Study secrets from 5 of our best students

We asked some of best students how they succeed with study and they provided some fascinating insights.

What study tips do you have for new students making the transition to University?

Charlotte: Learn to use the Library search as soon as you can and don’t be afraid to get stuck in academic reading. The language steps up and gets much more specialised but you always have Google on side and can go back and reread things till you understand. Use the readings that your lecturers have given you and go through their bibliographies to easily find more relevant research. 

Noah: I recommend paying attention to assignments during Semester, as the weeks go by so quickly. Also in most subjects you might have to find the answer yourself – this is such a big shift from high school and takes some getting used to.

Grace: My first tip is to learn what type of learner you are (eg. visual, aural, logical, physical, etc.)  Having this under your belt means you can cater your study to the type of learning that suits you the best, and you’ll absorb the information much better. 

I’m a physical learner, as well as auditory and verbal learner, which can be hard to master with the university teaching system.  Being an auditory and verbal learner, I benefit the best from teaching others, and working with flashcards out loud – knowing this has been an immense help with retaining information. My second tip is to start early, start revising the content as soon as you get it, it helps store it in your long-term memory. My third tip is to ask for help sooner rather than later.

And finally, this is more of an obscure one, don’t worry about writing notes from the PowerPoint in your lectures, you can access them later.  I write down the things my lecturer says on a spare notebook, then write those tidbits out with the lecture notes – you’d be surprised how many exam tips the lecturers mention but not put in the slides!

Hammad: One major difference between high school and university is that your lecturers and seminar leaders, unlike your teachers, are not going to be there every week trying to support you if you fall behind. It’s up to you in university to take control of your own learning!

However, don’t be alarmed. There are plenty of sources of help that you can access in university. Your lecturers and seminar leaders will provide you with contact hours where you can come into their office and seek their assistance on problems you might be encountering with your work and for some great tips and advice.

Via the library’s online services, you can also find Peer Learning Advisors, high achieving students who can provide you with assistance on things such as referencing or improving your writing. They can also give you very useful tips related to your area of study.

There’s a great deal of resources available; the main difference to high school is that you need to actively seek them out.

Louis:My biggest tip would be to have an understanding that university is much more independent, self-motivated learning. This requires a slight change of mindset in order to get all your work completed in time, and to an appropriate standard. Being proactive and seeking help when you need it will definitely make things much easier for you.

Charlotte, Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Languages, 4th year

Time management is crucial in third-level education – how do you ensure you’re on top of all of the work?

Grace: Start early – I’m notorious for being a really early starter of assignments and exam revision, and it means that you are able to account for unexpected events (such as being sick) and ultimately you have more of a chance to do the best you can at an assignment.

Avoid procrastination – I know, it’s hard.  You’re probably procrastinating by reading this right now. I’m naturally a low-level procrastinator, but that’s because I set aside time to procrastinate.  When I get home, I allow myself half an hour to do what I want, whether that be exercise or play on my phone, it just allows me to get in the mindset of study and then I’m less likely to procrastinate. 

Louis: Time management and being organised is key to getting through the next few years of your university degree. Keeping track of and planning your assignments and revision/study tasks will allow you to complete the set work. I try to ensure my schedule is not 100% concrete. Some flexibility allows for you to avoid the stress of an unexpected addition in workload, and also allows you to be more spontaneous.

Hammad: I find that using a calendar is extremely useful in helping to track everything.  There are so many important dates in uni, including class times, due dates of assessment tasks and the extra-curricular commitments. Using a calendar is great because it allows you to look at what you need to do in a given week and month and then work out how you are going to fit in study, social time and work.

If you make a habit of only dealing with things as they come instead of having a plan on how to tackle things in Uni, then it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by working more than you should or spending too much time on one subject.

Along with using a calendar, I also use a great app called Todoist, which functions as my primary to-do list app. I use it alongside my calendar to set priorities to certain tasks, and I use it for all aspects of my life! What I find especially useful about using an online calendar and to-do list is that everything synchronises, whether I am using my phone, laptop or another piece of technology. This means I can keep up to date with what I need to do wherever I am.

I have friends that use physical planners and to-do lists and this works very well for them too. The main thing to keep in mind is that having some sort of system in place to organise your time and what priority you allocate to tasks can be extremely useful.

Charlotte: Get a calendar, write it all out. Knowing way ahead of time which weeks are going to have a million assignments due can be super helpful so you don’t get caught out. I go through all my assignments at the start of term and for a big essay I usually write the date down a few days early, means you forget and then have an extra day to polish your work even if you have left it to the last minute.

Noah: I make sure I’m on top of all my work by creating a checklist for each subject and working through each week’s outcomes. The individual items can be anything from a two-hour reading to just looking at a video, but I find breaking down the subject into small points is a great way to keep on top.

Hammad, Bachelor of Law, 2nd year

Study can be overwhelming at times, what self-care rituals do you swear by to make sure it doesn’t get the better of you?

Louis:I believe pacing yourself is key to being a successful University student. Over-extending yourself early will just lead to a burnout. The journey is as much about stamina as it is about academic ability.

Charlotte: Realising that I don’t have to study perfectly was really helpful to me. After studying for VCE, I knew that I had times when my brain was focused and times when I was useless. Being able to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen and that it was okay to take a break to reset was really helpful.  Also baking! Great way to distract your brain from study and then you have cookies!!

Noah: I swear by following routines and boundaries, and sticking to them. I find making a plan for how much time to spend studying, and what to achieve in that time, such a good way to look after myself. I also always allow breaks as well as time spent away from study. In my first year, I had one day a week where I would try to not even think about uni and found it really helped me look after myself.

