So if you’re like me, you might have finished high school thinking ‘how could study get any more stressful than this?’
Then, three weeks into the first semester you realise you just covered all of the high school chemistry in six lectures.
Adjusting to the fast-paced and independent learning environment at university can be tricky, even for those who excelled in their final years of high school. You spend hours sitting in lecture theatres the size of a concert hall listening to academics who look like ants because you’re sitting so far away. Or, if you’re like me, your lecturers are a friendly voice that can be sped up 2 times on the lecture recordings that you listen to from the comfort of your own home.
But how should we do it? How can we really make the most of our time at uni and get the grades we need? There are a few things I’ve learnt from 5 years of studying at two different unis and trialling countless study strategies, and I’m going to share them with you.
Having a well-defined, clear and attainable finishing line is the first essential component of surviving uni. Without knowing what you are aiming for, you could literally sit at your computer for hours studying and still feel nervous you’re not doing enough. This could mean aspiring for a certain grade in one unit, an overall WAM, just passing a unit, or working hard enough that you feel you’ve done your best. It’s different for everyone.
There’s no point setting the bar higher than you can jump and find yourself flying through the air only to hit the pole and crash into the mat. Sometimes it can be hard to assess your own capabilities. For me, I always use past achievements as an indicator of how well I could do in the future, and I consider other factors such as time commitment and genuine interest for the topic relevant to the required study. And if I’m really unsure, I’ll make my aims the most achievable they can be, always keeping my overall end-goal in mind. You might have also heard of the greatly advocated ‘chunking’ –that is, breaking down big tasks into smaller, achievable ones. It can be highly useful. Achieving each small ‘chunk’ can give you some satisfaction and motivation to move forward, and before you know it you’ll be at the finish line.
I cannot stress how important it is to stick to the strategies that suit you the most. Having attempted studying late at night versus early in the mornings, using pen and paper versus typing notes only, having an hour-by-hour schedule versus sporadically studying what appeals to me at the time, I can definitely say that sticking with the study techniques and habits that have worked for me in the past has been the best indicator of my success in a new unit at uni. This means that when it comes to studying I have a routine, I know how to achieve the tasks at hand, and I have faith that my study will yield good results (given I don’t procrastinate too much).
Setting up or finding an area (whether it be the library at uni or, much to your housemate’s dismay, the dining table at home), that is quiet and free of distractions, is essential for making the most of your study time. At the same time, if you find certain things more helpful for study, such as having friends around or sitting in a light-filled space, then arrange it! Some people also find it useful to use browser extensions that block social media sites, or hide their phone somewhere to prevent endless procrastination (it’s amazing how far you can scroll down an Instagram feed before realising the time). In the end, the more efficient you can be with the time you have to study, the more time you can spend enjoying your breaks. Another study tip is to:
This was something I probably didn’t realise the importance of until second-year uni, and boy did it make an astronomical difference when I took it up. Doing practice questions and exams not only forces you to recall information buried deep down in your brain and apply the concepts you’ve learnt in class, but it’s also a really good way to revise what is most likely going to be in the exams. Lecturers and tutors are known to give students practice questions or emphasise certain tutorial tasks that are ‘high yield’ or ‘really a good idea to study for your upcoming exam’ – my advice is that you listen to this and practice!
Last, and definitely not least:
It’s too easy to either get caught up drowning in understanding a difficult concept or trying to memorise pages and pages of information before realising that you haven’t actually looked away from your computer in three hours and wow, is it dark outside? On the other hand, sometimes you can sit at your desk for a solid hour just thinking, I am never going to pass this exam and how will I ever cover all this information and oh my goodness I don’t even remember that lecture do I even have a brain! – Both of these scenarios should be treated with a break. Whether you’re overwhelmed with information you’ve just crammed into your head after downing three coffees or overwhelmed with the prospect of the study itself, sometimes just getting up and away is absolutely necessary. This could mean doing some exercise, sleeping, eating, chatting with friends or anything else that maintains your well-being and prevents you from turning into an absolute mess during study week.
Studying at uni requires a lot of self-motivation and sometimes a lot of time commitment. Establishing an effective routine and method that suits you will not only lead to better marks and achieving goals, but it is also one of the best ways to make sure you can balance your studies with a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle.
Elisa G is a current Medical Student. She is also part of the Marketing Team at GradReady GAMSAT Preparation Courses.