Study smart, not hard – part one

By admin
Category: Academic | Date: Mon 27 Oct, 2008

I’m a big advocate of not doing more work than you need to. Unless you get your kicks from masochism (and I’m not here to judge if you do…), there’s no point forcing yourself to spend hours and hours in the library, poring over notes and text books that aren’t going to make a blind bit of difference to your life.

As a student, it’s easy to get wrapped up in studying for the sake of it. Maybe you’re trying to achieve some set quota of hours per day, or maybe you feel you “should” be studying all the time (but you’re not quite sure what or how). You might be spending every spare hour studying, and you may well come out of uni with a First – but if you’d be happy with a 2.i, have you really got your priorities right?

Over the next few weeks on Alpha Student, I’ll be expanding on each of these topics, but for now, here are three tips on how to study smart not hard. (There’s another three coming tomorrow!).

Know what you’re aiming for

To be honest, there’s little point me giving you any advice on studying if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Are you planning to go on and take a further degree? If so, you do need to achieve a high grade. Do you want to go straight into employment? Then check what grade entry-level jobs in your industry require. Here in the UK, most employers take graduates with a 2.i, and you really don’t need a First.

And if you’re planning to start your own business, scrounge off your parents for good, or marry a rich guy/girl and live a life of luxury … you probably don’t need a degree at all. Focus on everything else you can gain whilst at uni (like relevant experiences, great friends and a deep knowledge of who you are), and do the minimum of studying that you need in order to scrape through your exams.

Yes, this is probably not the sort of advice your average student blog gives. But Alpha Student is about making the most out of your time at uni, and ultimately, only you can decide how best to do that.

Further reading: The Zen Valedictorian – Cal Newport, who writes the Study Hacks blog, has some fantastic articles about figuring out what really matters at uni.

Focus on the modules/papers which count for most

Whatever grade you want, it makes sense to concentrate on the modules or papers which will count for the highest percentage of it. If one module is worth 15% of your final grade and another is worth 30%, it’s pretty easy to figure out which should be getting more of your study time.

It’s easy to get bogged down in tasks for an assessment which forms a small part of your grade – check how heavily weighted your coursework is, for example, as you may be better off starting your exam revision earlier.

Most universities will supply some sort of “module handbook” that contains all the details about assignment and exam weightings: make sure you remind yourself about these frequently. There’s no point spending days stressing over your seminar presentation when it forms a paltry 2.5% of your degree…

If you don’t have a “module handbook” or similar document, your department’s administration office should be able to supply you with the details that you need.

Work at your peak time of day

Don’t force yourself to study when your brain feels like sawdust. Some of us (like Paul) are just not morning people: if you need three coffees and a large number of Flash games in order to feel fully human, there’s not much point trying to hit the library at eight am.

And if, like me, you hit a zombiefied phase at around four pm, don’t sit in the library staring into space for half an hour – take a break, and hit the books again when you’re feeling more energised.

One of the many fantastic things about being a student is that you have a large degree of control over your schedule. Obviously, some courses do require a high level of contact time, but you’re rarely tied to 9-5 working hours like employees are. If you do your most focused studying at 4am, that’s fine! If you like to work solidly all morning and take the afternoon off, that’s cool too. But it’s up to you to figure out your peak time(s) of day for studying.

I’ll have three more tips tomorrow, so make sure you check back then! If, like me, you have the memory of a gnat, why not grab the RSS feed for Alpha Student and get updates in your favourite feed reader? Or pop your email address below and get an article straight to your inbox each day:

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