Study Tips for First Year University Students

In a few short weeks you will be embarking on a new stage of your life as an undergraduate student. For many students, this transition can be terrifying, challenging and sometimes overwhelming. In addition to adjusting to a new environment and potentially new living situation, students will be faced with new educational demands and new styles of learning.

The challenges and failures that I faced throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies have been instrumental to my personal growth and have taught me several important lessons. With that said, I would like to share study tips that I wish I had heard prior to starting university. My hope is that this will guide you in making the most of your undergraduate experiences and ensuring that you set yourself up for success in the future.

1) Eliminate Distractions to Optimize your Productivity

When you set aside time to study your course material, eliminate all other distractions and put your entire focus towards studying. In my experience, a lot of students will spend significant amounts of their day at the library ‘studying’ but will end up accomplishing very little that day. By reflecting and identifying potential distractions (e.g. phone, noise level, friends, etc.), you will be more productive and ultimately, have more time to enjoy other aspects of your undergraduate experience. One way to track how you are spending your screen time is with RescueTime. At the end of each week, they will provide you with a breakdown of how you spent your time (ie. on Netflix, Zoom, Microsoft Word, etc.), as well as a productivity score that you can then track longitudinally. If you are finding that you are getting distracted, consider getting apps to limit the time you are spending on time drainers. Examples include Flora or Freedom.

2) Engage in Active Learning

When you begin university, you will learn that the amount of material covered in university courses is significantly greater than high school courses. As a high school student, I was able to perform well in courses by reading course content throughout the year and re-reading all material before my final exam. In university, I learned that reading is not equivalent to studying. It is important to actively engage with the course material. Some methods of active learning include creating concept maps or diagrams, using the stoplight study strategy, forming study groups, associating learned concepts with prior knowledge, explaining concepts out loud and teaching other students any concepts that they find challenging. Engaging in active learning will allow you to deepen your understanding of the course material while developing critical thinking and analytical skills. Moreover, it will allow you to retain the course material to a greater degree than passively reading.

3) Use Practice Resources

In some courses, professors will provide old tests and practice material for you to use to test your own knowledge. Alternatively, some universities offer exam repositories, in which you can access previous midterms and finals. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of completing as much of these practice resources as you can. Since practice tests are structured to test all course content, completing these tests will allow you to identify your areas of weakness and strategically plan your future studying accordingly to target these areas. Moreover, it will allow you to understand your professors style of testing and their specific way of wording questions. Therefore, if you recognize that you are uncertain of how to approach questions in the practice test, you will have the time to clarify any confusion with the professor before your actual test.

With all that said, it is important to recognize that methods of studying that are effective for some students may not be as effective for others. As you begin your journey, reflect on your own study preferences to determine which methods are most effective for you.

Best of luck!

Photo Credit: David Mark via Pixabay

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