The beginner's guide to not falling behind at uni

March 02, 2016
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“Next term, things will be different,” you whisper as you down your fourth cup of coffee at 3.30 in the morning while cramming for that accounting exam that begins in less than six hours. Bold and famous last words for sure, but they don’t necessarily have to be untrue. Unless you’re actually studying aeronautical engineering, not falling behind on study doesn’t have to be rocket science. Here are some quick tips that won’t interfere with your booming social life, but will help you stay on the ball from week one, right to the very end.

Don’t skip - just don’t

It’s that voice in your head again telling you that you’ve got a mild headache, that brunch with your best friends would be more appealing, that you probably won’t learn anything anyway, and most of all, that you’ll brush up on the missed content when you get home. The reality is that you’re probably fine; you’re just down with a serious case of excuses.

Resist the temptation to skip out on lectures if you know you’re unlikely to actually go through with self-guided studying. It might seem like an innocuous decision at the time, but it’s a slippery slope from being a week behind to ending up seven weeks behind. This goes double for tutorials, seminars and lab sessions, because you stand to gain a lot from the smaller class sizes. Even if you end up not paying attention at all, attendance counts for some subjects, and hey, who said knowledge via osmosis isn’t a thing?

Pre-game with your lecture materials

This has nothing to do with alcohol, so you can put those shot glasses away. A great way to get ahead of the curve is by printing off your lecture materials early and spending a quick 10 minutes before class going through them. Even if you don’t understand the concepts just yet, you’ll have committed some of the terminology to memory, thus helping you pay better attention in even the most snooze-worthy of lectures. For best results, spend another 10 minutes after class going through the notes you just took and polishing them up so they don’t look like a foreign language when you go to revise them two months later.

Buddy up

Having friends alongside you tackling the same subject has been scientifically proven to be 200 per cent more enjoyable, and will quadruple your chances of getting that elusive HD. In all seriousness though, it’s always a good idea to match your study plans so you and your friends end up in the same classes. You’ll be able to hold each other accountable for attendance and handing in homework, as well as help each other out when tough problem questions become a two-man job. There are some serious feelings of camaraderie and accomplishment in coming to the end of a course and knowing you aced it together after all those long group study sessions.

Don’t have any friends in Human Anatomy and Physiology? Make some! Relationships strengthen in adversity, and there’s nothing more adverse than the hardest course in your entire degree, meaning you know you’re doing your friendship a favour too.

Plan to not cram

What most people don’t realise is that university is a long game, and cramming only works for the few of us who can really flex those memory muscles. Create a study timetable outlining exactly which topics you plan on covering each day, factoring in additional time for the more difficult content. Complete your map to success with a countdown to your first assessment so you can’t be in denial about how far away your exams are. Better yet, trick yourself into thinking your exam dates are a week or two earlier than they actually are to account for days when you might not get through the intended amount of study. Let’s face it: those days are definitely happening.

Whether you’re lazy, animated, forgetful, a morning person or a party person, staying on top of your coursework doesn’t have to be hard (or as hard) work as you might think. Know thyself and stay organised, and make this term the term where things will be different.

Samantha Low

Sam studies a law and business degree. She has a penchant for mentaiko and watching people eat. She will write about anything and everything, evidenced on her blog

Image: Francisco OsorioFlickr Creative Commons license