Studying can be a very big part of your university life and knowing how to effectively study is extremely important. Some subjects will require more attention than others because some may have exams and others may not. Studying requires a certain level of discipline and willingness. While studying can be hard to do sometimes, once you figure ways that work for you, it can become easy, while still requiring effort.
I’ve been asked how I study a number of times and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just write a blog post on the same. I hope these study tips will be helpful to you especially if you find it difficult to study!
1. Know what study method works for you
There are so many different study methods. What works for me may not work for you. If you are unsure of what method is best for you, you can go ahead and explore different methods until you find the best.
I’m an engineering student so I’d say about 70% of my program is numbers. With that said, I have to do a lot of practice for my design courses and math. Even though my program involves a lot of numbers and formulas, I do my best to avoid memorizing and I always like to know why things work the way they do. I have come to find that when I know why I have to multiply at a certain point or knowing why a formula is the way it is, I have a higher chance of getting things right. The last time I tried to memorize design processes, I failed the course. So if you work with formulas and numbers, I highly advise knowing how to derive the formulas or at least knowing why the things are set up the way they are. Focus on understanding! There are people who have amazing memorization skills but unfortunately that is not me. I’ll end up forgetting one step and then messing up everything.
For theory classes, I have to write things down or I will struggle to remember. I make summarized notes for everything so that I don’t have to look through the main text every time. Additionally, if your program is 90% theoretical, I highly recommend making flashcards. These definitely helped me for my history classes in high school and I know people who still use them in university!
If I could choose what study method worked for me, I would choose to be the student who understands everything the first time the lecturer explains them. Those are the real stars.
2. Attend your lectures
Believe it or not, studying actually starts in the class. Attend your classes so that you can hear everything your lecturer has to say and ask questions when things aren’t clear. I allow myself to miss a maximum of two sessions for each class I’m taking in a semester but other than that, I’m always in class (unless something unexpected comes up, of course).
I really recommend attending classes and actually paying attention. That helps you know what you don’t really know and what you may need to spend more time trying to understand. Take notes and don’t rely on your brain to remember certain facts because it can let you down. Also, if a lecturer repeats the same thing twice or three times, take note of it because it will probably be in your test or exam.
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3. Have a schedule
If you can, have a fixed time to wake up, fixed time to eat and fixed time to study. You can create a schedule based on what your class schedule looks like. Having some sort of routine can be quite helpful and ensures that you study when you are supposed to.
When it comes to a study schedule, I can study one subject for a maximum of 2 continuous hours only. After 2 hours, I can’t concentrate anymore. I also try to pair a design course or math related course with something theoretical. Contrast. I try to do the math related courses everyday to open up my mind and get me into the flow of things. After 2 hours of reading or writing notes, I do some math for maybe thirty minutes and then go back to reading. I can’t look at the same thing for more than 2 hours straight. I need breaks. This helps to prevent learning fatigue.
I’m a big planner and to-do lists keep me going. Write your goals for the day (preferably) the night before, write down what content you plan to cover during your study session and then do it. You know how sometimes you sit down to study and then spend an hour trying to figure out what to study? That can easily be avoided by planning beforehand.
There are different apps that you could use to create to-do lists or you could simply use sticky notes.
Extra tip: Doing assignments does not equal studying. I hate to break it to you but it really doesn’t. A lot of times we do assignments just to submit them or get them done but we rarely ever retain information from them. Have time to work on assignments and have time to study.
4. Have the right study material
Have a notebook, pen, calculator and textbooks if you need them. You don’t need to buy brand new textbooks but you can get them from your university’s library, rent them online or buy a second hand one from your seniors.
I don’t buy new notebooks every semester because that is not cost effective. I group related courses in the same book. For example, my structural design courses go in the same book, my environmental courses go in the same book etc. That reduces the need to buy a book for every subject. It is also super helpful for times when you need to refer to a course you took 2 years ago. I still have my notebooks from my 1st year!
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5. Ask questions!
You lose nothing by asking for help. If you don’t understand a certain concept and you have genuinely tried to figure it out and you don’t understand the YouTube tutorial on the same, please ask someone else for help. Ask your lecturer, your course-mates, seniors, find a tutor etc. Whatever it is, do not get comfortable with not knowing!
Side note: When I was starting university, one thing my dad really emphasized is the importance of asking for help. However, he also said that it’s not so good to be the one who always goes to a particular group or person and all you do is ask questions. Have something to offer. While your something to offer may not be help with a particular course, you can at least be active in group discussions, make suggestions on how something can be solved and make contributions too! Don’t just take, take and take but also be willing to give.
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6. Have a study partner
I do not have one but it is something I have tried and it has definitely worked. I once studied with one of my friends who was studying Medicine. Something completely different from me. We shared what topics we planned to study and then gave each other two hours to study. When the two hours were up, he called me and he explained to me what he had studied and I explained what I did the same. That was extremely helpful and I still remember what I studied on that day over a year ago.
Explaining things you’ve read to someone else, in your own words can be very helpful. It is something I recommend. This works similarly to study groups and while study groups do not work for me, this is something that does and deep down, I wish I had one now. (If you want to study with me, let me know!)
7. Avoid leaving things to the last minute
Avoid starting to study 2 weeks before your exams. I have done this before and honestly still do it sometimes but it just doesn’t work well and doesn’t produce the best results for me. It’s better to study in a calm manner and environment than in one full of stress and pressure. We really glamorize trying to save the semester in 1 week and I would like to understand why.
One tip I’d give you regarding the same is that when you know you have a test coming up, study like you are studying for an exam. Even if the test only covers 3 chapters. Study to actually know the stuff so that when it’s time for exams, you’re not studying for everything from the very beginning and you don’t have to spend so much time on those three chapters. I hope that makes sense.
Just study smartly throughout the semester. Don’t procrastinate!
8. Go through past papers
If you’re able to find past exam papers from your university, have a look at them so that you can have a general idea of what the exam looks like and how many questions to expect. Sometimes, lecturers repeat the questions and you’ll only know this if you go through past papers. Answering the questions is also a way of studying and seeing what you remember or understood and what you didn’t.
9. Create a suitable study environment
Make sure your study environment is distraction free to allow you to focus on one thing. If you need to put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” in order for you to focus, then do that. I try to put my phone away when I’m studying just so that I don’t keep stopping to reply to messages. For some reason, videos on YouTube and movies on Netflix become 10 times more interesting when you should be studying.
De-clutter your study space. A cluttered environment is not helpful at all. I know this better than anyone.
Finally, if you’re having trouble focusing and you have already done the aforementioned, study somewhere new. Sit in another room, go to the library, sit outside, sit at a cafe etc. Sometimes all you need is a change of environment and everything works out.
My roommate likes to say, “In this house we really believe in lying down.” We do. We really do. Make time to rest and do things other than study. What you do in that time is up to you but be sure to rest and relieve yourself of whatever pressure you might be feeling. Take time off!
I hope these 10 tips will motivate you to study. All the best to you as you study. If you’re just starting a new semester, like me, I hope you have an amazing one. If you were just looking for study tips, all the best to you.
Any other tips you’d like to share with me? What study method works best for you? What kind of student would you like to be…ideally? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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Thanks for reading!