Lifehacker Wants Your University Tips


In a couple of weeks, Lifehacker will be running a Uni Guide series of posts, looking at the best technology and organising tips for people starting out with or returning to university study. We’ve got a lot of ideas we plan to cover, but we also want input from readers who are at university or who have recently graduated.

It’s rather more years than I’d care to admit since I was at uni, so I figure some input from people closer to the experience would be helpful. If you’ve got a simple tip on how to study more effectively; ideas about what software and hardware you should use; thoughts on getting textbooks cheaper; or you’d like to write a post detailing your own university survival tips (a nice addition to your resume, potentially), then it’d be great to hear from you. Shoot me an email at [email protected] All suggestions welcome! (Take note: while I rarely want to discourage people from offering up thoughts in the comments, email is the best option for this particular project.)


    • If you’re going to use flashcards, make them electronic, PLEASE. You’ll save trees and hassle for yourself when 5 years down the line you want to remember something.
      Evernote + Anki = success

  • Sounds, boring but a simple bit of advice is goto your lectures, also if your going to miss a assessment deadline, approach your lecturers before the due date, it atleast shows respect to the class and time management skills.

      • Rather than just say “Me Too!”, After 18 years of working for one of Australia’s largest Universities, the biggest problem that students have with classes is Attendance!

        BTW: Most Universities know that there is a natural attrition rate of at least 30%, so they overbook some rooms by this much. – Try to prove them wrong!

      • I class i took last semester had 98 students enrolled… generally never had more than 45 in there. Classroom capacity was about 60. They knew from experience there was no point booking a 100 pax capacity room.

    • Definitely ‘show up’. And always take notes. You will be paying more attention if you are writing than if you are just listening/daydreaming/dropping off to sleep.

      If for some reason you can’t make all the lectures – always go to the first and the last (assuming there is an exam).


  • Two things I live by:
    Before the start of each semester I add folders in my “Uni folder” on my computer for each subject I’ll be studying that semester. Every lecture, tutorial, or any other document will almost always be submitted online for students to download. I download every piece of content available each week and file it away with appropriate headings eg. “ECON1001 – Week x Lecture x”. By the end of the semester I have a pretty organised folder of content that I can use for review before exams without spending hours trying to find a physical or electronic copy lost in clutter.

    The second thing may not be suitable to everyone study style. Each week I make sure I type up a review of the content I studied in that week for each subject. This is by far the most powerful tool as at the end of the semester before exams I have about 12-24 (1-2 pgs per week) pages of summary material which gives me the opportunity to spend time doing practice tests etc instead of writing up notes. I use this for all my subjects (even maths) by doing 2 columns in Microsoft Word and using the formula tool for any formulas that I may need to use.

  • +1 to Ella’s tips. I do those as well and it makes life so much easier when everythin is organised from the start.

    My own tip would be getting Dropbox. It was the most useful thing to use during group projects so everyone was in sync with the latest revisions of all the content.

  • One word: Referencing.

    Learn it once and learn it right. Take special note of the fact that different institutions and even faculties adhere to different standards and they usually enforce their one standard pretty brutally. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain down the track if you’re across it from day one.

    • in regards to this, learn how to use endnote correctly, makes referencing so much easier.

      also set up your uni setting on google scholar, allows you to use it instead of you university libraries page and allows you to easily import references to endnote.

  • +1 to go to the bar. I can’t count how many drinks I had with lecturers and tutors getting free advice, hints, feedback and help with my work.

    Having a 4 hour break before a late Friday afternoon class did prove to become a problem, though.

  • Actually hand-write your notes whilst in a lecture.

    If you’re not fast at it, use a voice recorder on your smart phone, but at least attempt to write down as much as you can – typing just doesn’t cut it (especially for math formulas, etc).

    Get yourself a few different coloured pens (red, blue, black, green), and assign each colour a purpose.
    For example;
    Red: Headings / circling important things
    Blue: general writing
    Black: bolding / emphasising words (eg; underlining)
    Green: Margin tips from the lecturer (there are so many of these that aren’t in any printed or otherwise recorded material that by missing one single lecture you could fail that entire section).

    Be active in asking questions in the class, and when you get the answer, write it down! If you’re taking the time to ask the question, then you can bet when you’re reviewing you’ll have the same thoughts, but wont have a lecturer there to answer it. Saved my hide more than once 😉

    • Draw simple icons or symbols in the margin to give you hints on the notes. Eg. Draw a Star if the lecturer says that this section could be on the test. Draw a Clock or Hour Glass to indicate the lecturer spent a lot of time on a particular slide or example. etc… Make up your own icons.

