How To Study Effectively When At University

27th April 2022
A student working at their desk within their student accommodation

Do you ever feel like you’re just treading water rather than actually learning? Wonder whether you’d be better off working in a coffee shop than studying for a degree? Want to know the secret of how to study effectively?

You’re not alone. It’s a feeling every single student has at some point or other.

Whether we get overwhelmed by work, stressed by exams or scared by a deadline, we can all get demoralised by the sheer amount of work facing us.

Despite what it may look like, courses are designed to push you but not break you.

They’re designed to prepare you for exams and also for the world of work, where deadlines and workloads can be many times more unmanageable!

That said, there are smart ways of doing everything.

That’s what this post is all about. We use our own experience as students to share some top tips on how to study effectively.

We hope they help!

Get into a student mindset

As you’ll probably know, there are several different student mindsets. The one we want you to adopt is that you’re there to learn.

That means managing your time, keeping up with classes, planning for exams and essays and ensuring you’re always present in lectures.

There’s a lot going on at university and lots of distractions. There’s also a time and a place for indulging in those distractions and that isn’t when you’re supposed to be studying.

Pacing is everything

You have three (or more) years of studying to come and a core study tip is to pace yourself. It’s a marathon and not a sprint and that’s the mindset you need to get into.

Pace yourself throughout the year and minimise cram sessions as much as possible.

Cramming is inevitable and part of being a student. The more you can pace throughout the year, the less pressure you put on yourself when exam time comes calling.

Pacing also includes adequate rest and downtime.

The brain and the body need time to recover, replenish energy and nutrients and to prepare you for the next session.

Your brain also needs time to process what it has learned and commit it to memory.

Planning is useful

We all have friends who like to plan everything in detail. Who colour-code their calendar, who have academic year planners on their wall and who have diaries with pages actually filled out.

There’s a lot of sense in planning if that works for you, especially when studying for exams.

It helps keep you motivated. It helps manage expectations and it helps with pacing as you can see when you’ll need to hit the books far ahead of time.

You can also plan fun days, time with friends, trips home to see family and generally enjoy being a student.

That’s the key benefit of planning. The ability to allocate time across the board.

To study, to the social side of university, to friends, to alone time and any other way you want to spend your time at university.

Do your own work

The internet is an amazing thing, but it can also make us lazy. Essay mills, copy and paste, paid crib notes and all kinds of shenanigans are out there if you know where to look.

Don’t be tempted.

Most lecturers now check for plagiarism. They'll also get a feel for how you write and how you communicate.

That one time you buy an essay rather than write it yourself because you’re overwhelmed with work? They’ll be able to tell.

We’ve all heard the stories of students getting an F because they bought an essay. Or failed a course because the lecturer caught them cheating.

It’s tempting, for sure. But don’t do it.

Your lecturer may dress like they’re from the 1970s but lecturers are super smart. Don’t be tempted to try to outsmart them.

Female student revising for her exam

Master note taking

Of all the study tips a student needs to learn, note-taking is one of them. Even if the lecture will be made available as a video afterwards, notes are a key study aid.

The act of taking down notes is part of active listening and learning. It also helps the brain process what you’re hearing as you write it down.

The challenge is the speed at which lectures are delivered. You don’t have time to record full sentences and will have to master the art of the keyword.

Jot down key words or phrases during the lecture. Then expand on them afterwards.

The idea is to assume you won’t remember the lecture when you read the notes again.

Therefore, you need to write those notes as whole sentences and concepts you would understand if you were seeing them for the first time.

It takes practice and won’t be instant but it’s a skill worth having.

The police use a similar technique, called ‘contemporaneous note taking’. They jot down essential elements immediately, times, dates, names and pertinent details.

Then, once the situation has been handled, they write a full report while memory is fresh, using those notes.

They can refer to the notes at a later date or when giving evidence in court.

If it works for the police, it can work for you too!

Self-testing

As if there wasn’t enough testing at university, we’re actually suggesting more!

We’re suggesting self-testing as a study tip. It’s a proven learning method where you read a chapter of a book or learn a section of course and test yourself on what you learned.

Or work with a study partner to test each other. It doesn’t have to be as painful as end-of-term exams or even formal.

The idea is to cement learning in your mind by forcing your brain to retrieve information from memory. The more often you do it, the easier recall becomes.

Exercise your body as well as your brain

No article on study tips would be complete without mentioning exercise. It’s such a crucial element of learning and life that we absolutely have to mention it.

Exercise doesn’t only keep the body strong and healthy. It can improve brain function by improving blood flow, getting more oxygen to the brain and encouraging efficiencies in all your body’s systems.

Plus, exercise is good downtime and a chance to do something other than stare at books all day.

Get involved in groups or organisations

Getting involved in university life is essential for overall growth but can benefit studies too.

Meeting new people, discussing different topics and rounding out your education can be hugely beneficial.

Growth comes in all forms and even a random fact learned from a club or meeting can create a lightbulb moment at the more opportune times!

Backups will save your life

We live on our laptops now and entire courses will be on our hard drives. What would happen if your laptop broke or was stolen?

Backup software is cheap, often free, and can automatically back up your work on a schedule.

We’d recommend using the built-in backup feature of your laptop, OneDrive for Windows and iCloud for Apple.

Set all documents to automatically back up to the cloud once saved and your drive to back up to the cloud separately.

Use incremental backups for your drive and it should only take a few minutes a day once that first backup is complete.

Nothing would ruin a year of study like losing all your work to implement backups right away!