Fifteen best study tips for university students

If you’ve been diligently researching the best study tips for university students in preparation for next semester, well done you! Our blog post is full of good advice on study tips and techniques and it will set you up for teacher’s pet status and grade A success in no time. But if your study tips research started the day before your exams started, you probably should switch to Google-ing ‘How to fake Ebola’, because that’s probably the only thing that’s going to get you out of the grade A pile of poop you’re in right now.

Jokes aside, if your idea of studying involves hanging out on Facebook, while eating and watching reality TV with an open textbook somewhere nearby, you’re probably going to want to take another look at your technique.  I know it sounds interminably dull, and that there’s probably no coincidence that the words stu(dying) and stu(died) are spelled as they are, but there is definitely a bright side to studying effectively. Developing good study methods will help you absorb knowledge more easily, retain that knowledge for longer, and it will save you hours of study time, as well as relieving the blind panic that sets in right before an exam when you realise you know three quarters of zero about anything (except for what your friends have been up to, via social media).

So, sit back, take a deep breath and invest a few minutes in studying up on how to study, with our 15 tips on how to study effectively. Yep – it’s pretty meta, but we guarantee you’re going to thank us when those good grades roll in (without needing to detour via the infectious diseases unit in your local hospital)

Fifteen best study tips for university students

1. Dear Diary. Today I made schedule.

Good study methods are based in habit, so the first thing you’re going to need to work out is where studying fits in to your daily routine. And no, the word daily was not a typo. Work out now whether you’re a morning person or a night time person and carve out a portion of your day to revise and absorb what you learned.  The amount of time you’re going to need is going to depend on you, but a good guide is to spend at least a half-hour per class you attended that day just going over your notes and materials and making sure that you understand it all. Scheduling is also a great way to make sure you’re on top of all the major projects you’ll be assigned that you have to work on progressively. Devote a couple of hours each week to working on those too. Remembering the week before that an assignment is due (which should have taken you a whole semester to complete) is going to result in an aneurism (almost as bad as Ebola), so don’t do it to yourself.

2. Fill up your tool chest

These days, simple pen and paper can only take you so far. Modern learning environments can be demanding, and having some whizz bang tools at your side can help you step up to the mark. Tools like Trello are good for scheduling and coordination. Blrt on iPhone, Android or Web is great for collaboration and ensuring that projects keep moving forward, especially when you’re working in groups, or you need some support from your lecturer. Google Docs are great for working on assignment materials simultaneously with other people. And because they’re saved in the cloud, they’re great for making sure that you always have access to your work, and that it’s always backed up.

There are literally loads of tools and apps out there that can become your secret study weapons. We’re currently working on a blog post that lists all our favourite study tools and apps for university students, so watch this space.

3. Check stuff off

The feeling one gets from checking things off on a checklist is simply awesome, and we recommend trying it straight away using these simple instructions:

My checklist:

  • Name your checklist
  • Make the third thing on your checklist ‘Start a checklist’.
  • Start a checklist
  • Pause to check off what you’ve done so far

See? Isn’t it unreal? And the great news is that not only does it feel great, it’s actually a totally legitimate and useful tool for getting things done, staying in control of your studies, and knowing where you’re at with your assignments. Winning already, and we’re only at tip #3.

4. Spend ten minutes everyday planning for tomorrow

Now we’re not talking about superannuation or pension plans here (although they say it’s never to early to think about that stuff) – we’re talking about the day after today more literally.  Waking up in the morning and not knowing what’s going to go down during the next 24 hours might be ok if you’re Kiefer Sutherland and you work for the CIA, but it’s a bit rubbish if you’re a student because it will keep you several paces behind the pack. So if you know you that you need a certain book from the library, or you that you need to hand in a paper at 10.00am, or that you need an excuse to happen across that cute guy or girl in your Economics class, plan it out so that you’re in the right place at the right time, not playing catch up.

5. Get into the mood, zone and groove

One of the most critical factors in the development of great study habits is to get your surroundings right, but you have to work out what they are in the first place. For some people, it’s a designated corner in a quiet place where there’s no chatter and hum to disturb them.  For others, a headset and some death metal will do the trick, or failing that, Tchaikovsky. And for yet others, rocking up to the local café and getting that caffeine hit sorted is an absolute study mandatory. You may need to experiment in order to get it right but remember that again, it’s all about habit and mindset. When you sit down at your kitchen table, you expect to eat. When you head into the bathroom, you expect to …… brush your teeth.  Developing a routine around the same time and location each day will improve your ability to concentrate. And if you’re living at home, or in a shared house that gets a little chaotic, flag that time as study time with others, so they know not to disturb you. Wear a silly hat if you must, as a reminder that you’re getting your study on and they shouldn’t try and lure you into their Game of Thrones binge-fest until you’re done.