  • +1 to hand-writing.
    It is a vital tool in remembering information.

    Here is my guide to good studying / degree completion:

    1. Text Books / Lecture notes.
    I Completed my Bachelor of IT last year and only bought 2 text books for the entire degree. Many Students rush out before the semester starts and buy all their text books listed for a subject. This can be both expensive and a complete waste of money. The vast majority of the time the lecturers will tell you in the very first lecture what reading material will benefit you the most. The Lecture notes are usually derived directly from a number of sources and highlight the key points you need to know. I have found that by printing out the lecture notes before each lecture, and taking hand written notes during the lecture to be the best way to learn the required material.

    2. Lecture and Tutorial attendance and participation.
    ATTEND ALL LECTURES AND TUTORIALS. Couldn’t be simpler. All the information you need to get D’s and HD’s in any subject can be gained through religious attendance and participation. Courses are structured to give you what you need to get a HD. By doing all the work, good grades come easy enough.

    3. Review / Studying.
    By taking my weekly lecture notes on a given subject I would file each week away in a folder dedicated to that subject alone. Nearing the end of the semester I would make a 1 page hand written summary of all the material from each lecture. After this review I would make a 1 page summary of each lecture’s summary. So I would end up with a master summary for the course. This technique would take a few days at the end of the subject but more than prepares you for any exam. Additionally if you have an open book exam all the course material you have has been catalogued and summarized to make finding information mid-exam easier.

    4. Sacrifice.
    Not everyone can be a genius and get HD’s without trying. If you are at UNI and you WANT to be there to better yourself you are going to have to make sacrifices. Put your effort into the thing you want the most. If you are happy with just passes, just pass. If you want to aim for HD’s you will need to sacrifice. Just remember that your GPA can count for a whole lot when trying to qualify for a job.
    I worked full time at the same time as completing a degree full time and still managed to come out with a GPA of 6.33 . I had a fleeting social life during that time but in the scheme of things it was worth it.

    5. Words of wisdom.
    The most important thing I learnt at UNI wasn’t WHAT I learn’t, but How to Learn. This skill will last a lifetime, where the relevance of your degree may fade with time.

    • Most Lecturers don’t bite: sit up the front, you will be able to hear what they have to say, make eye contact with the lecturer (this helps with your listening) and there are no laptops in front of you! (except the Lecturers, and your supposed to look at what is on that one!)

  • Hi,

    RE: Advice

    A. P’s get Degrees
    B. University is 90% persistence and 10% intelligence.
    C. Student discounts implied or otherwise. (Don’t ever ask for a discount in a Brothel..long stong.)
    D. Photocopy your degree before you have it professionally framed.
    E. A BJ and MBA @ 25 will see you struggle.


  • I studied a double design/environmental science degree, and while some of the above tips are great for other degrees, they don’t always work for design, where you don’t have the traditional lectures/exam at the end of the semester.

    Tips from my perspective:

    1- A good design takes time. While you might have been able to tear out an essay in a day or two before, there’s no way you can do that for a design. You need to spend time on it working out the pros and cons, and then fixing the cons. You also need to have a solid reason for your design – “it looks nice” is never going to cut it.

    2- Find out when you study most productively (morning, evening, middle of the night, etc) and plan your time around that. Don’t try and force yourself to study at a time that doesn’t work for you, you’ll only have to go back over it again later.

    3- While it can be hard sometimes, especially during mid-semester and at the end of semester, try and keep up with the non-uni things you still have to do (cleaning the house, etc) otherwise you’ll end up with lots of stuff to procrastinate with at a time that you shouldn’t be procrastinating.

    4- For science degrees, if you go out in the field, be sure to take lots of really good notes. Photos are one thing, but clear descriptive notes are going to help you the most when it comes to writing up the report.

    5- If you’re having trouble with *anything*, a particular concept, being able to get to a class on time, whatever, go and talk to your lecturers. They don’t want you to fail, and they will help you in any way they can.

    Hope that helps!

    • They’re great tips! 2, 3, & 5 also apply to a Computer Science degree, and 1 even applies to developing software for assignments (with open-ish requirements).

      What you said for 4 can also be said for attending lectures then later using that information for an exam 🙂

    • Belle, I appreciate your comments about design.

