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Learning and study tips

Everyone studies differently - this is a good place for exploring different strategies for how people learn.

Time management

At university you are expected to manage your own time, but time management is often easier said than done.

Striking the right balance between home and university life is important for your health and well being, and to give yourself the best chance of staying on track leading up to the exam period.

How do you manage your time so that you strike the right balance between home and university life?

This may sound obvious, but many students tend to leave important tasks until the last minute, which can affect the quality of their work and their overall grade. Take a look at our five time management tips so you can achieve your goals:

What do you have to do?

The first stage of improving your time management is to list absolutely everything that you have to do and make a note of roughly how much time each task will take.

Create a schedule

Whether it’s a planner, or your phone, find an organising tool that works well for you and add your list of priorities to it. Think about when you are most alert, so you can plan your study periods around these times. Find time for socialising, but also make sure you get enough sleep.

At university most of the papers you take are worth 18 points. As a general guide, one point represents 10 hours of study made up of a combination of lectures, tutorials, laboratories, assignments and readings. That means that each 18 point paper represents a workload of 180 hours over the course of a semester or 15 hours per week.

Schedule your lectures, tutorials etc into your diary and add your assignments and the tasks you need to do to complete your assignments e.g a literature search, when your first  and second drafts will be completed by, and so forth. Plan your revision early – spaced repetition helps to reinforce ideas. Don’t plan for large chunks of time to study. Small chunks of focused time are really effective.

Has your plan been effective?

It’s important to remember that things often take longer than expected. So, allow a little extra time in case you spend longer on a task than you thought you would.

Part of good time management is to constantly review and reassess your schedule to help recognise whether you need to make any changes in order to help you complete any university tasks and also have time to relax and spend time with friends and family.

Avoid procrastination and distraction

Turn your phone off when studying, so that you remain focused.

Another way to avoid procrastination is to think about the different places you have been when studying – where were you the most focused? Where were you most distracted? Is there anything you can do to make studying more enjoyable?

Remember, what works for one person might not necessarily work for you. For some, studying with friends can limit their productivity. But for others, studying in groups can help to increase motivation and avoid procrastination.

Exercise to clear your head in between study sessions

Exercise works in the same way sleep does. It can focus your state of mind, helping you to clear your head and boost your brain power in between study sessions.

Student Learning Development runs workshops on time management and you are welcome to come and talk about your study plan. It also offer consultations and online resources.

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Note-taking

The purpose of note-taking in lectures and tutorials is to record your understanding of the ideas and concepts discussed.

In practice, achieving this purpose can be a challenge. Sometimes you may be unable to keep up with the lecturer. You may become frustrated that you are not understanding the material. Maybe you are not sure what to do about it.

The following note-taking tips are suggestions only and you may need to vary your approach depending on your background, the lecturer, and the subject.

Before the lecture

1. Effective note-taking starts before the lecture
Even if it is just a quick overview, make sure you have looked at any readings or lecture course notes beforehand. In this way, the lecture will not be the first time you encounter the information. You will recognise some technical terms and key concepts. In particular, pay attention to the lecture objectives if provided.

During the lecture

1. Take notes in organised format.
The importance of ideas should be reflected in your notes. Some students find it helpful to use lecturers' objectives to frame their notes. Review your notes within twenty-four hours and self-test your understanding of the material. Cornell notes and Mind Maps (mapping notes) are ideal for this purpose. More information can be found in the online resources on the Student Learning Development website or come to a workshop on note taking.

2. Be an effective listener
Listen for key ideas, main details, and transitional phrases which point to the structure and focus of the lecture.

3. Use short forms when recording information
Bullet points, abbreviations and symbols can be used in place of full sentences in most situations. Obvious exceptions are when there's a definition or you don't understand an idea, or there's some indication to write something out in full.

4. Be alert for verbal and non-verbal cues
These indicate structure in the lecture, relationships among ideas, and their importance. These cues include body language, voice tone and pace, repetition of ideas, and the time spent on certain information.

5. Be selective

Take notes which reflect the key themes, theories, and principles. Put a mark by any information that needs clarification. 

After the lecture

1. When you review your notes (ideally within 24 hours), don’t laboriously re-write everything neatly. Instead, read through them and test yourself on the material. Identify areas of confusion or where you need more information, and then refer back to your textbook or handouts to clarify your understanding. If you are unsure about material, make sure you ask your tutor or lecturer for help.

2. Review your notes regularly and cumulatively
Look for developing course themes, and relationships between the ideas of successive lectures. This regular review can assist you in seeing the 'big picture' and makes note-taking part of integrated study.

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Writing skills

Written assignments play a pivotal role in helping you to better understand a topic at a deeper level. The process of filtering and sifting, interpreting and analysing information develops research skills and promotes critical thinking, which are important qualities for university and beyond.

In an essay you must have an argument. That is, you take a stance, angle or viewpoint on the topic and provide a well thought-out and researched line of reasoning. You might defend one point of view over another, but you might also argue that dental decay is a pathway of infection, that tourism brings both benefits and costs to island nations, or that Chaucer had a major influence on the English language. Mostly, your line of reasoning will be based on your research of scholarly material, but sometimes it might involve self-reflection or personal experience. 

Student Learning Development can help you with the process of writing an essay. Through workshops, online resources, or consultations we can help you interpret the essay question, establish the scope and focus of your essay, plan the essay structure, and explore ways to write with clarity and cohesion.

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Effective learning tips from successful students

Our recent study from an Ako Aotearoa funded project suggested the following about effective learners: 

1. Effective learners recognise their role in the teaching-learning partnership, and know what works for them. They prepare for and engage in class in ways that allow them to learn (for example, by reading course material and choosing to sit in a place that helps them stay focused).

They also experiment with note-taking approaches to find what ‘works’ and feels comfortable, find and create study environments which allow them to both relax and focus, and actively seek out discussion and interaction as a strategic learning approach.

“You do get a lot of different advice and it can be very overwhelming especially at first year. It's a really good idea to try those different things and find out what works for you. And it doesn't matter if it doesn't work for anyone else, so don't feel pressure to study in a certain way.” Otago student

2. Effective learners focus on learning, rather than marks for their own sake. Effective learners conceptualise university study as a starting point, not an endpoint – as a ‘journey’ of discovery and exploration.

Effective learners recognise the importance of time in the learning process. They understand that learning involves ‘sitting on’ information and ideas, and taking time to rest and to do things other than studying.

3. Effective learners remember where they have come from and where they are going. They keep their short and long-term goals in mind, and stay connected to people who can encourage them in the learning journey, including family, friends, classmates and teachers.

The Ako Aotearoa funded project was conducted by:

  • Dr Vivienne Anderson
  • Ana Rangi
  • Esmay Eteuati
  • Dr Rob Wass
  • Assoc. Prof Clinton Golding
  • Rafaela Rabello

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