As I’ve recently returned to university education after a ten year hiatus, I thought that I would share some simple, practical tips for coping with the trials of study in the 21st century. I’m learning and relearning as I go, so these ideas are subject to revision.
So without further ado, here is my current top ten:
1. Embrace technology
We live in an unprecedented era of widespread technological innovation. Research, note taking, essay & assignment writing, planning, organising your schedule, and so much more can be optimised by the judicious use of technology.
For example, get yourself at least one Google account and make extensive use of Google drive to organise your notes, PDFs, calendar, important documents, etc. It’s free and works a dream with laptops, tablets and smartphones. At the very least you can back up all of your research and work to Google Drive, in case anything happens to your computer. Other useful services like this include Evernote & Dropbox.
You can use many smartphones as scanners if you want to take pictures of books you’re reading (this is a feature of the Google drive app for Android), which is extremely useful for making citations in essays or theses later on. The possibilities are dizzying, so get your imaginations in gear, and try stuff out!
2. Plan ahead
As fun as it seems to be free as a bird in your first term as a student, you’re actually in a very challenging situation as an undergraduate/mature student. My advice is to plan your weeks in reverse order from your assignment deadlines, especially if there’s reading and/or extensive research involved.
Get your assignment titles way ahead of time, chew over them, break them down and start preparing ASAP. If you’re on an exam/project based course, get ahead of the game and practise. You’ll save yourself stress (and marks) further down the line.
One area that may be new for you if you’re writing essays is the required standard of referencing and/or templates for submission of academic work. Don’t assume you know what’s expected, check everything out and ask for help if needs be. Poor, inadequate or non existent referencing can cost you a lot of marks.
3. Reward achievements
Simple, but effective. If you plan in and treat yourself after getting through an exam/term/submitting an essay, you’re likely to boost your motivation levels and give yourself a well earned break. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of this small idea.
4. Eat & Sleep well.
Easier said than done in many cases. Yet this is a crucial factor in longevity and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. You’ll study better & longer if you eat & sleep well, and you’ll reduce stress levels which can make a big difference when deadlines are coming up. Drink lots of water and if you’re in a noisy place, buy some foam earplugs to get you through the night.
5. Don’t be over ambitious with research.
If you’re doing a course with lots of reading, plan it and learn some staple study techniques. These can include skim reading, reading first & last chapters of books, looking up chapter headings & focusing your reading to key areas, and finding summaries and study guides of longer works. Try to prioritise reading into primary & secondary works, taking more time over the important stuff. You can’t read everything cover to cover!
6. Develop note taking techniques.
This ties in with number one. If you can use technology to speed up your note taking, you’ll be more efficient in the long run. A simple idea is to make notes as you read, summarise key points, and write down good quotes – with all the information required by your university referencing criteria (author, work, publisher, year, page number, etc). You might also experiment with flow charts, spider diagrams, audio notes, pictures etc.
7. Exercise periodically.
Even if it’s just a short walk around the block, taking breaks to get out of the library/classroom/bedroom can wake you up, give you thinking time, and refresh your brain ready for the next study session.
8. Collaborate with other students.
Whether they’re from your own year/course/university, the power of the creative exchange is invaluable. Accept that people have insight to offer which you might benefit from, and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to connect with bloggers/experts in your field over the Web either, we live in a global community.
9. Ask lecturers and tutors for help & advice.
This speaks for itself, but don’t isolate yourself from your teachers, and ask for clarification on things if necessary.
10. Think about/remind yourself why you’re studying.
Very important this. University can feel all consuming and/or like a bit of fun until the real world hits you squarely in the proverbials upon graduation. Consider why you chose the course your did, take responsibly for your education and future career, and remember how privileged you are to have access to a university education.
Nobody owes you a favour and three years will fly by before you know it, a year even more so. Try to ground what you’re learning in real life, and look for work experience opportunities in your holiday periods, assuming you have some idea of the kind of work you’ll be looking for after university. If you have no idea yet, spend time thinking/researching/contacting people about what you might like to do. The chances are it’ll pay off in the long run.
So there you go, a quick list of tips! I hope that they are useful.