      However, for the non-design student, your lecturer can tell when you have taken the approach of “tear out an essay in a day or two before”. This is fine if you subscribe to P’s get degrees, but if you aspire to excellence, you too need to put time into research, reflection, planning, writing and redrafting before you submit!


  • +1,000,000,000,000 to handwriting notes. You can tidy them up and type them up later (and indeed you’ll probably want to), but there’s no substitute for your own version of shorthand when a lecturer is barrelling along through the material.

    (and this is from someone with lousy penmanship!)

  • If you have to buy textbooks, use It compares the prices from all major online book stores, e.g. Book Depository US & UK, Co-op, Borders, A&R, etc. It lists shipping prices as well, so you don’t need to visit every site to see the “total” price.

    • +1 for booko.

      Another way of getting cheap books is to buy the “International” version – usually soft cover on cheaper paper with no colour. Otherwise identical to the one you’d buy in store (or online).
      If you’re buying from your Uni’s bookshop, specifically ask if they can get the international version for you (they’ll know what you’re talking about).

  • At the end of the day, a good thing to do is go over any lecture notes that you have written that day and just read them again. Its great for cementing stuff into your memory!

    Prioritize. I learned this the hard way. Had one maths unit that was around 70% calculus and 30% probability. I was not really good at probability so i worked really hard at it, at the expense of calculus… in the end i failed the unit by a couple of percent. So, a good strategy is to learn where you need to concentrate to get the most marks and then do it.

  • Tips from a Design/Architecture student.

    1. Back up your work like a religion & always have multiple versions of the assignment you’re about to submit (I tend to go with dropbox + usb drive + on laptop); nothing worse than loosing 40hrs of work!

    2. Keep organized by creating a “UniWork” folder on your computer. If your not studying design & working with much smaller files (.doc, .pdf) you can automatically back this up using dropbox (check step 1)

    3. Learn to use Google like a religion & smell out useful information. Everything you want to ever know about any software package is probably already in a video tutorial somewhere..

    4. Google Sketchup & Chrome are your best friends.

    5. Microsoft OneNote is so useful it hurts.

    6. Get a laptop with a long battery life. I’ve had an Acer Aspire Timeline & now a Apple Macbook Pro, don’t have to worry about battery life for at least +5hrs

    7. It’s your turn to get sweet deals:-,, (Textbooks),

    8. Avoid Campus food if possible, especially Indian.

    9. Get two 4GB usb drives, treat them as your first children.

    10. Use Google Calendar to set 1 Week & 3 day Alarms of when your Essays/Assignments are due. Set all these up as soon as you get your course outlines in Week 1

    11. Find something that interests you that has nothing to do with your degree. Learn some mean escapism.

    12. Leave sometime to make some friends at uni, not everything is about academic achievement, embrace the phrase “Ps get degrees”, join a society/club

    13. Seriously, the services provided by the uni are for students like you; Learning Services is not only for people with disabilities but also a useful service for students overwhelmed by any particular task!

    14. Join the union, it’s rad.

  • 15. Also, if you are studying Design, I have found that creating a blog the consolidates your studies & your interests is a particularly useful tool for documentation & motivation. You can document your own work, make notes on other peoples designs & take notes on whats going on in your courses. It will prove to be an invaluable tool & an ego booster when your friends are using it because their too unorganized!

  • Here’s a clue. Your tutors and lecturers were all students once themselves. Every angle or scam you think you, every piss poor excuse you come up with, they’ve heard it all before or they have done it all before. Bow before them, they are indeed mighty.

  • Make sure you download all online academic materials weeks ahead of the end of semester. As thousands more students tend to log into learning management systems towards the end of semester, systems slow down, then, sometimes becoming unusable. Can be disastrous if you need materials for an exam or assignment.

    For the same reason don’t leave it to the last quarter hour to lodge assignments, you may not be able to access lodgment facilities if all your class are doing the same thing.

  • Disclaimer: I’m an academic librarian so I’m biased.
    Use your library. Go to the front desk and ask for your liaison/faculty librarian and then ask for an IL lesson. Keep an eye out for any extra lessons the library may offer. Such as endnote or even advanced google searching.

    It’s fairly common for your librarian to have a degree and industry experience in the field you are studying in addition to a post grad in library science. They’re not just people who like books, and they will be able to understand what you are studying. They also work with your lecturers to ensure resources are available for the assignments you are working on. So they tend to know about your assignments before you do.

    The library pays for access to online academic databases. Many of these you can use from your home PC once you have your logon. The same goes for ebooks and other electronic resources.

