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How to study effectively as a first year at uni

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Your first year’s GPA sets you up for future internships and work experience opportunities. Learn how you can give it a boost right from the start.

University can be far more academically demanding than high school, with former straight A students wondering why they can’t get past a credit GPA. A report this year from The Guardian found that 50,000 students commencing studies in 2018 will not make it through their degree, instead dropping out or failing altogether. That’s based on historical data revealing one quarter of all Australian university students since 2008 are failing to complete their degrees within eight years. Reasons for this vary, including whether or not a student studies part time, is mature-aged, works part time and a host of other factors.

Even if you’re a young, full-time student with no other commitments, university can still be tough. There are fortunately a couple things you can do to optimise study time and succeed, even in the toughest of courses.

Allocate dedicated study time

We’ve talked before about how easy it is to go off the rails when you’re new to uni, but simply scheduling specific times to sit down and work on a topic or watch a lecture online does wonders for getting things done.

Take it seriously and treat the time commitments you set like real deadlines. You’ll be able to assess how long any given task is going to take and adjust the amount of time you give similar tasks in future. This kind of things works in exams too during reading time. If you spend the ten minutes of reading time estimating how long everything’s going to take, you can prioritise the quick tasks first and then comfortably spend the rest of your time working on lengthier problems.

Study with a group

Nothing helps you keep to a schedule quite like having other people waiting on you. Go out of your way to book a study room, gather up two or three classmates and dedicate yourselves to a specific concept or piece of work over two hours or so. This way you keep each other in check, as well as giving yourselves the opportunity to ask and answer questions, which is exceedingly valuable.

“The Protege Effect” is a psychological phenomenon where if you teach a concept to someone else, it significantly reinforces your own understanding of it. Getting into a group allows all of you to reap the academic benefits of this effect.

Focus on doing problems instead of reading notes

It has been proven that active learning, namely the active use of knowledge, is far more effective than passive learning, which refers to just reading or watching.

This can manifest itself in a variety of ways depending on your subject. If you’re in a STEM field, this means actively writing out code utilising new concepts, solving math problems, writing out properly constructed experiments or anything that uses course material in a practical context. If you’re doing a fundamentals of accounting subject, write out your balance sheets and use all the equations you’re given on a real company. Pull up last quarter’s H&M financial statement and figure out how they calculated net equity, for instance.

Even if you’re in the humanities doing something like philosophy, there are still practical ways of using your knowledge. Actually try to construct an argument defending Kant’s categorical imperative and levy it at your professor. If you’re a language student, speak to other students in your class using your language and that’s your study time. Creative writers should try to rapidly conceptualise narrative arcs and produce short stories.

There are plenty of ways to do this across all subjects. It’s just a matter of finding the right active learning method for you.