Study more effectively

Most students begin with good intentions to work hard and achieve good marks. Yet, some students work hard and still do not progress well. Long hours spent studying don’t necessarily equate to quality learning. Therefore, it’s important to be strategic in your studies and make the most out of your time.

Should I apply a surface, deep or strategic approach?

Exams at university require you to demonstrate your understanding of concepts by applying your knowledge to a specific problem or scenario. This encourages deeper learning rather than simply understanding and recalling knowledge. It is important to understand and remember content; these are important stages of learning; but at university, you are required to engage in higher order thinking, such as application, analysis, evaluation and creation.

If your current study techniques focus on surface learning strategies such as rote learning (rather than application), you may need to change your approach and use more active strategies that will help you understand the material.

How can I make the most of my studies?

Look at the big picture of your course

It is very easy to become overwhelmed by both your study workload and extra-curricular activities and to find it challenging to identify the aims of the course.

Having an overview of how your course fits together a whole can help you work smarter. Focus on the objectives for each of your subjects. Examine your course outlines carefully and try to determine how the topics fit in with the course objectives.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the key issues or content areas in this subject?
  • What am I expected to be able to know or do by the end of the course?
  • How do the different topics relate to each other?
  • How do tutorials or lab classes link with lectures?
  • What skills do I need to demonstrate in assessment tasks?

Focus on the important stuff

Reflect on how you will be assessed and try to align this with your choice of study strategy. For example, if most of the assessable material for your subjects is presented in lectures, this should be your key area of study. If your exams are worth up to 70% of your marks, you should ensure you do lots of practice questions and revision from the start of the semester.

Pracs, labs and tutorials offer opportunities to apply your knowledge and check your understanding, so attend these if they are offered in your course.  Your tutors will often give you questions to answer before and during tutorials. Do them all! These tasks are similar to those you will face in the exam.

Take time to prepare well for your classes

  • Before
    • Skim read designated book chapters, articles or lecture notes) and check your course outline at the beginning of every new topic. Ensure that you read with a question in mind. This will enable you to develop some context to help you better understand what you are about to learn. You will also gain a better idea of how the lecture content might be organised and what some of the main issues are, including new terms and concepts
    • Try to re-read your previous lecture notes before the new lecture so that you have some context for the new information you will hear.
  • During
    • Organise your notes so that you can easily engage with the content. There are many note-taking styles, so try to find a style that works for you.
    • You don’t need to write down everything down during the class. Try to note down anything that has been identified as being important and areas that you need to do some more work on.
  • After
    • Regular reviewing of material will enable you to monitor and consolidate your understanding. If you don’t understand a concept after a lecture, you are unlikely to understand it any better in ‘Swot Vac’ (study week after Week 12 with typically no classes being held) without prior revision.
    • Some active revision strategies are:
      • asking questions about the material
      • thinking about how it relates to what you already know
      • making connections between the content and the world outside of your studies
      • annotating your notes
      • highlighting challenging concepts or problems and allocating time to work on these.
    • Ideally, do your revision on the same day as the lecture. Try to review all your classes on the day they are delivered. If you fall behind and daily reviewing becomes too time intensive, then review at the end of each topic.
    • If you keep up with your course and spend time consolidating your understanding of content material, you will become more engaged with the subject and find it easier to complete your coursework

Ask for help if you need it

  • If you’re falling behind or don’t understand course material, talk to a lecturer or tutor: they are interested in your progress.
  • Consider working collaboratively with other students. Organise a study group or work with a friend. Fellow students are frequently good sources of information and may be able to help clarify difficult concepts and applications.
  • In addition, you can make an appointment to see an Academic Skills Adviser to review your approach to your studies.

Keep your assignments in perspective

  • Working on your assessments tasks is another opportunity for you to learn content and to practice skills in the subject.
  • Keep in mind that some tasks may only be worth 15% of your marks, so allocate your time according to their weighting. Your exams may be worth 70%, so you need to keep up the process of regular review and consolidation of material.

Use your time effectively

  • Most students manage sport, work, social, and family commitments in addition to their studies. These activities all make a valuable part of the university experience, but you need to balance the time you spend on them with studying. Remember, the workload required to complete a full-time degree is similar to that of a full-time job.
  • Diaries or weekly and daily ‘to do’ lists are useful aids to help you stay on track, stick to a plan, and keep up with your workload. Whatever system you use, listing tasks in writing is a form of commitment to completion.
  • Try to schedule frequent regular intervals of study. This has been shown to have better study outcomes rather than long study sessions.

Make a timetable that works for you

  • Provided you use it flexibly, a timetable listing all of your commitments for the week may help you stay on track and identify how much time you actually have available to study. A semester wall planner or calendar showing all of your assessment tasks and tests in each subject may also help you identify and plan for busy times when assessment tasks overlap.
  • Whatever course you study, there are routine tasks which you need to complete each week: preparing for lectures and tutorials; preparing and/or completing labs or pracs; completing problem or tute sheets; completing online tutorials; and reviewing your lectures.
  • Ideally, you should list all of these tasks on your weekly timetable and semester planner. Estimate how much time each task will take you to complete it. Allocate time weekly to each subject and allow extra time for more difficult concepts.

Manage procrastination

  • If you find yourself putting off working on difficult tasks, try to break them down into smaller, more achievable components, or work with others to improve your motivation.
  • Minimise distractions by turning your phone off or by allocating specific times for diversions, such as playing games or checking your social media.

Final tip

Taking time to reflect on effective study strategies will help you to become a more engaged learner. Try to do this frequently: At the beginning, at the midpoint and at the end of the semester are ideal times to take a more strategic approach to your studies.

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