Developing a #routine around the same time and location each day will improve your ability to #concentrate Click To Tweet

6. Make sure you have everything you need

This sounds like a no-brainer, but whatever environment you choose, you need to make sure that you’ve got the right stuff around you.  If you’re a stationery junkie, pack those novelty paperclips. If you’re an addicted doodler, sharpen those pencils. Make sure your laptop, phone or tablet is charged. Make sure you have a drink and a snack. What you’re doing here is, one by one, removing all the dodgy excuses for your bootie to leave your chair, so you don’t need to break your concentration until your study session has been successfully concluded. There are non-dodgy excuses to leave your chair, and we’ll cover those in tip number 11.

7. Start a study group

Gathering together a group of like-minded classmates can have a number of benefits, but let’s make it clear – we’re talking less ‘The Breakfast Club’ and more ‘Mona Lisa Smile’, Ok? Anyway, by joining forces you can share knowledge, help each other through tough times, and keep each other focused and accountable. And just because you’ve formed a group doesn’t mean that you have to meet up in the same place at the same time constantly. New technology and apps like Google Hangouts and Blrt allow you to stay in touch, share and collaborate regardless of the location of your classmates.

Also read

If you want your collaborative project to be a success, here are Blrt’s 10 basic rules for reaching the Nirvana state of successful collaboration.

 

8. Deliver yourself from temptation

If you, like 99.99999999% of university students, have had your mobile device surgically fused to your hand in a life-saving operation, reach out with your other hand and switch the darn thing off while you’re studying. I can personally assure you that it will not result in any dramatic and permanent changes to the world order of things while your back is turned. And if you miss that unmissable photo of what’stheirname’s whatyamacallit on Snapchat, so be it. If it’s that earth-shaking, someone probably screen grabbed it anyway.

9.  Keep your $&!# in a (neat and tidy) pile

Beyond organising your time, organising your class materials is also a super important study tip. Whether they’re hard copy of soft copy, make folders for everything and file like your life depends on it. Flag important things with sticky notes, and write on the sticky note why it’s important, and the date. Highlight key passages in texts and note why they’re important. Colour code things by subject or by course, so that you can zero in on the right stuff in seconds. If your filing budget doesn’t extend to fancy-pants Kikki K, go to the other K instead – Kmart. The bottom line is that order in your documents and paperwork leads to more efficient study and revision, and no wasted time scrabbling about in a panic looking for that piece of paper that you wrote the secrets of the universe on.

10. Thou Shalt NOT cram

Now we totally acknowledge that there are lots of things that could or should be left to the last minute – flights….weekend getaways….leaping from an overpass onto a moving train (you definitely don’t want to jump the gun on that one).  Unfortunately, study isn’t one of these things. So as tempting as it is to put it off until a <insert adjective such as ‘rainy’> day, please don’t. Good study habits come from pacing yourself, from building upon knowledge incrementally so that all the pieces fit on a solid base, and from consistent revision of what you’ve learned over time. In fact, if you follow recommendation #1 in this list of study tips, you will scarcely have to vary your routine come exam time – you’ll just have to allocate an hour or two extra during the weeks running up to exam time to read over your notes. I can’t emphasise enough what a bad idea cramming is. It leads to stress, exhaustion, panic and as a product of all that, potential for bad exam results, not good ones.

11. Don’t overdo it

Carrying on from the point above, and contrary to what your Mum, Dad and Granny probably always told you, it is actually possible to study too much. If the dog barks at you when you get home, unpitch that tent you’ve set up in the library and take it to the park for some R & R.

While you are studying, don’t forget to take a ten-minute break every couple of hours, and take a whole day off once a week. During your ten-minute break, don’t just switch screens from work to Facebook. Get your bootie up out of your seat and schlep it around the block. Take the dog. Do some stretches at the park. Doing this will help you stay energised and sane. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed at uni and freak out. If you find the dog you’re walking is actually the black dog, not your own dog, it’s ok to reach out and get some help.

12. Read the brief

There’s an old trick that some teachers and lecturers play on their students at the beginning of the study year and it goes like this:  The teacher prepares an exam paper with some instructions and a series of questions and tells their students that it’s a race to finish first. The first instruction tells you to read through the exam paper before answering any of the questions.  The last instruction tells you not to answer any of the questions, but to place your pen on your desk and fold your arms. Even though it’s an old trick, there are guaranteed to be a half a dozen people frantically scribbling away while the rest of the group sits calmly with smug smiles on their faces.

