What I wish I knew then; what I know now

Happy New Year scientists! I hope 2021 will be filled with many blessings and opportunities of success!

As we enter a new year, I have decided to share some lessons I have learned throughout my journey. At the beginning of my varsity career, I believed that high school prepared me for the high demands of first year. Unfortunately, this was not the case and my inability to recognize the importance of developing new study strategies often lead to my demise. Even though I have not completely cracked the code to strategic studying, I would consider my current methods a success.

If any of my experiences assist even one person, then they are worth the price I had to pay to learn them. With that in mind, here are seven pieces of advice I wish I knew at the start of my journey.

1. Quality over Quantity

This is by far the most important strategy to conquer for effective studying. Make use of the concept, “study smart not hard” by reducing the hours spent studying while increasing the content covered. Personally, focusing on the lecture notes and the work covered in lectures was more effective than trying to cram the whole textbook before an exam. Essentially, I only used my textbooks for reference and/or when I did not understand certain concepts.

2. Understand Concepts

Unlike school, parrot learning will only get you so far. Lecturers aim to test your understanding and ability to apply your knowledge. So, memorizing your notes without completely understanding your content will most likely result in failure. Make regular appointments with your lecturers or tutors throughout the semester and engage in study groups to get comfortable with your work.

3. Quality of Study Material

Before you really start studying for your exams, make sure your study material is up to date. Some prefer making their own study notes, while others, like myself, enjoy studying directly from lecture notes. Either way, ensure that you are well prepared before crunch time by organising and working on your notes right from the start. Do not wait for test or exam season.

4. Diagrams and Illustrations

Welcome to the world of science where diagrams make up most of your study content. I definitely learned the hard way as I did not understand the importance of them. Focus on the diagrams and illustrations and ensure you can draw them, interpret them, and explain them. This should guarantee an excellent mark!

5. Past Papers

Allow me to expose most lecturers and confirm that some exams and tests are just adaptations from previous papers. I guarantee at some point in your journey you will write the exact same paper from former years. Although, this might not always be the case, it is good to know what to expect in an exam and to familiarise yourself with the lecturer’s style of testing. Past papers may also highlight what you know well and what you do not, basically giving you a guide on what to focus on.

6. Study with a Purpose

I am quite certain that most students, including myself, forget their study content the minute they hand in their paper. This is because students often study to perform well instead of studying to remember their work in future. (I am guilty of this). Although marks are important, it is mandatory to store your knowledge in your long-term memory. This can be done by continuously revising and repeating your work so that the memory becomes permanent. There is no point in obtaining a brilliant degree if you are not going to remember the work you spent hours learning.

7. Attitude and Mindset

Attitude is the basis for everything in our lives. Ensure a positive mindset when there is a task at hand by saying “I get to” instead of “I have to”. This will remind you that education is a privilege whilst reducing feelings of stress and frustration. Choose to shape your attitude so that you can improve your focus and motivation.

I hope these tips will guide you to effective studying. Good luck for the year ahead!

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