ideal.

    Set up your screen hight and distance in 10 steps

    Use these rules of thumb for the most optimal settings and perform them in the following order: 

    1. Place your feet firmly on the ground
    2. Position your legs at an angle of 90 degrees
    3. Keep a fist-wide space between the front of the seat and your knees
    4. Make sure your lower back is properly supported
    5. Ensure that the armrests are supporting your arms and your shoulders are relaxed
    6. The height of the table should be just below the armrests
    7. Position the screen at an arm’s length in front of you. The top edge should be positioned at eye level
    8. Position the mouse and keyboard (with the feet retracted) as close as possible to your body so that you do not need to stretch
    9. For variation, you could also use the function keys (e.g. Alt-Tab to switch between windows and Page Up and Page Down to scroll through a document).
    10. If you have to write or read on paper, the desk or table should be 4-5 cm higher

    View an example of a workplace design here.

    Working on a laptop: put it on your desk
    If you work at home on a laptop, set up the laptop workstation as a normal workstation. Make sure that the computer / laptop and screen are on a solid surface (desk or table). The top edge of your screen should be approximately at eye level. No laptop stand? Use a crate or a stack of books. Use a separate keyboard and mouse if possible.

    Avoid e-mailing on your smartphone
    For e-mail, work with a smartphone as little as possible, at least not for a long time. When using the smartphone, make sure your neck is not bent too much and for too long, so hold your phone in front of your face. If necessary, support your arm and change position often.

    Adjust the height of your desk and chair
    It is important that you support your body as well as possible and that your legs are not pinched. Make sure you don't have to shrug your shoulders and that you don't have to reach for the mouse as much as possible. Try to achieve the best possible alignment for yourself:

    • Place the screen higher on, for example, books or a pack of printing paper
    • Put your desk or table on bobbins if it is too low
    • Make sure you sit comfortably, at a fixed distance from the screen and at a good height (not on a wobbly sofa or stair)
    • Use a seat cushion if your chair is too low
    • Place a pillow or ottoman under your feet (your legs should be at about a 90 degree angle and your knees no higher than your pelvis)
    • Stay alert to the development of physical complaints

    If you do not have the right equipment to study or take exams at home, take a look at Surfspot.nl.

    Free Microsoft Office 365 for Students via VU Amsterdam
    VU Amsterdam offers Microsoft Office 365 for Students free of charge to optimally support online studying in the corona period. Previously you could purchase this package yourself via SURFspot, now you can download it directly via https://portal.office.com

    The Microsoft Office 365 for Students package includes the well-known Office 365 applications such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. The advantage of this package is that it is a cloud service, so you always have access to your files and the latest version of the Office programs.

    See the Office 365 for Students page on the AskIT portal for an explanation of how to install the package. Pay attention! Did you already purchase Microsoft Office 365 via SURFspot? Then you have to log in again once in one of the Office 365 for Students applications (such as Word) with your VU e-mail address.

    1. Go to https://portal.office.com  

    2. Log in with your VU email address (emailaddress@student.vu.nl or emailaddress@student.acta.nl) and corresponding password.

    3. Download Microsoft Office 365 for students.

    For a more detailed explanation of the installation of Microsoft Office 365 for Students, see the Office 365 for Students  page on the AskIT portal.

    Work safely!
    Be alert and use IT facilities consciously. Especially now that most people work and study from home, cyber criminals are trying to gain access to your files or our network in creative ways. OUR IT service has tightened the password policy, but at the same time is calling for you to stay aware of the devices and systems you use at home and to be alert to suspicious emails. 

  • Make the most of a video meeting
    • Make sure you are well prepared for the meeting; make sure you have all the attributes you need during the meeting (from books and notebooks to writing materials).
    • During the consultation, be focused on your task; make sure there is nothing else at the same time that distracts you (such as mobile calls, social media or Whatsapp).
    • Make sure you are and remain sober during the consultation. Do not consume alcoholic beverages or other substances before and during the consultation.
    • Appear normally dressed and groomed on screen, despite the weather conditions. This prevents distraction or perhaps annoyance during the meeting.
  • Make a work plan and a good daily schedule

    Rhythm & regularity

    Make a schedule. Include in it: start and end times; an overview of tasks with goals for the day or the week; work in blocks of 1 or 2 hours; and take plenty of breaks in between.