Grace: I try and do a task that engages another part of my brain, such as playing video games, playing a musical instrument or exercising. I exercise a lot, since it’s something I can do at home and I find that refreshes me.

Hammad: I make sure that every week, I spend precious time with good friends and family. It’s extremely important to make sure you include social time otherwise you will very quickly burn out. Studying too much can be counter-productive to doing well in your studies.

I also aim to get eight hours of sleep. Skipping on sleep means that you don’t consolidate information as well. On days where I’ve not gotten as much sleep as I like, I find myself to be less productive, as things take longer to read and I don’t feel as energised. This can lead me to feel like I am behind. When I sleep well, I get much more done, and my tasks for the day and week are much less intimidating to finish. I see myself as a high achiever, but an important lesson I have learned is to not sweat the small stuff too much. If I don’t go as well on an assessment as I like, I try and maintain a positive perspective. On my first assessment task last year, I achieved a much lower mark than I expected. It was kind of scary and made me doubt myself, but instead of letting it get to me, I consulted with my seminar leader on where I went wrong and how I could improve. Taking on board their feedback, I achieved much better marks in my later assessments. Virtually everyone is bound to make mistakes in their study. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes, so you can perform better in the future.

Grace, Bachelor of Veterinary Bioscience, 3rd year

Social media and your phone can be a major distraction when you’re trying to concentrate on study – what advice do you have for this vice?

Hammad: If I need to get some serious study done, some strategies I use include placing my phone in another room. This means that I am not tempted to check my phone as I am doing study as I must go to the effort of getting up out of my comfortable chair to go get it.

I’ve also disabled most notifications on my phone except for texts and calls to prevent further temptation. I put my phone on silent mode while studying unless I know an important call or text is coming and only reply to things on my breaks.

If you can’t resist using social media, then there are several applications on your phone and desktop that you can download that prevent you from using apps you identify as distracting for periods of time while you study. I’m not altogether too sure what apps to recommend as I’ve never had to resort to any yet. From a quick google search, apps called Ófftime’ and ‘Moment’ come up, so these might be worth checking out.

Try and view using your phone and social media as a reward for completing some study. This means you are more likely to feel less guilt about your phone as you know that you have been productive and completed tasks.

Grace:Cold Turkey is really good for your laptop, you can just google it and download it, and it will block you from accessing specific sites during times set by you.

Put your phone in another room, I’m really bad with my phone, but having it physically away from me usually works.

Louis: I’m definitely not immune to the distractions that social media present! Most smart phones have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature built-in. I have set mine up during my usual study times, and my phone essentially is put on silent automatically, reducing the distraction of notifications. This can also be enabled manually.

Noah: I’m guilty of getting lost in my phone all the time until I’m stressed out of my brain. My way of combatting this before it happens is to allow myself controlled time on my phone, and to use it to reward myself after a certain amount of study. As a psych student, this probably isn’t a good way to never look at your phone again, but it is a good way to limit time and to enjoy your time on your phone instead of using it to procrastinate.

Charlotte: Put it behind you! If my phone is sitting next to me as I type then I can’t focus but if it’s somewhere else in the room I don’t get to the urge to check it so much. If it’s Facebook or YouTube on your computer that gets you, open one window full of study tabs and resources and have a different tab minimised where you keep social media and distracting stuff. 

Noah, Bachelor of Psychology

How do you maintain a healthy balance between study, family and part-time work?

Louis: Taking regular breaks, spending time with family and friends, as well as being involved constructively in the community is key, in my opinion, to finding a healthy balance. Doing activities other than study will break up the routine which can easily burn you out, as well as other activities which also make you a more rounded member of the community now, and when you graduate.

Charlotte: It’s important to know when to pause. Whether it’s Uni or work, over-doing it can really burn you out fast. Have a plan for Uni work so you can be prepared even if you have a busy work week and getting family to quiz you before a Uni test is a great way to find time to hang out even when its exam time

Noah: I try my hardest to make time for study, family and work but it’s hard to strike up a balance. I always try to start the semester by leaving lots of time free and easing myself into study mode so that I don’t over commit and get super stressed by week 4. I think making a plan early in semester and keeping to it throughout is a great way to get some balance.

Hammad: As I emphasised earlier, time management is important. If you’re committing to full-time study at university, then it generally should be your priority. However, studying too much will lead you to burn out, decrease your motivation and ultimately contribute to less marks. It’s a good rule of thumb not to work more than 15 hours a week, as any more than this can start to get in the way of time you spend revising your study or practicing questions. 

Starting university does not mean that you must give up everything that you love. In fact, many people I know find it easier to do what they love on the side with university compared to high school because there can often be more flexibility regarding your timetable. La Trobe University is also very understanding of your personal circumstances. If you’re a national athlete for example, you might be eligible for the Elite Athlete Program which is specifically designed to help you get the most out of university and your sporting career. That’s just one of many examples. The ‘Ask La Trobe’ people in the main library are great people to speak to if you need help in figuring out who you need to contact regarding your timetable. The great thing about La Trobe is that there are so many people here to help you out, such as your fellow classmates, teachers, or other professionals. If you ask, you’re almost certain to get an answer in university. Good luck!

Grace: I don’t think I do, haha!  I don’t spend much time with my family (if at all), and I work a lot, so I think the balance is more between study and part-time work, and sometimes I wonder if it really is a healthy balance.  I think just knowing your own limits is important, and don’t be afraid to express this to your boss if you need time off for a group project or study. 

Louis, Bachelor of Science, 3rd year