Common problems students face with study include how to study effectively, coping with the amount of reading , how to manage your time, avoiding procrastination and distractions, and improving your concentration.
Effective study and success at university
There's no one way that will always produce the best results for students. It's more about determination than great intelligence! Success has more to do with well developed study skills than intellectual ability.
Below are some suggestions for effective studying practices but it's up to you to find the methods and strategies that work best.
Common problems that students face with study include:
- procrastination and distractions
- time management
- lack of a dedicated study space
- disinterest in a subject
- lack of concentration
- coping with the amount of reading
Only you are totally responsible for using your time in the most productive way. Once you own up to the fact that you arejust putting things off (beware because procrastination can masquerade in a thousand different guises), then you're in a better position to control your actions. Don't create a barrier by thinking of your study as an obstacle to be overcome but as a challenge to take up. Find practical ways to increase your motivation and then practise them so that the time you spend studying is quality time.
Develop strategies to realistically manage the distractions and interruptions that are bound to arise in any busy person's schedule. For example:
- close the door
- turn off the mobile phone
- prepare a schedule for your study session with beginning and ending times
- take strategic study breaks so you can still pay bills, go to the gym, pick children up from school and make important phone calls
- keep a blank 'procrastination pad' on the desk for jotting to remind you to think more about non-study things later, afteryour study period.
Having a recognised space for your study, and asking family and friends to respect your study times and place, will go a long way towards minimising uninvited distractions.
A general rule of thumb is that for each subject you are enrolled in, you will need to spend at least 8-12 hours of independent study time each week. This time commitment will increase during assignment preparation and exam revision.
As a student juggling work, study, family and social commitments, your time is limited and valuable. This is where a schedule or timetable can be useful.
When deciding how to allocate your time:
- take the time to plan and do it regularly, say once each week
- allow adequate periods of time for learning new material, understanding theories and concepts, or drafting an assignment
- use short periods (15 minutes) when beginning or ending a scheduled study session to review previous learning
- rise 15 minutes earlier and go to bed 15 minutes later each day
- reward yourself for achieving daily and/or weekly study goals
- timetable more challenging tasks for when you are most alert and able to concentrate
- study regularly - daily if possible
- set achievable study goals.
Managing your study time
Create a study schedule/timetable where you allocate time for each subject and assessment. This can assist you by taking the pressure off and help you decide how much time you have for other activities.
- begin major projects ahead of time - break the task into a number of sub-tasks
- be realistic - for example if you are a 'night owl' planning to study in the early morning may be unrealistic
- generally organise your timetable into 50 minute study periods with 10 minute breaks
- be specific about what you want to achieve in each study period. Rather than just allocating two hours of study each night, be specific about the study tasks to be done within the time available.
Useful advice on planning and time management can be found within the 'How Do I' guide on the Learning Skills website.
Dedicated study space
A dedicated workspace for study is both a physical and psychological necessity. Regardless of whether you find a tidy study area essential, or you can function among apparent chaos, you'll benefit from creating a physical space where you can keep study material, notes and textbooks organised.
Find a place at home, somewhere quiet on campus, or even a spot you have negotiated with a friend or relative at their place, and begin to 'own' it as your's for study. Aim to have only things you need on your desk, keeping it clear of things which might distract you from study. Devote your workspace solely to study so that each session will make it easier to settle down to some concentrated study.
Most students will find that they have at least one subject they're not keen on but the subject still has to be tackled to meet graduation requirements. You owe it to yourself to do your best. Stay motivated and maintain a positive attitude towards your studies by:
- tackling the readings and assignments for this subject first in your study schedule
- treating the topic seriously, accepting the difficulty or the uninteresting nature of the subject matter as a challenge, and reward yourself for completing a reading or spending a productive hour on the subject.
- keeping a running record of your study times and achievements in the subject and measuring your performance against previously stated goals.
One of the challenges at university is the amount of reading you will have to do. At first, this can seem overwhelming. However, there are a range of strategies you can apply to help you to read faster and to remember more of what you have read.
Reading is much more than having a whole lot of words pass before your eyes. Trying to master the topic by doing a lot of reading may be going about things the hard way. Instead, try to:
- Identify the purpose. Before you start reading, you need to know your purpose for reading a particular text. Often too much concentrated reading, without any real purpose, can cause information overload. Think about the questions you're trying to answer and the reasons for reading the text.
- Skim. Read the text for the main ideas. Don't worry about remembering all the examples or the unimportant information. This kind of reading is usually quite sufficient for pre-reading for lectures, if you want to prepare yourself for discussions in tutorials, or see if an article is relevant for your research.
- Scan. Read for specific information you need for an essay or report. For example, if you are doing research and you are looking for some specific information to back up a statement you have made, you don't have to read every word. Take in the headings, briefly read any introduction or conclusion, and check the first sentences of main paragraphs (often the topic sentence), along with any charts and diagrams in the main text to pick up on leading themes.
- Highlight. As you read in more detail, digest the things that you can understand. You might choose to highlight, circle or underline key words and concepts.
- Take notes, or create a concept/mind map. Take brief notes without letting yourself get bogged down in the difficult passages of the text, or draw a visual representation of the ideas, concepts and themes to help define relationships between them.
- Review. Get into the habit of reviewing readings, notes, or your assignment task immediatelyafter a study period (rather than at some later date). This will be helpful in your grasp of the subject matter and also in retaining information.
CSU's Learning skills website has a range of strategies you can learn on how to read smarter and faster.
You need to recognise that study is hard work, and therefore it's important for you to keep up a balanced diet with proper amounts of rest and periods of relaxation to study effectively.
- Create the right frame of mind. If you're feeling tired around your study time, go for a brisk walk or just get some fresh air to clear your head before you start.
- Take breaks. If you find your attention beginning to fade, you may need a break. Get up, stretch or go for a walk around. Take a few slow, deep breaths, and have a drink of water.
- Study in short time blocks with short breaks in between. This approach keeps your mind from wandering or from feeling fatigued, and will also help reduce time-wasting activities as you try to settle into study.
- Be an active learner: make notes, create mind maps, talk through key points aloud or explain new concepts as though there is another interested adult in the room with you. Walk around the room as you talk, throw a soft ball against the wall as you recite points to remember, make up rhymes or songs to help remember facts or sequences.