As we reached the end of our first semester (or trimester for those of us on the accelerated degree) I asked my fellow students for the tips they'd give to those starting at uni. Here are our top five.
1. Plan when you will study
It’s easy to lose track and either focus too much on study and not enough on life and relaxing, or vice versa.
I found it important to plan into my diary when I was going to study, so that when I was in that time my whole focus was study. This meant my study was more productive (less procrastination creeping in!), and I was careful to make sure I switched off from study at the end of the allotted time to allow myself to fully relax.
I will put my hands up and say that this didn’t work perfectly all the time as life happens and plans change, but by making an agreement with myself to stick to my timetable as much as possible, I wasn’t left with a lot of reading to do in the last couple of weeks.
2. There are different types of reading!
At the beginning of the term, I struggled to keep up with the reading. Desperate to take in every piece of information, I worked my way through the chapters taking lots of notes, and one chapter would take me up to three hours to read. I was exhausted!
Then I attended a Study Skills workshop, which covered note taking and reading methods. I learnt to read with my assignment in mind, skimming the page for information that related to the assignment or to the notes from the upcoming lecture or seminar.
By remembering that academic books are a way to obtain key points of information rather than be enjoyed like a fictional story – and that not all academic books are written with your course content in mind – my study time was cut down considerably and I was able to keep up with the workload much easier.
3. Build your reference list as you study
As I worked through the semester’s reading, I found it helpful to write the full reference and in-text reference for the book down, together with key points/quotes and page numbers keeping my upcoming assignment in mind. While you may not be in a position to start work on your assignment until later in the term, this will make life a lot easier when you do.
There are many reference aids out there (RefWorks for example) which are excellent and can even be used collaboratively. Personally, I chose to use a simple Excel workbook with a front sheet containing book details and references, and then a sheet per book with page numbers and key phrases, points, quotes and a note of which point of the assignment to which it may relate. This saves you having to re-read books again to find that thing you think you read but you can’t quite remember where!
4. Keep your notes organised
Note taking is probably the skill you want to try lots of different versions of before choosing one that suits you best.
At ARU, Study Skills Plus come to the rescue again with a fab session on notetaking, which I recommend going to as early into your degree study as possible. It will make your first semester much easier. In addition to this, there is a CrashCourse session on note taking and study skills on YouTube which I found very helpful
Some people may work well with the Cornell method, others will make mind maps, others may doodle, but I recommend trying out as many of the different options there are until you find one that fits.
For example, I have a laptop that I can write directly onto with a pen or type into, and I use this in combination with Microsoft OneNote which is available in my student Microsoft 365 suite. I copy the slides for the lecture/seminar into a page on OneNote and annotate these during the session as needed. For me, this is great as the notes don’t get screwed up or lost in my bag as they sync with my ARU OneDrive account. It can be a pickle when I have a whole day of lectures, my battery starts to run out and my lecture room has no plug points... Always have a back-up plan of a pen and paper just in case!
Your tutors will provide you with a copy of lecture and seminar slides up to three days before the session, giving you time to read over what you will be covering and prepare your note-taking accordingly.
5. It takes a village
Have you ever heard the saying 'It takes a village to raise a child'? Well, I’m stealing and amending it to read 'It takes a village to gain a degree'! This may sound odd, but I promise it is probably the most important of all.
No matter how intelligent you are, collaboration and support from others is important and may even help you move up a grade boundary or two. Attending lectures and seminars while being engaged and involved; chatting with your tutors; and getting together with people over lunch will help your work as well as your wellbeing. Tutors may offer tutorial days when you can bring assignment work in for a quick review to help keep you on track, and formative assessment feedback is also very helpful.
My recommendation is to take everything that is offered as you never know what nugget of gold may crop up in conversation, and give you the edge.
The best of luck with your studies. One final hint for motivation… picture your degree ceremony. Imagine how amazing it will feel when you have completed it and can move on to the next chapter.