Congratulations! You got into University and you’re raring to go!
You’ve overcome the first hurdles. You’re settled in your new dorm-room, you’ve become best buds with everyone down the corridor and you know the best place to get pizza from.
It’s now time to get down to business – studying. Be prepared for a bit of a culture shock. University professors are not going to hold your hand like your teachers did. You’re an adult now and they expect you to sort out all your studying yourself. You are going to have to study hard to be successful, but if you study smart too you will have plenty of time left to enjoy life.
Here’s the four strategies all the smart students follow at University to secure success:
Strategy 1: Be Organised and Plan Ahead
• You cannot afford to miss anything on your syllabus schedule. Set up an electronic calendar of all your lectures, seminars and assignment deadlines. Give each date an advanced alarm call.
• Reflect on the time of day that you tend to study best. When is your brain most alive and eager for knowledge? Put that time aside in your calendar for private study.
• Constantly keep ahead of the game by reviewing your calendar every Sunday. Create a weekly ‘To Do’ list to ensure you focus on priorities.
• Don’t waste time faffing about searching for important notes on the eve of assignment deadlines. Keep notes for each module in separate colour-coded folders. Add a table of contents at the start of the folder. Add relevant headings and dates at the start of each set of notes. Number every page. Use both to update your table of contents. Buy yourself a quality hole punch to secure handouts and research documents in your folders. Remember to add page numbers to these too.
• Assign a different electronic folder for each module too; a great place for keeping online electronic research and drafts of assignments. Give tag words to each document to all for quick and easy retrieval.
Strategy 2: Study Hard, Study Smart
• Plan to study two hours a day in addition to your syllabus schedule. This is just as important during semesters when there are no exams as when there are.
• Avoid being distracted by friends and flat mates when you are studying. Don’t study in your room, where you will be easy prey for others. Grab a study bay on the top floor of the library (or the one below if this is where your subject is located). Take everything you need for your study time – comfortable clothes, no-sugar snacks, water.
• Don’t kid yourself that music will help you study – it just forces the brain to constantly jump from the music to your studies and back again, which is exhausting. Humans do not multi-task well.
• Use the Pomodoro Method. Prioritise what you need to study, get all the materials you need together, set a timer for thirty minutes (vary according to taste) and don’t do anything but study that priority topic for that time (no music, no trips to the coffee machine, no painting your nails!). Then reward yourself with a five minutes rest – go do something physical and totally unrelated to what you are studying. Then re-set your timer and start all over again. You will be amazed how much you will get done using this method.
• Find out how your assignments and examinations will be assessed and keep track of your marks. Both of my elder children did this and found it helpful to make decisions on the work they needed to prioritise.
• Always read an article or chapter all the way through before making any notes. By seeing the big picture first, you will understand the material better and write more effective and shorter notes as a result. Take your notes during the second read. If you own a copy of the article or book, highlight anything important as you go.
• When taking quotes always make a note of the source – author, publication, edition, page number. If you can’t give the source, a quote is useless.
• Writing notes by hand is slower than word processing. And that’s a strength. Writing gives your brain more time to process the information. Hand write your notes and word process your assignments.
• Lecture notes can be tricky. Your lecturer will be going at their own speed and won’t be giving any consideration to whether you have had the time to finish making a note of what they have said. Many lecturers today use PowerPoints or similar and make them available on-line – if they do, print off a three-slide note version of the presentation and write your own notes alongside. If electronic presentations aren’t available, remember that most lectures are based on the lecturer’s own printed work – get a copy of the relevant article or book and read them before the lecture. This will help you understand the main points of the lecture before you get there, aiding the subsequent notes you make.
• Don’t worry about keeping lecture notes neat and tidy, time is too short for such niceties. Mind Maps are great for lectures – quick and easy to write while at the same time creating an easy to understand structure. Re-writing and re-organising the notes afterwards will help you gain a greater understanding of the material anyway.
Strategy 3: Review and Engage
• A good set of organised notes will ensure you know your subject well, but without actively engaging with the material you will never understand it to the depth required. Build time into your schedule to regularly review your notes and engage with the learning:
• Once every week or two, protect some time to review your notes. You may find it helpful to use this time to re-write your notes into better organised and more clearly presented versions. You are certainly going to want to do this at the end of a module or course; take the opportunity to identify themes and links throughout the material.
• Create flash cards from your notes every week or so. Put questions on the front, bullet notes on the back. Alternatively, use the Cornell method of note taking. Keep a wide margin on the left of your notes to write questions about the material to refer to later or to conduct further research about material you weren’t too sure about.
• Read more than the reading list. Immerse yourself in the main subjects.
• Take part in seminars. Make sure you know the topic to be discussed and do more than the required reading. Write a bullet list of issues to discuss. Be prepared to take the lead – make a point or raise a question right from the start. One of the best ways of testing our understanding is by talking about it with others.
• Take the initiative and invite other students to a study group. Try to set up meetings the day after major lectures so that you can all test your understanding of what was said. Meet somewhere informal to create the right vibe for friendly debate and discussion.
Strategy 4: Be Human!
• Don’t kid yourself that you are special; unless you take the time to look after your mental and physical health you will not perform at your best.
• We are social beings. Socialise (That includes all you introverts out there!)
• Force yourself to exercise three times a week, for at least an hour. If you aren’t into sport, a brisk long walk around campus is all it needs to keep physically healthy.
• Pizza feeds the soul but can kill the body. Balance out convenience food with fresh, healthy alternatives.
• Getting eight hours of sleep daily is essential. Your brain needs this time to properly assimilate everything you have studied during the day.
As a mother to three adolescents, a high school teacher of twenty years’ experience and now as a life-coach to young people, I am passionate about supporting teenagers and young adults live happy and successful lives. I provide a confidential on-line coaching service for either / both adolescents and their parents. I can be available to you wherever you are and at a time that is convenient to yourself. If you think I could help you do not hesitate to book a Discovery Call with me today.