Published: 2 July 2018
University life can seem unstructured in comparison to school or the paid workforce. There may seem to be a lot of 'free' time. However, university students are expected to spend time in independent study and devote an average of ten hours a week to each course (subject) they are undertaking. A full course load = a full time job or 40 hours a week. This includes lectures and tutorials.
Structuring your time effectively is vital to success. Timetabling is the place to start, you will need three kinds of timetables:
- A semester planner
- A weekly timetable
- A diary with daily 'things to do' TTD
A semester planner (a wall calendar) is vital! Enter in all study periods, exams, assignment deadlines and other important dates (including major tasks and family/social commitments). Put this up above your study desk. It gives you an overall view of the extra busy times so you can organise around them.
You need copies of a blank weekly timetable in one-hour blocks. Each week fill in;
- lectures and tutorials
- independent study time
- paid/voluntary work time
- domestic commitments
- leisure/sport - this is very important
If you do not build in free time you will resent your timetable and not stick to it. Exercise is also important to keep your mind fresh and alert. Try to do some exercise at least 3 times a week. Divide the study time into subject study blocks. Some subjects may need more time than others. Even a half-hour block is valuable, though you will need some longer ones (1½ - 2 hours) for each subject too. What you do in these blocks should largely be determined by assignment demands and be made specific in the TTD list.
- Do pre-lecture/tutorial reading. You get a lot more out of a lecture if you are already familiar with many of the concepts. Take notes in your own words.
- Structure your time to keep up with your weekly reading. There is study to do even when assessments aren’t due (exam prep) starting from week 1.
- Review lecture notes on the same day of the lecture. After that time your ability to 'reconstruct' the lecture and commit any new ideas to memory, reduces.
- Re-read all your notes for each subject every week. Build this time into your timetable. Obviously, it will take more time each week as your notes pile up but it will dramatically reduce your exam study time at the end of the semester.
- Get out of the house. Work in a library (or suitable space), for fewer distractions.
- Try to study three different subjects per day or at least engage in three distinct tasks. Changing tasks produces a new energy surge. People tend to wind down if they work on the same thing for too long.
- Work in short intensive blocks with short regular breaks. Up to two hours on one subject is usually enough. An intensive two-hour work session can cover as much ground as a whole day of half-hearted shuffling about.
- Think about when your brain works best. This could be in the morning, at night or in the middle of the afternoon. Plan your TTD list accordingly. If you are going to read a difficult article for the first time do not start at 10.00pm unless you are a natural night owl. Do something less demanding in the low times.
- Talk in tutorials. Talking about your subject, even if only to ask questions, is a way to test your understanding. Pre-reading will help you in this.
- Use research time effectively. Do not download and attempt to read every available article as it will take too long. Skim read the abstracts to decide which articles are most important.
- Take notes on the spot rather than postponing the task. Take down all bibliographic details and page numbers for quick access to all your references.
- Organise your notes and do not borrow notes from others. Keep all your notes in labelled files in chronological order. If you have missed or know you are going to miss a lecture or tutorial, see the lecturer or tutor. Other people's notes are not very helpful - they reflect someone else's interpretation, often in a way that will not make sense to you.
- Arrange to study with study buddies. If you struggle to sit down and study, perhaps arranging to meet with a group of friends (who are serious about studying and won’t distract you or vice versa) may help you to get started.
- Be honest with yourself. Deep down you know whether you have put in the time and really engaged with your study material or not. Ask for help early!
Extract from Mind Tools; https://www.mindtools.com/pages/main/newMN_HTE.htm
Mind Smart; https://student.unsw.edu.au/time-management