How to study smarter? Tips for newbies (and oldies too)

Studying at a university is a privilege not all people get to experience. Thus everyone that has the opportunity should take full advantage of it, meaning they should focus solely on studying. Still, many people fail to do so and end up graduating university with the lowest possible grades to pass or even dropping out before the last year. What makes it hard to focus on studying and how to avoid getting lost during the process?

Person reading a textbook.
Image credit: Pixabay

As a university student myself, I have faced many obstacles in studying that I find to be common problems associated with studying at a university. The first aspect is a change of environment. Most people step into university (and adult life) straight from high school, which brings a lot of changes. Many move out of their family home, become independent for the first time, get a job, and have to become responsible basically over a night. This all comes as a shock and creates more problems than just dealing with school, taking away from full dedication to studies.

With the change of environment comes a change in the workload and the responsibility to keep track of every assignment that must be done. In Estonia, teachers remind students of their homework, exams, or other projects on a daily basis, whether it be in the classroom or via the internet, so it is easier to remember everything that must be done. In university, though, a student is left to their own devices. No more reminders by professors, small tests to fully understand the subject, or group projects with your closest friends that are more fun than hard. The amount of work is shocking to some and can be hard to comprehend. Due to the amount of work, it is easier to forget certain assignments which could lead to failing a course entirely. Keeping track of everything is much more difficult, and the heavy workload can cause a drop in the average grade, because students are okay with half-done jobs.

I think that university is the best time to find friends and enjoy being young. You have no strings attached yet, but are old enough to take care of yourself. So, socializing is a must and a joy. What makes matters difficult is finding it hard to find balance between going to bars and parties, but still focusing on studies as well. It is possible to pull all-nighters between parties, schoolwork and lectures, but it is not a permanent solution. Some can get lost in the swirl of partying and forget why they have come to university in the first place. After getting off the rails of keeping track of studies while also being social, it is difficult to get back on.

At first glance, these problems seem to be more related to personal life, but they all actually affect the way a person studies and how they perform in school. But since they are all a natural part of life, a person needs to find balance between them and try to keep their eyes on the “prize”.

But how can a new student find balance without the experience to do so? Well, I have some tips.

  1. Stay ahead of the curve

One of the biggest mistakes students make is not keeping an eye on all of the courses that they have taken, which leads to discovering a 1000-word essay or a presentation that is due the next day, while they actually should study for an exam. In order to avoid such an instance, I recommend taking some time off at the beginning of a semester to write out every assignment that has to be done in every course, even better if the student takes time to plan out when they will start with the bigger assignments (this is easier towards the middle of the semester; by then all changes in the assignments or deadlines should be agreed on), so they have it easier when the storm of exams hits. Then they have a clear view of everything, they know when they have the time to do the assignments, and after they’re done, they can cross each one out, which is highly satisfying.

library shelves
Image credit: Pixabay
  • Rustle some paper

In today’s world, it is common to write important dates into a phone or computer in order to do it quickly and to save room. I, however, find it much more beneficial to write everything down on paper, even better if it is a notebook or calendar. I also find it therapeutic to be able to cross something off a list after I’m done with it. I always recommend buying a calendar in the beginning of a schoolyear to keep track of everything that must be done.

  • Smaller and bigger plans

While on the subject of planning assignments and writing everything out, I recommend making a plan at the beginning of every week (or even day) of what should be done and on which day it will be done. This way a student can see if an assignment takes up more time than thought or if some housework needs some time in a busy calendar. It also gives a good feeling to have done everything on the list by the end of the day and makes it easier to see how much work has to be done each week in order to be on top of the game. However, if a list is made, then it should also be followed! Writing out important assignments is not equivalent to actually doing them, so you cannot rely on getting motivation from making a list.

  • Take it chill

Even though it is important to focus on studying, it is equally as important to take some time off to just relax. And by relaxing, I mean actually relaxing; this does not mean housework or other responsibilities outside of school. I find it extremely important to have some down time in between studying to watch a funny show, go for a walk, see your friends, or eat something tasty. We need to remind ourselves that all of the work that we do will be rewarded, even if the reward comes from ourselves. Even though one must be careful with how much they reward themselves and if they actually deserve it, work should always be rewarded with something.

  • Don’t forget those around you

I find it very easy to forget to socialize while in the studying zone, but I also find it important to take some time off of studies to see friends or family. It can be very beneficial to vent to someone about the load of work that must be done or just to listen to what others have done or have coming in the future. Humans are social beings; why do we tend to keep our problems and thoughts to ourselves? After all, sharing is caring.

University is a great time in an adult person’s life, and thus every single student should enjoy it to the maximum. This is absolutely possible, even with keeping track of schoolwork and getting good grades. Balance is all it takes to be on top of your game. Pick up balancing schoolwork and other fun things, you’ll find it beneficial!

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