Simon Smith’s Golden Rules For University Study

When we asked for your tips on surviving university life, commerce/law student Simon Smith responded with an extensive selection of real-world tips for studying successful. Here’s his take on how to make the most of your time at university.

The golden rules

Basically there are only two things you must do to be successful at uni, these are:

1. Actually spend the hours it takes to learn the content that is in your lecture slides and tutorials well enough that you can tackle those problems independently in each assignment. Don’t even think about progressing to the next week’s lecture without mastering this week’s assigned work.

2. You must learn how to write pretty good (read: brilliant) answers on timed exams. This skill is not learnt overnight, and must be practiced frequently on every topic that will be tested. Get a stopwatch and a small desk so that you can practice in exact exam conditions – you don’t go for your driver’s licence test without testing the car out first, so why risk it with exams? After all, these will determine the trajectory of your career.

Time management is key

Use time efficiently. Time is the enemy. Work consistently over each semester. Draw a big clear timeline that helps you visualise every ‘assessed due date’ –add nothing else.

You’ll work harder with people around; so spend more time in the library and less at home.

Do more than usual to be more physically active; but try and avoid being a lonesome gym junky. Working out in the gym four times a week does wonders for your energy and focus though. It’s also a good break for an hour or two from studying.

Never neglect the value of getting involved in groups and social events, but be wary of their respective time commitments.

Find a way to separate study time and time off, so you’re actually taking time off rather than lapsing into mindless procrastination behind the computer.

Try and connect with second, third or even fifth year students in your course. These people have been down the road you’re going down, and will generally be happy to help provided you’re polite.

And don’t be shy… go and get that hot nursing student’s number. This IS university after all!

Sleep is important

Maintain your ‘beauty’ sleep throughout the semester. The small benefit is that you won’t come across as a zombie to your peers or, more importantly, lecturers (who might write you letters of recommendation or job opportunities later on). You will also benefit by being able to fit more in your day. Wake at 7am instead of 12pm, and reap the benefit of the lower teacher to student ratios of those 9am classes. Then have an extra 2-3 hours to get some study in before the library gets too packed and noisy – even if that does make you a bit of a dork.

Avoid burning the midnight oil if it’s going to stop you from getting at least eight hours of sleep. It’s a big temptation to keep working to get it done, but late night homework still obeys by the law of diminishing returns. You are often better to sleep on it and attack it in the morning with a clear head, big breakfast and lots of fresh energy.

Get eight hours of sleep during the exam period. It’s too easy to crash and burn out.

Eat healthily. Mi-Goreng, rice and pasta will not allow you to perform at your peak, let alone anywhere near that. Think about how well some of the mature age students are eating, with their roasts dinner’s and homemade tandoori sandwiches for lunch – they are taking in a lot more information during a lecture than you are, purely because their body is fully charged and ready to go. Don’t let this be the weak link in your chain.

Plan for your study time

Getting all of your reading done while still on campus is a super-productive habit to get into. This is so once you have left the building you are psychologically “free” from work until the next day. It also can greatly help you to split your work from your play.

Study for about 4.5-5.5 hours daily from day one. Time shouldn’t be the sole yardstick to determine how much you are learning, as there are peaks and troughs and ‘busy’ work where no learning is actually occurring, but I have found that anything less than 4.5 hours isn’t enough to get you into a flow of productivity where good quality learning occurs.

Often if you try a two-hour session you are kidding yourself about how much each topic will really take to master and finish in its entirety without rushing. Don’t rush your learning; if you get this temptation; it’s better to stop and take a break than half-learn something because you are too worried about finishing it fast.

Make an A4 printed poster or computer wallpaper that say’s something to the effect of “will this help me on the final exam?” as a filter for outlining and note-taking. There’s just so much stuff you will read that isn’t important. It’s handy to have something that will prompt you to stop reading irrelevant chapters, or journals and realign your efforts to the meaningful stuff – which is often doing the grunt work of writing your own answers to the difficult questions in areas you are not yet comfortable with.

Spread your timetable out over the week. There’s a temptation to cram it all in on one day, but this is a huge mistake. You will not be able to adequately prepare for your classes, it will cause a bottleneck on all your assessed pieces, and worst of all it allows you to stay at home or take up extra shifts at work rather than forcing you to be on campus where you are more likely to be studying and learning things that will help you get that six-figure salary later on, rather than pandering to your $20/hour job right now.

Start on any writing assignments as soon as it’s in your hands. This will save you time later on in the semester when all the mid-semester commitments begin to stack up on each other, as each lecturer is usually restricted to a date when mid semester assessments must be graded by

Thanks Simon! As always, we welcome other perspectives on this topic in the comments.

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