You might think this is a painfully obvious point, but the exercise above proves that it’s worth making: When you’re responding to an exam question, preparing an assignment or writing an essay, make sure that you read the question, understand the question, and then respond to the question. It sounds like kindergarten 101, but the truth is that unfathomable amounts of time, energy and paper have been wasted by poor confused souls who haven’t taken enough time to absorb all the information about the task at hand and then respond directly to what has been instructed. Knowing exactly what’s expected of you and the timings you need to keep to in order to deliver is just so important.

13. Keep careful notes

Let’s define up front here what I mean by notes.  What I don’t mean is going out and getting a Pittman Shorthand qualification so that you can write down every. single. word. that your lecturer utters. What I do mean is recording the key points of the lecture or the text that you’re studying. So what are the key points, you may very well ask? The key points are the themes, truths and ideas behind the subject matter, and you need to be able to write them down in your own words, rather than in the words of your lecturer. The key to gaining knowledge and expertise is not to learn great slabs of information verbatim – it’s about understanding the key ideas of each lecture or textbook chapter, and not absorbing extraneous information which is not that useful and which can cloud the important concepts.

If you’re worried about missing out on some important stuff, feel free to ask your lecturer if you can record the lecture so that you can listen to it at another time. These days, you don’t need to be ASIO, MI5, the FBI or the Star Enquirer to be able to record good quality audio – you simply need to download an app for your mobile device and possibly sit somewhere down the front. You can worry about what that does to your reputation for coolness after you pass your exams. Audio is great for a number of reasons – firstly, it’s because you can listen to it while you’re walking the dog. And secondly, it’s because you can use it to augment your notes. There’s a lot of research available about the relationship between orderliness, good note taking and good grades, so if you need convincing, here is some of it. There’s even a note taking methodology, called The Cornell Method. Wowsers. Here’s a summary:

During your lecture:

  • On one side of a lined piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the left side and a horizontal line a few centimetres above the bottom of the page.
  • Write the bulk of your content on the central part of the paper. Try to focus on the high level intent of what’s being said, rather than the filler. Jot down any examples if they’re offered, or take a photo with your mobile device.
  • Try to write legibly and to be consistent with your abbreviations. You might want to learn a couple of shorthand symbols for commonly used words.
  • Leave a couple of lines blank when you’re moving from one key idea or example to another.
  • Leave a blank space if you happen to miss a word – you can always work it out later on
  • Use the left hand margin for question marks if you don’t quite understand something or if you have questions, and a star if you want to emphasise something as important.

After your lecture
(During that study time you scheduled after you read point 1 above)

  • Go over your notes within a day of your lecture to consolidate and fix any errors.
  • Fill in the blank spaces and get answers for any questions you may have noted
  • Use the space you left at the bottom to summarise and to note down any next steps.

14. Have a backup plan

There are few things worse in university life than having your computer crash or get stolen and losing your entire major project or thesis. Except perhaps catching Ebola for reals.  But it’s marginal.

Your backup plan should be bombproof and should include the following steps:

  • Back up your whole machine on an external drive regularly (software, email, files – EVERYTHING). By regularly, I mean once a month, not once a federal election.
  • Save your work to disk as well as your hard drive, if it’s really important.
  • Copy critical documents and assignments across to Google Drive, Dropbox or your iCloud. Even if you can’t preserve the formatting, the bulk of it will be there.

15. Review, review, review

So, you know that moment when you think to yourself “I know all this stuff”? In order to commit it to your long-term memory, you need to go over it several more times, at intervals of a week. This is what’s called overlearning, and great examples of overlearning abound in daily life, such as nursery rhymes, the alphabet, and that incredibly annoying advertising jingle that keeps popping back into your frontal lobe at inopportune moments. You learned these through revision and recitation, and these are great techniques for etching things into the hard disk that is your brain. In research studies, people who overlearned material retained much more information than people who didn’t use the overlearning technique, which suggests that it’s a sure-fire way to be exam-day ready.

Learning is definitely an activity that stretches our brains and pushes us beyond our comfort zones. It can take a lot of time and energy, so you need to do your best to maintain your positivity, retain your sense of humour and keep your focus on the end game, which is gaining a qualification or earning a degree. The results from improved study methods could benefit you your whole life, and the immediate results will be undeniable – better grades, more knowledge and the buzz you get from thinking ‘I nailed it’.  Team Blrt wishes you all the very best of luck.

About Blrt

Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.

Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.

Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.

Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.

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