    Keep to your regular study rhythm
    Do you normally start studying at 9:00 am? Do that at home too. That provides structure. Clearly end the study day. Make a schedule for the next day; what is not finished, you reschedule, this way you safeguard a healthy workload.

    Clear goals and tasks
    On campus you can see what fellow students do, what they deliver and when they arrive and leave. You don't have that at home. Make sure you set clear goals and tasks for yourself, distinguish between "regular" and "necessary", and mark your time. If necessary, contact your study advisor if you need help with this.

    Good work-life balance
    Make sure you have a good balance between work and private tasks: when studying at home, there is a temptation that, for example, you do domestic tasks in between or do something else with your housemates. The ability to concentrate decreases rapidly due to distraction and interruption. It turns out that it takes about eight minutes each time before you return to the same concentration level.

    Consult with your housemates
    Do you share your space with someone else? Then you probably get more on each other's nerves now than before. 

    Do: talk to each other, make agreements together as far as possible. Give each other space to isolate yourself or to be alone for a while. Or just take a break together. See if you can divide the space you have somewhat into the workplace of "you" and "the other".

    Handy study apps

    To do lists / division of tasks:

    Todoist - tasks, to do lists, also for group work
    Asana - to do lists, group work

    To study:

    Evernote - take notes, scan documents, create to do lists
    Quizlet - learning for specific subjects: create your own study set, share with others
    Mathway - Explains math questions step by step

    Concentration:

    Plantie (free for Apple users)
    Forest (free for Android users)

  • Take plenty of breaks and exercise regularly

    Provide sufficient variety in your working posture and exercise regularly. Make sure you do not work continuously for too long. Take regular breaks: get up and walk a bit, climb stairs if possible, stretch or look into the distance for a few minutes. Watch for signs of overload, such as stiffness, (muscle) pain, numbness or tingling.

    Try to avoid these symptoms by taking frequent breaks and changing positions:

    • Get up and walk around as often as you can
    • Call fellow students instead of sending an -email
    • Grab a drink or a piece of fruit every half hour
    • Use a headset for telephone calls, which can also be the earphones of your mobile phone
    • Schedule longer breaks between (video) conversations
    • Reading documents? Sit on the couch or walk around a bit
    • Try to spread different types of activities over the day. Alternate intensive computer work with an activity where you can walk around for a while
    • Plan your exercise: take a lunch walk, go for a run, walk, dance, do yoga or follow a home workout from the VU sports center.

    Do exercises at your workplace.

  • Take care of yourself

    Accept that studying at home is not the same as studying on the VU Campus
    Don't set the bar unrealistically high for yourself. Don't expect yourself to be as productive as you normally are.

    Especially when you are at home with several people, you will have to be compliant with your daily schedule and agenda. It may be less easy to concentrate and you don't have all the things you need by hand. It can somewhat be compared to camping. Focus on the things that do work, and - just like with camping - practice makes perfect.

    Ensure peace and order at your workplace
    Make agreements about this at home. For example, agree times with your housemates when you don't want to be disturbed for a while.

    Working from home and study
    Is it hard to concentrate? View the e-tool Better concentration

    Try to collaborate and maintain contact with your fellow students
    Send a spontaneous e-mail with compliments, make a phone call to catch up and create a group app with fellow students. It is nice to have (informal) contact with each other sometimes. If you are going to make video calls, make sure you are in a room where you are not distracted and do not distract your conversation partners with distracting noises, background music or visual stimuli.

    Sick housemates?
    What should you do if a housemate has complaints and is tested? Or if a housemate has tested positive? Check the website of the GGD Amsterdam.

  • If things don't work: ask for help

    Of course, your academic advisor and the student psychological counsellors are available as usual. You will also find a lot of information on the page Staying physically and mentally fit.

    Our study advisors are happy to give you some tips. Watch the video by Marit van 't Hullenaar

Contact

For questions please contact the Student Desk.

The Student Desk will help you. Call us on +31 20 59 85020 (Mon – Fri: 10.30 – 12.30h and 14.00 – 16.00h).

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