    Yes we know about Google Scholar. Did you know that if you use it through the library database page it will recognise your uni and may offer full text links to a library database where only abstracts existed before?

    For some reason students don’t start using the library till their second or third year. And when they do the most common thing we hear is “why didn’t anyone tell me all these services were available?” We did. They were in those first year library sessions you all skipped out on to go to the pub 😉

    Here is a big tip. Don’t reference wikipedia. Yes the damn thing is almost always right. But it isn’t an academic source. Use it as a starting point to get a grounding and then look for primary or secondary sources for your references. You’re in uni now. You shouldn’t really be using an encyclopaedia for your assignments anyway 😉

  • Some great tips in here! Thought I’d add in a few that I’ve learned. I’m doing a literature/drama double major.

    – Not all unis give you your book lists ahead of time. At my uni, we only get them during the first class of the semester unless the lecturer decides to email it to us. Make sure that if you do decide to order a book from Book Despository or similar that it’s one you won’t need until the middle of the semester or later. The ones you need earlier, you might have to suck it up and buy from a regular store.
    – Back up everything. I tend to write my assignments on google docs as well as saving copies to a USB drive and keeping them on my computer.
    – If you’re in first year, accept that the work is going to be a lot more difficult and complex than high school, and that essays no longer consist of 500 words.
    – If your uni requires you to hand in essays in person (mine still does), make sure you always always have ink cartridges for your printer.
    – Take note of any free/cheap resources your uni offers and use them.
    – If you bring your laptop and spend the entire duration of a lecture on Facebook, you’re not actually learning anything. Leave it at home if it’s a distraction.
    – You’re here to learn, so don’t just get drunk and laugh with your friends in the back row, learn.

    • As an extension to your last comment there, Charlotte;

      If you ARE getting drunk and interrupting the class, please remember there are others there who want to learn – every interruption makes it harder for them, so just skip the lecture entirely and stay at the pub. Noone will miss you and everyone left in the class will be much happier 😉

  • The library is a good place to study if you’re needing a power point, but sometimes it can get too loud or distracting.

    If you’re just revising slides or re-writing your lecture notes, head over to the research areas within the university. There are a few nice outside grass areas with picnic benches etc. They are usually much quieter (no undergrads running around) and you just might bump into a helpful PhD student who can answer any of those confusing questions.

  • This is my study routine:
    In class I handwrite my notes.
    After class I type up my notes, which helps me revise. I take out anything that is no longer relevant which I thought was relevant at the time I wrote it down, I add any other info that will be important, and I Google as I go. This keeps my notes tidy for further revision.
    Sundays I find perfect for creating my flashcards. I use a lot of colour and get a bit creative. It’s really relaxing and doesnt require awhole lot of thought 🙂

  • 1. Get in early with your timetable.
    You don’t want to schedule yourself a 12 hour day, but try to keep it efficient. Avoid late nights, and early mornings. The motivation to attend is a killer. I like to keep the tutorials and lectures together, so that I’m mentally in the same place. If you get a bad timetable and you know there a better spaces, try to negotiate. A letter from an employer could help with this.

    2. Organise notes ruthlessly
    Spend 5 minutes at the end of the day, filing, dating and categorising to make sure you’ve got your notes in exactly the right spot. The best notes are of no use if you can’t find them during study week.

    3. Pick the nerdy group
    Yes uni can be fun. But you’re better off finding a hard-working focussed group for group assignments than one who likes to party. During my Business degree I tried to go to night lectures. Night students are likely to be working professionals. They get good grades in less than half the time of 18 year olds fresh out of school.

    4. Meet your tutor
    Unless they look incredibly unhelpful or incompetent, get yourself know early. Later when you’ve got questions about assignments they’ll be much happier to chat ’cause they’ll remember you’ve been there the whole time.

    5. Say hello to your classmates
    If you know you’ll be missed, you’re more likely to go. If you have fun, share snacks with your neighbour you’re more likely to associate good feelings with your subject matter. Unis can be big and lonely… be different.

    6. Be kind
    If someone doesn’t know something obvious, has forgotten their book or is somehow slipping, help them out. First it is a nice thing to do. Second, the act of explaining or teaching others will help you grapple with the material yourself.

  • One more thing….
    If you’ve just moved into the dorms, especially in the first week whenever you are in your room, keep the door open. You’ll seem more inviting and more social. You’ll be surprised how many friends you’ll make with random people just walking down the hall.

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